With the NHL and NBA playoffs coming to an end, our national pastime can officially take center stage once again. In case you were as caught up as I was with praying that the Heat and Devils blew it in the Finals (1 out of 2 ain’t bad) and moved baseball to the backburner, here is a brief recap of the first half of the 2012 MLB season.
In the AL, the Yanks, Rays, Rangers, and Angels are playing at the level we would expect them to be playing at albeit the Angels were off to a horrific start, bouncing back nicely. Detroit is struggling a little more than expected but it is still early. Expect Detroit and Chicago to be fighting it out for AL Central championship come September.
Biggest AL Surprises: Listen, if you were going to tell me that the Baltimore Orioles would have the 5th best record in the bigs at the midway point of the season I probably would have sent Leonardo DiCaprio to your house to tell you to wake the fuck up. Well, unlike Leo, these Orioles are not waiting for a train, they’re on it and steam rolling just about everyone. At 41-31, the Orioles currently hold the AL’s 3rd best record. Much credit goes to Buck Showalter, who was brought in for the sole purpose of changing the atmosphere surrounding the Orioles and appears to be doing just that. Coming into the season, pitching was supposed to be the one thing holding the team back, however through 70+ games the pitching staff has gotten the job done. Especially the bullpen, who has been lights out with Jim Johnson anchoring the staff. The Orioles don’t appear to be going anywhere, look for them to be in the hunt this fall.
Another surprise team hails from the south side of Chicago. The White Sox and first time manager Robin Ventura currently lead the central at 39-35. For a first time manager he seems to be pushing all the right buttons. Getting players like Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza to step up and be key contributors to the offense, coupled with the re-emergence of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios have led to a potent offense. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the most underrated offensive player in baseball, Paul Konerko, batting .342 with 13 homers and 39 RBI’s. Speaking of re-emergence, Jake Peavy has finally returned to form posting a 2.74 ERA thus far; paired with Chris Sale who is a CY Young candidate, the Sox have a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. With the addition of Kevin Youkilis, this team will be fighting with Detroit until the end.
Out in the NL, the Braves, Reds, and Cards are about where I expected them to be record wise. I knew the Nationals and Giants would be good but they have exceeded even my expectations with both teams over the 40 win mark. With all the hype surrounding the Marlins, Ozzie and company have been inconsistent through the early goings and are currently 34-40.
Biggest NL Surprises: After the team was finally sold off for a mere 2 Billion Dollars, the Dodgers have come out of nowhere to post the best record in the NL. The natural assumption is Matt Kemp must be going all Rosie Larsen on everyone and killing it, which he was until he got bit by the injury bug. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Dodgers start, is that it has been a team effort. Matt Kemp has missed about half the season thus far and the Dodgers haven’t missed a beat, maintaining an above .500 winning percentage without the slugger. The real key to the Dodgers success has been their pitching staff which has been the best in the majors. While Clayton is certainly proving why he was last season’s Cy Young winner, Chris Capuano has arguably been the Dodgers ace. They’re playing great team baseball and seem to be in it for the long haul.
Perhaps an even bigger surprise comes out of the Big Apple, where the New York Mets are currently three games over .500 and battling for first in the new beast that is the NL East. Personally, I consider this feat way more impressive than what the Dodgers are doing for one reason- competition. The Mets have to deal with four playoff contenders in their division alone, while the Dodgers get free passes against the abysmal Rockies & Padres. Johan appears healthy and is throwing much better than his 5-4 record would indicate. R.A Dickey is arguably the best pitcher in the NL right now. And the most important person for the Mets, David Wright, finally appears to have his confidence back with the new hitter friendly dimensions of Citi Field. However, all good things must come to an end and I believe that notion holds true for the Amazins’.
Biggest Disappointment: There’s really only one team that I can put here without question and that is the Philadelphia Phillies. As much as I love to see Philly fans suffer because they all suck, I’m still shocked that baseball’s ‘Big Three’ hasn’t been able to keep this team afloat while Howard and Utley recover from injury. Now, I know that Doc Halladay wasn’t himself and was put on the DL at the end of May. Regardless, how the fuck does Cliff Lee have 0 wins and we are approaching the All-Star break. Just to put everything in perspective, 49 year old Jamie Moyer, who is now bouncing around the minor leagues and tops out at a blistering 80 miles per hour, has 2 wins… WTF! On the bright side, Chase Utley is on the verge of returning to the Phillies lineup and Ryan Howard’s leg is getting stronger by each passing day. Hopefully with the return of the two key veterans, three including Halladay, the Fightin’ Phils will do just that and make a run at the final wild card spot.
Now that we have given a brief synopsis on the teams, let’s get into the individuals who have earned the mid-season awards.
AL Most Valuable Rookie: While Will Middlebrooks of the Red Sox has thoroughly impressed me in the early going, the Angels Mike Trout has been the best rookie in all of baseball and it’s really not even that close. Batting .335 with an OBP of .395 along with swiping he has been the spark plug for a struggling Angels’ lineup.
NL Most Valuable Rookie: Almost by default, I have no choice but to pick Bryce Harper, who has no real competition in the category. All things considered, he is 19 years old and has put together a very good rookie campaign. Making it even more impressive is that amount of attention and hype he had to live up to. Since being called up on April 27th, Harper has hit .280, scored 32 runs and hit seven homeruns. This kid will be the next big thing and is certainly off to a good start.
AL MVP: Who knows where this guy could have been without all the off the field issues, but Josh Hamilton is the best left handed hitter in baseball hands down, probably the best hitter regardless. Batting .317 with 24 jacks and 67 RBI’s, the man is going to be in contention for the triple crown a la his 2010 MVP campaign. I smell a repeat… not relapse… as this year’s AL MVP.
NL MVP: This isn’t as easy as the AL. I have it as a tossup between Joey Votto and Carlos Beltran. As nice as it is to see Carlos Beltran re-emerging as one of the game’s best outfielders, I’m taking the second best left-handed hitter in the game in Joey Votto. Batting .353 with a ridiculous .478 OBP, simple put the man is on fire. If he keeps hitting at this pace the Reds will be serious contenders in October.
AL CY Young: As of right now it comes down to last year’s Cy Young Winner, Justin Verlander, and Chris Sale. And just like when I hit the bars, I’m looking forward to a repeat offender, in this case, Justin Verlander. He has the most innings pitched, the second most K’s in the league, a 2.52 ERA and a .201 OBA. Not to mention, I don’t know anyone that can throw 100 mph fastball in the 8th inning on his 100th pitch… and at 101… and again at 102. #NOLANRYANSEE-ME-SAW-YOU.
NL CY Young: The NL has a couple of worthy candidates here, between Strasburg, Cain, and this guy Dickey, you can’t really go wrong with all three. But how can I go against the legend, you know who I’m talking about. 11-1, 2.31 ERA, .91 WHIP, 106 fucking strikeouts R U DICKEN me, R.A. Dickey is slapping that tag on every game he pitches. I am praying to god he keeps pitching like this, best name in baseball and he throws a knuckleball.
Personal side note: As a diehard Yankees fan, want to give a quick shout out to the Melk Man, Melky Cabrera who is quietly leading the league in hits with 105 and batting .352 for the Giants.
In case you want to take a look back at our three part MLB preview from March, click here, here and here.
Joe is the 2 man weave's baseball afficionado