Super feats and super rookies highlight biggest first-half stories
Josh Hamilton's four-HR game, Aaron Hill's two cycles were historic and rare
There have also been five no-hitters, including two perfect games, so far
Rookies Mike Trout, 20, and Bryce Harper, 19, have electrified the baseball world
The 2012 Major League Baseball season has reached the half-way point. A full third of the teams in the majors will play their 81st game Tuesday night, and four others will play their 82nd, putting them into the second half of the 162 game season. Here, in reverse order, is a look back at the top five stories of the first half. (And if something seems to be missing, check back later this week for my list of the top surprises of the first-half before firing off that angry email.)
Though they are limping into the break, having lost 12 of their last 14 and fallen behind the rival Giants in the National League West, the Dodgers were one of the most compelling teams of the first half of the 2012 season. It all started on a high note at the end of spring training when disgraced owner Frank McCourt reached an agreement to sell the team to an ownership group that included legendary Los Angeles Laker Magic Johnson, as drastic an improvement in the public face of the team's ownership as could be imagined. The $2 billion sale price was a record for the sport and the transaction became official on May 1, one day after Matt Kemp finished one of the best season-opening months in baseball history.
Kemp, last year's NL MVP runner-up and owner of a new eight-year, $160 million contract, hit .417/.490/.893 with 12 homers and 25 RBIs in April to solidify his place among the game's elite. Shortly thereafter, though, he made his first of two trips to the disabled list with a balky hamstring, though for a time the Dodgers just kept winning, thanks in part to a pair of thirty-something-year-old journeymen who were great stories in their own right.
During the offseason, the Dodgers' failure to acquire a starting catcher was the subject of much criticism, but handing the job to last year's third-stringer, 31-year-old minor league veteran A.J. Ellis, has thus far proven to be a master stroke. In the process of more than doubling his career total of major league plate appearances, Ellis, always an on-base machine, has hit .282/.406/.417, thrown out 35 percent of opposing basestealers and ranks third among all major league catchers in Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement (bWAR).
Then there's 33-year-old lefty Chris Capuano, whose career was derailed after the 2007 season by a labrum tear and his second Tommy John surgery. Capuano missed all of the 2008 and 2009 seasons and didn't become a full-time starter again until last year, when he posted an ERA+ 20 percent below league average for the Mets. The Dodgers signed him to a two-year, $10 million contract this offseason and thus far Capuano has nearly matched the performance of his rotation mate, fellow lefty and 2011 Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw, going 9-3 with a 2.69 ERA and strong peripherals.
Thanks in large part to Ellis and Capuano, as well as Kershaw and rightfielder Andre Ethier, whom the new ownership group gave a five-year, $85 million extension in mid-June, the Dodgers remained in first place through their 75th game despite having Kemp appear in just 36 of those contests, just two of which came after game 34. The Dodgers have now gone 84-61 (.579) since July 20 of last year.
Kemp is far from the only big name to miss serious time this year due to injury. Consider:
The Rays' Evan Longoria tore his left hamstring on April 30 and hasn't played since, 57 games and counting.
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while shagging flies on May 4 and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
The Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki has been out since May 30 due to a groin strain that required surgery in late June. He has thus far missed 30 games and isn't expected back until August.
Last year's American League MVP runner-up, Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury, suffered a partially separated right shoulder in a collision at second base on April 14 and has missed the last 73 games. Fellow outfielder Carl Crawford has been out all year with wrist and elbow injuries.
Phillies ace Roy Halladay left his May 27 start after two innings due to shoulder soreness and hasn't pitched since due to a strained latissimus dorsi muscle. Teammate Chase Utley just returned last week after missing the first 76 games due to a degenerative cartilage issue in his knees but first baseman Ryan Howard is still trying to rehab his way back from an Achilles injury that has cost him his entire season to this point.
Chris Carpenter, the ace of the defending champion Cardinals and the man who retired Howard in the season-ending at-bat during which he got hurt in last year's NLDS, also has yet to appear this season and was recently diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome in his pitching shoulder.
Then there are the 22 pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery, among them the Braves' Brandon Beachy, who was leading the majors in ERA when his elbow gave out in mid-June, the Diamondbacks' Daniel Hudson, a 16-game winner in 2011, and top closers Brian Wilson, Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson. Those last three will have combined for two innings pitched and one save this season, all Wilson's. The Red Sox's John Lackey and the Indians' Carlos Carrasco, who had the surgery during the offseason, won't throw single major league pitch in 2012, nor will sophomore righty Michael Pineda, whose first pitch as a Yankee will have to wait until 2013 following labrum surgery.
The list just keeps going. Ryan Dempster has pitched like a Cy Young candidate when healthy and should be a top trade target, but he's currently on the 15-day disabled list for the second time with a muscle strain. Jonathan Lucroy was off to a great start when his wife dropped a suitcase on his right hand in late May, breaking his fifth metacarpal, exacerbating the Brewers injury woes, which also include a season-ending rotator-cuff tear suffered by fifth starter Chris Narveson and a season-ending ACL injury for Mat Gamel, one of several players felled by that malady.
Angels catcher Chris Iannetta and Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall suffered broken bones after being hit by pitches (pisiform and ulna, respectively). Un-retired Yankee southpaw Andy Pettitte had his left fibula broken at the ankle by a comebacker. Nationals rightfielder Jayson Werth broke his wrist making a diving catch back on May 6. The Orioles' Nick Markakis and the Giants' Pablo Sandoval both missed time to have broken hamate bones removed from their hands.
Then there's Lance Berkman, Jaime Garcia, Jered Weaver, CC Sabathia, Brandon Morrow, Sergio Santos, Drew Storen, Andrew Bailey, Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Colby Lewis, John Danks, Brett Gardner, Brandon McCarthy, Salvador Perez and a host of other key players who have or are missing time due to injuries, some of it measured in months rather than days or weeks. Whatever the outcome of the 2012 season, it seems clear that injuries will have played a major role.