The first half of the 2013 MLB Season has gone by in a flash, and it’s been an explosive first half that has seen sensational performances. What is going to happen in the second half is unknown, but the first half is worth note and I am handing out the hardware.
National League MVP: Yadier Molina
With all due respect to Paul Goldschmidt, the NL MVP, in my opinion at least, belongs to a catcher for the second year in a row. When Tony La Russa was still managing the St. Louis Cardinals, he said Molina could go the entire season without getting a hit and he would still be their everyday back stopper.
For many years, Molina established himself as an outstanding defensive catcher. Now, he is putting in the offensive touches of his game and he is not disappointing, garnering an OPS+ of 142. The Cardinals have 57 wins against the fewest losses in the Majors in 36. Yadi is a huge reason because of that. By using position adjustment, what he is doing with his bat and of course, the glove, the MVP goes to him at this point.
American League MVP: Miguel Cabrera
The first half AL MVP race has me at a loss for words. It just goes to show you how much things can change in an instant.
Prior to the weekend before the All-Star Break, I thought Miguel Cabrera was running away with this. Chris Davis was having a cold July. Then, all of a sudden, Davis had four straight games with a homer to end the first half to give him a total of 37 on the season.
His 37 home runs tied an American League record Reggie Jackson set in 1969. We don’t know how someone will end up in the second half. Reggie finished with 47, hitting just 10 in the second half. He didn’t even finish with the lead, as the eventual AL MVP Harmon Killebrew finished with 49.
Davis has an OPS+ of 193 and could very well crack 60 big shots this year. Someone on Twitter asked him if he was on steroids. To nobody’s surprise, Davis said no. Let’s face it, even if he was on steroids, is that something he would reveal to a complete stranger online and receive a 50-game suspension like that?
He said he does a lot of heavy lifting. Clean or not, he has had a ridiculous first half and someone who, in most years, would run away with the MVP.
Except, when your closest competitor is on pace to win a second straight triple crown.
This is much closer than it was just a few days ago, if you ask me, but the season still belongs to Miguel Cabrera, who has 30 home runs himself, so it’s not like Davis can’t be caught. Miggy is the first player in history with 30 home runs and 90 RBI before the All-Star break.
His OPS+ is 200. He has scored more runs and gotten more hits than anybody in the majors. Some have wondered if he could break Hack Wilson’s 1930 record of 191 RBI. One has to wonder if he get a little under 100 RBI in about two months. It’s a stretch, but if my money is on anybody, it’s Cabrera.
Unless he fails a drug test or does something stupid a la Pete Rose, he’s going to be a Hall of Famer, and unless he does something like Roberto Alomar did, he’ll get in on the first ballot.
Manny Machado is having an outstanding season, and he’s not the starting third baseman for the American League in the All-Star game because this man is just not simply from planet Earth.
I am a man who would rather watch a dominating pitching performance than someone putting on a hitting clinic, but I would have to make an exception for Cabrera. To see his three home runs in Texas was outstanding. This man is must-see TV: you drop everything just to watch him.
Never thought I would see a Triple Crown in my lifetime. I just might see the same man win it for the second year in a row and with what he is doing, he wins my AL MVP.
National League Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
Remember when David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays won the AL Cy Young over Justin Verlander of the Tigers by a mere four votes in 2012? It was the closest non-tie Cy Young race in history. If Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Matt Harvey of the New York Mets both keep it up, that record could fall this season.
It is extremely close at this point. These two pitchers are the class of the NL. Hopefully with these two studs, we can finally see what little relevance wins and losses have. Harvey is 7-2 for a 4th place 41-50 Mets team that is stuck in a rut. Kershaw is 8-6 for a Dodgers team that has been dead for most of the season, only for them to have a remarkable comeback and finish at 47-47 at the All-Star Break.
Both of these hurlers are nothing short of fantastic. Yet, in a very close race, the edge goes to Kershaw. The Dodgers’ lefty claimed the Cy Young in 2011 and finished runner up to R.A. Dickey in 2012. Kershaw edges Harvey in innings pitched (145.1 to 130.0), ERA+ (181 to 153), WHIP (0.908 to 0.915) and WAR for pitchers (5.2 to 4.3). For the record, Kershaw’s overall WAR of 5.5 is second behind Carlos Gomez of the Milwaukee Brewers for highest WAR in the entire Majors. Matt Harvey has been one of baseball’s best stories in 2013. That said, he is still slightly behind Clayton Kershaw at the end of the first half.
American League Cy Young: Clay Buchholz
Max Scherzer has, rightfully, emerged as one of baseball’s biggest stories this year. He is 13-1 and started off 13-0. He has a 135 ERA+ and 0.979 WHIP. That said, there is somebody who is still undefeated.
Though Clay Buchholz hasn’t pitched in a while, he is 9-0 himself. It’s a disadvantage to him because he has only hurled 84.1 innings this season, but his ERA+ is 253 and his WHIP is 1.020.
Perhaps the most unappreciated pitcher in not just the American League but in the game is Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. After finishing 6th last year, he is pushing for being deserving of the hardware this year. Don’t let that 6-8 record fool you, as he is part of a last place White Sox team at 36-53.
That said, he is leading all American League starters in WAR for pitchers at 4.6, although Buchholz is at 4.1 despite having not pitched in a bit. Sale himself has a very solid 154 ERA+ and 1.008 WHIP.
I give a slight advantage to Buchholz and anticipate he will be back soon but you can’t go wrong with Sale either.
National League Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle
File this one under the “no-brainer” category. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been knocking at the door the last two seasons in 2011 and 2012, only to falter at the end of the year and fail to qualify for a winning record and possibly more.
The Bucs currently sit at 56-37, a four game lead in the wild card race and a game back of the Cardinals for first in the NL Central. In his third season, his crew is rolling. They have seen production from players through the draft: Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Gerrit Cole and players they acquired: Mark Melancon, Russell Martin, A.J. Burnett and Jason Grilli.
The Pirates have been on the rise for a few years now, trying to build on up. They are firing on all cylinders. They haven’t had a postseason appearance or even a winning record since 1992, when they lost the NLCS in a Game 7 heartbreak to the Atlanta Braves after being up 2-0 in the bottom of the 9th.
It would have to take a collapse of monumental proportions for them to at least not have finished above .500. With this squad, I don’t see them folding that badly.
A case could also be made for Walt Weiss of the Colorado Rockies. I would not have guessed his squad would only be 4 games under .500 at 46-50 and in the thick of things in the NL West right at the end of the first half. They have been in first place for a little bit, too. That said, unless the Rockies pick it up and/or the Pirates slow down, I would have to give the advantage to Hurdle.
American League Manager of the Year: John Farrell
This is a very tough one. I love storylines in baseball, and right now, it’s down to two managers for me and it’s much closer than in the NL. The only manager who even comes remotely close to Hurdle, in my opinion, as mentioned above, is Weiss. However, it’s a little tougher for me on this one, but I must give this to John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox over Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians.
Just how fitting is all of this? Remember, Francona won two World titles with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. For the record, the Red Sox knocked out the Indians in the 2007 ALCS after being down 3-1. Farrell was Francona’s pitching coach that year. The two teams tied for the best record in baseball at 96-66. Both men actually were teammates, wait for it…on the Indians. Now, they manage. One has taken over for another two years after an epic wild card collapse. The other is looking to turn around a struggling team that hasn’t made the playoffs since that heartbreaking ALCS six years ago.
Oh, the excitement. Now, let’s delve into the credentials of both of these men this season, shall we?
Bobby Valentine was crucified in his one season at the helm in Beantown in 2012. Francona’s immediate successor was a disaster. It was a season for Red Sox Nation to forget. They went 69-93, including 16-42 the final two months of the season.
So, General Manager Ben Cherington had some exploring to do. Farrell had managed the Toronto Blue Jays last year and asked to interview for the Red Sox. The Jays sent Farrell and hurler David Carpenter to Boston for utility player Mike Aviles. The Jays then flipped Aviles to…you guessed it…The Tribe. I could have fun with all of this all day.
If you’re still with me, the Red Sox sit at 58-39, setting a new franchise record for most wins before the All Star Break. They previously set it with 57 wins in 1978, only to have been heartbroken by Bucky “Bleeping” Dent. Then, in 2008, they equaled it. Down 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS, the Sox made a comeback to force a Game 7 and try to defend their pennant and championship, only the Rays had other plans.
This team could surpass both of them and more. Jacoby Ellsbury was the runner-up to Justin Verlander for the 2011 AL MVP award. He isn’t doing too bad this year either. He has a league leading 36 swipes and also leads with an astounding 7 triples.
David Ortiz set the all time record this week for most hits by a designated hitter. A perennial MVP candidate for many years, Big Papi is having a terrific season himself. His 167 OPS+ says so.
Add to a very nice pitching staff, which has been huge thanks to Buchholz, this team is making everything happen and have basically turned things around overnight.
That said, Farrell doesn’t run away with this award. You see, like the Bo Sox, the Indians also fell on their face in 2012. Boston was 69-93, Cleveland was 68-94. The Tribe had a winning record as late as July 26 at 50-49, only for them to have a 19-45 record in their final 63 games. Can anybody say excruciating? Cleveland is 51-44, the most wins they have had at the All Star Break since, you guessed it, 2007. They have won four in a row, swept the Kansas City Royals over the weekend and are a game and a half behind the Tigers.
Jason Kipnis has emerged as an All Star for them. He currently has 20 steals and has been a huge catalyst for them. Did I mention he was named AL Player of the Month for the month of June?
Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds were nice signings this offseason. Anything can happen in the second half, but with Tito’s reputation, it would be hard to picture them not finishing at least respectable, if not something greater.
During the Rangers/Tigers game on TBS July 14, John Smoltz said he would give the AL Manager of the Year to Ron Washington. He has an argument. His team is 54-41. No Josh Hamilton. No Michael Young. No Mike Napoli. Pitchers Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz and Alexei Ogando are all on the shelf and they keep winning. Yet, I would still rank him behind Farrell and Francona. Farrell would receive my vote, but at this point, after everything the Red Sox and Indians have been through, can you really go wrong with either skipper? Just imagine the 2013 ALCS between these two. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
National League Rookie of the Year: Jose Fernandez
Here is one award that can go so many ways. The Miami Marlins have little to be excited about. They are the worst team in the National League record wise at 35-58. Yet they have a sensational All Star rookie hurler in Jose Fernandez. He will turn 21 on July 31. He may have a 5-5 record but in 104.2 innings pitched, he has struck out 103 batters, has a 140 ERA+ and a 1.080 WHIP.
I was going to give this to Yasiel Puig, but Fernandez has won me over. I would argue with the possible exception of Miggy, Puig is the most exciting player to watch in all of baseball. He has a 190 OPS+. He has set the world on fire. He hit 4 home runs in his first 5 games. He had 44 hits in the month of June, second most in Major League history for a player in his first month, second only to Joe Dimaggio’s 48 hits when he first came up. He is so amazing to watch. At the plate. On the base paths. In the field.
He also has turned some heads, and not in a good way. He snubbed Arizona Diamondbacks legend Luis Gonzalez July 8 when Gonzo was talking to him, prompting Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire to talk to the young kid about it.
D-Backs’ catcher Miguel Montero has spoken out vocally against him. Montero told Tyler Emerick of MLB.com that Puig isn’t doing any favors for himself. “He’s creating a bad reputation around the league, and it’s unfortunate because the talent that he has is to be one of the greatest players in the big leagues. Right now, I’m not going to say he’s the best because he hasn’t proved anything yet. Does he have talent? Of course. Does he have the tools? Of course. He’s got so much talent, it’d be really bad if he wasted it doing the stupid things that he’s doing. You have to respect to earn respect. If you don’t respect anybody, you aren’t going to earn respect.” The small sample size keeps Puig from running away with it for me. He has played in only 38 games.
It also should be worth profiling Shelby Miller and Evan Gattis.
If you want to talk about All Star snubs, Shelby Miller certainly should’ve made the cut, at least, have been on the final ballot. He has been a huge part of a Cardinals staff that is rolling. A 127 ERA+ and 1.118 WHIP is very nice. Who could ever forget him surrendering a lead off hit to Eric Young Jr. on the first at bat of the game on May 10 against the Rockies, only to retire the next 27 batters in order and striking out 13? The kid has an insanely bright future.
As far as Gattis goes, a 137 OPS+ is really good for a catcher. He took home NL Rookie of the Month honors in April and May and has been a big contributor to Atlanta’s success this year and has played in more games and good for him for making it to the show after bouncing around doing other things. He could return soon. Gattis and Miller are terrific. Puig is unbelievable, but I need more of a sample size. Jose Fernandez gets it from me.
American League Rookie of the Year: Jose Iglesias
Whereas Fernandez, Puig, Miller and Gattis all have arguments to the NL Rookie of the Year Award, at this point, Iglesias is my choice for AL Rookie of the Year and he runs away with it, and no, he’s not running away with in a Mike Trout sense. Trout won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2012 unanimously in a deep rookie class with Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes. Trout had one of the greatest seasons ever for a rookie and almost won the AL MVP last year, too.
No. Iglesias pretty much gets the award by default because of how underwhelming every other rookie has been in the AL this season.
In just 52 games this season, he has a 137 OPS+, is batting .367 with 10 doubles. That is better than what I can say for other rookies, be it position player or pitcher. Somebody has to win the award, right? If so, Iglesias gets it.
National League Rolaids Relief Award: Craig Kimbrel
This one is so tough. Almost as tough as the AL Manager of the Year Award. This year, Craig Kimbrel has been…well…Craig Kimbrel. With Mariano Rivera retiring this season, it looks like he is passing the baton to Kimbrel as baseball’s next great closer. He had a 2012 for the ages, and though he’s not quite as good as he was in 2012, he boasts 26 saves, a 255 ERA+ and 0.991 WHIP. It looks like he’ll surpass 40 saves for the third straight season with no trouble, assuming he stays healthy. This is with Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty out for the rest of the season, by the way.
Then there’s Jason Grilli, who is blossoming in at age 36 in his first time being in the closer’s role. How is he repaying the Pirates? Only with an NL leading 29 saves, ERA+ of 180 and 0.861 WHIP. Can somebody say Fernando Rodney 2013?
He has been absolute money in the bank for the Bucs this season. If they are playing meaningful games this October, #39 will be a huge reason why. Kimbrel gets the slight edge, but Grilli is deserving in every way in his own right.
American Rolaids Relief Award: Joe Nathan
In an era of closers headlined by Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, with Rivera a lock for the Hall of Fame, and Hoffman deserving in his own right, 38-year-old Joe Nathan of the Texas Rangers says, “Don’t forget about me!”
He achieved his 300th save April 8 against the Tampa Bay Rays in highly controversial fashion. That said, he has 30 of them this year. His ERA+ is 321. His WHIP is 0.756. If I were to do a list of players who have most helped their Hall of Fame case in 2013, Nathan might be No. 1. He had 37 saves all of last season. He looks like he will easily break that. The man keeps shutting the door, and is a huge reason why the Rangers are in contention. This may be the year they finally break through and win the World Series. It is absolutely possible with #36 on the mound.