Believe it or not, we’re already halfway through the Major League Baseball season. Not only does that mean that it’s time for the worst All-Star venue in the history of sports, but it’s time for my annual mid-season awards (which, if it was a televised show, would most likely be ten times as exciting as the MLB All-Star game).
This is when I give you my thoughts on who, based on their first-half performances, should and will win the major awards…and a few awards of my own. Also, I will give you the All-Stars we SHOULD be seeing in Pittsburgh, not the ones the fans voted for because they saw them in a magazine once.
Drum roll please…
NL MVP: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals.
We saw how much worse St. Louis was when Pujols wasn’t in the lineup, when he was on the DL with his side injury. He leads the majors with 28 home runs and a .442 on-base percentage. Add to that 73 RBI’s, a .323 batting average, a .728 slugging percentage, and a .996 fielding percentage at first base, and you have the makings of a true MVP.
AL MVP: Vernon Wells, Toronto Blue Jays.
Before you bombard me with criticism, questions, and expletive-laden insults, let me remind you what MVP stands for: Most Valuable Player. And honestly, where would Toronto be without Wells this year? Sure, they have some other good players, but Wells really holds them together. He is keeping the Jays in the playoff hunt with 20 homers, 60 RBI’s, a .318 average and solid defense in the outfield.
NL Cy Young: Tom Glavine, New York Mets.
The veteran lefty is at his best right now as he approaches 64 years of age. Just kidding, but it sure seems like he’s been around that long. Glavine leads the majors with 11 wins and has an ERA of 3.34 on the National League’s best team. Those numbers will get you the hardware.
AL Cy Young: Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox.
Yeah, you read that right. A closer for Cy Young. Why not? He’s been the most dominant pitcher in the majors this year. Check this out: 25 saves, a microscopic 0.43 ERA, and 42 strikeouts to 7 walks in 41 2/3 innings this season. That means he’s allowed a grand total of TWO earned runs this year. Not bad, kid, not bad.
NL Rookie of the Year: The Florida Marlins.
It’s tough to pick just one kid from this squad, but I’m going with Dan Uggla. The second baseman is hitting .306 with 13 home runs and 45 RBI’s. Combined with Hanley Ramirez, Uggla is part of a deadly combination at the top of the Marlins’ order.
AL Rookie of the Year: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers.
Along with Kenny Rogers, Verlander is anchoring the best staff for the best team in baseball. He is 10-4 with a 3.01 ERA for the Tigers and shows no signs of slowing down. Verlander, Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman, Mike Maroth and Nate Robertson. That’s a ridiculous rotation if they are all healthy, and Verlander is leading the way, reminding the Tigers faithful of another Rookie of the Year from 1976, Mark Fidrych.
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Cesar Izturis, Los Angeles Dodgers.
I would give this award to Roger Clemens if the meaning of it was to reward the player who has come out of retirement the most. The real winner is Izturis, returning from an arm injury that sidelined him almost half of this season. He’s been stellar defensively at third base, filling in for the injured Bill Mueller and came out swinging at the plate, hitting .333 in his first 8 games.
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Rocco Baldelli, Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
I know he’s only been back for a little while, but after all is said and done he’ll have put together a pretty solid campaign, and be a unanimous vote for this award. He was sidelined for the entire 2005 season and about a third of this season, but since his return Baldelli has hit .337 in 23 games.
NL Manager of the Year: Joe Girardi, Florida Marlins.
Jerry Narron of the Cincinnati Reds will probably win the real award, but he hasn’t really had to do anything. Girardi, on the other hand, has a boatful of talented prospects and rookies, captained by Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera (not exactly senior citizens themselves), and has managed to keep them at a respectable record. They are not by any means in the playoff race, but most people expected them to be dwelling in the cellar all year and Girardi has helped keep them out of there, which is an impressive feat considering the lack of experience on their roster.
AL Manager of the Year: Jim Leyland, Detroit Tigers.
This one is easy. 2005: 71-91; 2006: 56-28 at the halfway point. Enough said.
Biggest Bust, NL: Juan Pierre, Chicago Cubs.
He barely beats out Rafael Furcal of the Los Angeles Dodgers for this one, but the Cubs’ big off-season acquisition has been even worse than Corey Patterson was (who is, ironically, having a good season in Baltimore) as their leadoff man. In Chicago’s last 10 games, Pierre actually has 7 multi-hit performances, but he is still hitting just .270 at the top of their order. Besides, you knew I had to pick on a Cub for this award.
Biggest Bust, AL: Esteban Loaiza, Oakland Athletics.
How in the world did this guy win a Cy Young? So far, Loaiza has put his paycheck from the A’s to good use: He bought a few beers and enjoyed his time on the DL. He’s currently 3-5 with an ERA over 6.00. Not exactly the solid, veteran pitcher they wanted to complement Barry Zito and the youngsters.
Biggest Surprise, NL: Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds.
This guy came out of nowhere. The only reason I had heard of him before was because he used to be on the A’s, my hometown team. All I knew about him until this season was that he sucked. Well, I don’t know what happened, but he has surprised me completely. Before this season, he was 25-25 for the Reds, but he is currently 9-5 with a 3.65 ERA in 2006. Nice turn around, but can he keep it up for the home stretch and keep the Reds in the hunt?
Biggest Surprise, AL: Mark Grudzielanek, Kansas City Royals.
Go ahead, read it two or three times. I know it doesn’t make sense right away. But, when I heard that Grudzielanek hadn’t made an error yet in 74 games at second base, I was genuinely surprised. I also found out that he is the only regular middle infielder in the majors without an error this season. That’s a hard thing to do…and I had to give the Royals something right?
Biggest Disappointment, NL: Chicago Cubs.
I wonder what it’s like to be a Cubs fan. Every year your team is “a contender” and every year Kerry Wood and Mark Prior are going to lead them to the playoffs. Of course, every year they don’t make the playoffs and the two pitchers get hurt. Oh well, there’s always next year, right? 98 years and counting…
Biggest Disappointment, AL: Cleveland Indians.
These punks made me look like an idiot. I had them penciled in to win the World Series this year, but right now they stand in fourth place, sixteen games out of first. They have all the potential in the world with Jhonny Peralta, Ronnie Belliard, Ben Broussard, Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore in the lineup and C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook in the rotation. They just haven’t put it all together to make a run at the playoffs, and have disappointed me to the fullest. The saddest part is I’ll probably pick them to win it all again next year anyway.
The Welcome Back Award, NL: Carlos Beltran, New York Mets.
Welcome back Carlos. After a year off in 2005, his first with the Mets, Beltran is back to his 2004 Houston Astro form that got him the big bucks in the first place. He hit .266 with 16 homers and 78 RBI’s last year, and this year he already has 24 homers and 65 RBI’s and is hitting .285. He has improved his slugging percentage over 200 points from last year and is now getting on base at a .390 clip compared to .330 last year.
The Welcome Back Award, AL: Mike Lowell, Boston Red Sox.
I’m still not sure what happened to Lowell last year. He was a bona fide player prior to 2005, and then suddenly, he just couldn’t hit anymore. He hit .236 with 8 home runs and 58 RBI’s and had an on-base percentage of .298. This off-season he was traded to Boston, and as their everyday third baseman, has returned to his regular form. Lowell is hitting an even .300 with 9 homers and 41 RBI’s. Welcome back Mr. Lowell.
The Thank-God-We-Signed-You Award, NL: Alfonso Soriano, Washington Nationals.
I don’t think the Nationals would have any wins yet if it wasn’t for Soriano. Even though he caused problems over the position he wanted to play, he has been unbelievable. He is hitting .269 with 26 home runs and 55 RBI’s and will be starting for the National League in the All-Star game.
The Thank-God-We-Signed-You Award, AL: Frank Thomas, Oakland Athletics.
Yeah, I know he’s only hitting .235 and he already spent time on the DL and can’t run much farther than first base without collapsing, but he has 18 home runs and 42 RBI’s. That’s more than anyone expected out of the future Hall-of-Famer, but he really has been a force in the A’s lineup and has helped them to keep their division lead.
Best Impersonations (Pitchers): Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins and Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks, for impersonations of Johan Santana.
Liriano is 9-1 with a 1.99 ERA and 94 strikeouts and Webb is 9-3 with a 2.72 ERA and 97 strikeouts. This is the award for pitchers who fall short of winning the Cy Young, so instead they get recognized as the best impersonator of Johan Santana.
Best Impersonations (Hitters): Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies and Alex Rios, Toronto Blue Jays, for impersonations of Ken Griffey, Jr. (pre-injury years).
Howard is tied for the major league lead in homers with 28 and has 71 RBI’s. Rios is hitting .330 with 15 homers and 53 RBI’s. These are numbers that Griffey used to put up when he was always healthy. So this is for hitters who won’t win an MVP award but deserve some kind of recognition for their performances.
The What-the-hell-happened?? Hitters Award, NL: Jeff Francoeur, Atlanta Braves.
I’m stumped. Is it just a sophomore slump or what? This kid nearly single-handedly saved the Braves last season and almost won the Rookie of the Year award for a half season’s performance. This year he’s hitting just .256 with a .277 on-base percentage. His power numbers are pretty good, but he’s struck out 68 times and walked just 7.
The What-the-hell-happened?? Hitters Award, AL: Mark Teixeira, Texas Rangers.
What happened to Mark Teixeira? I thought he was a strong MVP candidate for years to come after last year’s performance. But, he’s hitting just .271 with 8 home runs and 45 RBI’s. I haven’t seen highlights of him in ages, and last year it seemed like every night when I turned on Baseball Tonight, the guy was plastered all over Web Gems and Touch `Em All. Teixeira gets this not-so-coveted award for his first half performance, but don’t be surprised if the kid bounces back to have a monster second half this season.
The What-the-hell-happened?? Pitchers Award, NL: Jake Peavy, San Diego Padres.
I thought Peavy was going to be a future Cy Young winner. I really did. He has nasty stuff, and seemed to perform well every year until he’d get injured. Coming into this year, I expected great numbers again to coincide with his 46-39 career record. Instead, Peavy is 4-8 with a 4.50 ERA. Well, who knows? Maybe Peavy will win my Welcome Back award next year.
The What-the-hell-happened?? Pitchers Award, AL: Josh Towers, Toronto Blue Jays and Jeff Weaver, Angels of the Los Angeles/Anaheim/Orange County and surrounding suburbs area.
I had to give this award to both pitchers. Towers was a decent pitcher before this season, but sports a 1-9 record with a 9.11 ERA this season. He is no longer on the Jays’ active roster. Weaver had a 3-10 record with a 6.29 ERA before getting demoted to Triple-A. The most embarrassing part for Weaver is that his brother, Jered was recalled to replace him in the rotation.
My All-Star Rosters are based on who the best players in each league are and aren’t affected in any way by fan vote/popularity. Also, I play by my own rules: There does NOT have to be one representative from each team, it is just the 32 best players from each league. And, if I had it my way, every player would have to get playing time, and the game would not decide who gets home-field advantage in the World Series.
C – Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves
1B – Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
2B – Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins
3B – Freddy Sanchez, Pittsburgh Pirates
SS – Edgar Renteria, St. Louis Cardinals
OF – Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
OF – Matt Holliday, Colorado Rockies
OF – Alfonso Soriano, Washington Nationals
SP – Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds
SP – Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
SP – Tom Glavine, New York Mets
SP – Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds*
SP – Jason Schmidt, San Francisco Giants
SP – Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks
RP – Tom Gordon, Philadelphia Phillies
RP – Trevor Hoffman, San Diego Padres
RP – Billy Wagner, New York Mets*
C – Michael Barrett, Chicago Cubs*
C – Paul Lo Duca, New York Mets
1B – Lance Berkman, Houston Astros
1B – Nomar Garciaparra, Los Angeles Dodgers*
1B – Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
2B – Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
3B – Miguel Cabrera, Florida Marlins
3B – Scott Rolen, St. Louis Cardinals
3B – David Wright, New York Mets
SS – Jose Reyes, New York Mets
SS – Omar Vizquel, San Francisco Giants*
OF – Bobby Abreu, Philadelphia Phillies*
OF – Jason Bay, Pittsburgh Pirates
OF – Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers*
OF – Carlos Lee, Milwaukee Brewers
C – Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
1B – Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox
2B – Mark Loretta, Boston Red Sox
3B – Joe Crede, Chicago White Sox*
SS – Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
OF – Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Devil Rays*
OF – Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
OF – Vernon Wells, Toronto Blue Jays
SP – Jose Contreras, Chicago White Sox
SP – Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays
SP – Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
SP – Kenny Rogers, Detroit Tigers
SP – Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins
SP – Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers*
RP – Bobby Jenks, Chicago White Sox
RP – Jonathan Paplebon, Boston Red Sox
RP – B.J. Ryan, Toronto Blue Jays
C – A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox*
1B – Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians*
1B – David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
1B – Jim Thome, Chicago White Sox
2B – Tadahito Iguchi, Chicago White Sox*
2B – Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers*
3B – Mike Lowell, Boston Red Sox*
3B – Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
SS – Miguel Tejada, Baltimore Orioles
SS – Michael Young, Texas Rangers
OF – Raul Ibanez, Seattle Mariners*
OF – Gary Matthews Jr., Texas Rangers
OF – Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox
OF – Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians
OF – Nick Swisher, Oakland Athletics*
* denotes player who was snubbed from this year’s real All-Star game
— Robinson Cano, Casey Blake*, and Alex Rios of the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Toronto Blue Jays, respectively, would make my AL All-Star roster, but they are injured. They are replaced by Iguchi, Ibanez, and Sizemore.
Questions, comments, feedback and criticism (I’d love to defend my picks!) always welcome!