In strange year, no surprises among Midseason Award choices
The big-market Dodgers are broke while the Pirates have a winning record
Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder are the choices for AL and NL MVP honors
Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay are clear front-runners for Cy Young awards
The Dodgers are bankrupt; 62-year-old Terry Collins, who is older than the remote control and hadn't managed a game in 11 years, is suddenly the second-youngest manager in the NL East (or, as it might be known in the latest realignment plan, the Del Boca Vista Division), 13 teams are within five games of .500, Pittsburgh has a winning team but Chicago and Los Angeles, given four chances, have none, and Adam Dunn (.177) and Dan Uggla (.175) are halfway to the worst batting average since the deadball era ended in 1920. Weird only begins to describe the first half of the 2011 baseball season; greatness does not.
Look hard enough, however, between all the mediocre teams that are permitted to loiter around the pennant race and the lack of hitting in today's game and the list of fading stars (Dunn, Uggla, Chone Figgins, Miguel Tejada, Hideki Matsui, Raul Ibaņez, Vernon Wells, Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, etc.), and you can find exceptional performances. Adrian Gonzalez and Roy Halladay, for instance, have been worth everything the Red Sox and Phillies invested to acquire and sign them over the previous two offseasons. Prince Fielder is making a case to become the next great addition when he bolts Milwaukee after the season.
Surprisingly -- or not, given the strange season -- the half-year award winners don't yield much argument or controversy. Here are my picks for the major award winners at the halfway mark of the season.
1. Adrian Gonzalez, Boston
2. Jose Bautista, Toronto
3. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
4. Curtis Granderson, New York
5. Paul Konerko, Chicago
6. Mark Teixeira, New York
7. David Ortiz, Boston
8. Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland
9. Justin Verlander, Detroit
10. Matt Joyce, Tampa Bay
Explanation: Gonzalez leads the league in hits, batting average, total bases and doubles. Sprung from Petco (National) Park, he is raking at a .380 clip at Fenway Park (though with an even higher slugging percentage on the road). The average big leaguer hits .224 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Gonzalez hits .400 in those pressure spots.
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit
2. Jared Weaver, Los Angeles
3. Josh Beckett, Boston
Explanation: Verlander leads the league (outright or tied) in wins, innings, strikeouts, WHIP and winning percentage. He has won six straight starts with a 0.72 ERA and a .153 average against. The guy is a no-hitter waiting to happen every time he takes the ball.
1. Michael Pineda, Seattle
2. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay
3. Zach Britton, Baltimore
Explanation: Pineda pounds the strike zone with one of the best fastballs in any rotation. The Mariners will have to back off Pineda in the second half. He is 22, had an elbow injury as recently as 2009, threw only 139 1/3 innings last year and averaged 5.6 innings per start in the minors last year (now 6.3 in the majors this year).
1. Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay
2. Manny Acta, Cleveland
3. Terry Francona, Boston
Explanation: It's hard to explain how Maddon has kept the Rays on the heels of Boston and New York. The Rays, who have the most road wins in baseball, began the year 1-8 and lost their cleanup hitter, Manny Ramirez, to a PED bust. Nobody older than 29 has started a game on the mound for them. They rank 11th in hitting. Did anybody foresee major contributions from Casey Kotchman, Matt Joyce, Sam Fuld, Johnny Damon, Kyle Farnsworth and Adam Russell? Beware a market correction: Starting July 7 the Rays play 11 straight games against the Yankees and Red Sox.
1. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee
2. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
3. Jose Reyes, New York
4. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles
5. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
6. Joey Votto, Cincinnati
7. Lance Berkman, St. Louis
8. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
9. Justin Upton, Arizona
10. Mike Morse, Washington
Explanation: Talk about weird: an NL MVP ballot without Albert Pujols listed anywhere. Any of the top four here would be a fine pick, but Fielder has done the most for a first-place team. He leads the league in home runs, RBIs, OPS, extra-base hits and intentional walks while hitting .346 with runners in scoring position and getting on base more times than anyone except Votto.
1. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
2. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia
3. Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta
Explanation: At 34, Halladay is putting up a career-best strikeout-to-walk rate (7.69) while leading the league in wins, innings, complete games and walks per nine innings. The Phillies are 14-3 in his starts. We are looking at a historic run. Halladay is on pace for a fourth straight year with at least 17 wins and an ERA lower than 2.80. Only five pitchers have done that in the past half century: Sandy Koufax, Jim Bunning, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer and Randy Johnson.
1. Danny Espinosa, Washington
2. Dillon Gee, New York
3. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta
Explanation: This is one race without a clear-cut frontrunner. Darwin Barney of Chicago and Freddie Freeman of Atlanta also deserve consideration. Espinosa strikes out too often and doesn't get on base often enough, but his 15 homers and .800 OPS out of the second base position are impressive.
1. Kirk Gibson, Arizona
2. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh
3. Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee
Explanation: Gibson has given real meaning to the "changing the culture" mantra that becomes the soundtrack to managerial changes. Given his first spring training with the club, and a top-notch staff, Gibson has his club playing aggressive, confident baseball while getting more out of Justin Upton and handling role players and his bullpen with a deft touch. The jury remains out on his team, however. Arizona has the most wins in the league against losing teams and the fewest wins against winning teams.
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