All-star break means it’s time to hand out mid-season awards

Published 10:21 am Monday, July 14, 2008

By By Brian Haines, Sports Writer
As the 2008 MLB season pushes past the halfway point several storylines have emerged, making this a year to remember.
Whether or not they hold on to make the playoffs, the Rays have provided a bit of sunshine for the league and have become everybody’s favorite underdogs, while the fact that North Carolina native Josh Hamilton has held on to his sobriety has made him the most popular Texas Ranger since Chuck Norris.
Perhaps he biggest story of the 2008 season is the one you don’t hear about anymore, steroids, or lack their of.
As of Saturday, there were 29 pitchers with an ERA under 3.50, and 13 hurlers with an ERA under 3.00. While most fans love the long ball, they have to admit it’s great to see pitching make a comeback.
While this year’s pitching has a nostalgic vibe to it, so does the All-Stars game, as it will be the final one in The House that Ruth Built.
So while the league takes a pause to honor its all-stars, there is no better time to hand out some mid-season awards.
AL MVP of the mid- season: Josh Hamiliton, OF, Texas Rangers
Yes, Hamilton is playing on a team that will more than likely not make the playoffs, but having nearly 100 RBIs by the all-star break supercedes the “best player on the best team motto.” Hamiliton is crushing the ball right now, batting .314 with 21 homers while driving in 93 runs. His stats are so good he could stop playing ball for the rest of the year and they would still be better than 75 percent of the league.
His 93 RBIs are 25 higher than the next best in the AL (Justin Morneau, 68) and have him flirting with history. If Hamilton can keep up the pace, he has a legitimate shot of cracking Hack Wilson’s record of 191 RBIs in a season set in 1931. Once you cross over into the ‘40s, the next highest total is 165, which was done by Manny Ramirez in 1999.
AL LVP of the mid- season: Richie Sexson, 1B, Seattle Mariners
While there are several strong candidates for the AL MVP, Richie Sexson was the hands down winner of the AL’s Least Valuable Player. In the last year of a four-year contract that was scheduled to pay him $14 million this season, the Seattle Mariners decided they didn’t even want him around anymore, and released the light-hitting slugger. Who can blame them? Throughout 74 games Sexson has struck out 76 times, drove in only 30 runs and hit 11 homers.
Part of the reason for his release was that it was said he had “bad body language.” I guess it’s hard to be happy when you’re a mediocre fielder batting .218.
NL MVP of the mid-season: Lance Berkman, 1B, Houston Astros
If current trends continue, the 2008 season could produce two MVPs from non-playoff teams. The Astros 43-51 record is a lousy one, but just think of how much worse they would be without Berkman’s .347 batting average, 22 round-trippers and 70 RBIs; all of which are amongst the National League leaders.
The NL is flooded with strong MVP candidates such as Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley and Derek Lee, plus dark horse candidates such as David Wright, if the Mets make it into the playoffs, as well as Ryan Howard, who has been hot lately. However, any good slugger can put up big numbers on a good time, but to compile huge stats on a poor team is a tremendous feat in baseball. It’s hard to drive in runs if there is no one on base. If Berkman can stay healthy, he can remain in the running for the triple crown.
NL LVP of the mid-season, Andruw Jones, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Two years after hitting 50 home runs with the Braves, Jones was signed to a two-year, $36 million contract to help add punch to the Dodgers’ lineup. After snagging a huge deal, Jones just got huge, and showed up for spring training overweight. While Jones got bigger, his batting average got slimmer. Jones, who returned from the disabled list on July 4 after missing about six weeks with a knee injury, is batting .172 with nine RBIs and is averaging over a strikeout per game.
AL Cy Young of the mid-season: Cliff Lee, Cleveland Indians
The fact the he is pitching for a non-playoff contender shouldn’t be a strike against Cliff Lee; instead, it should boost his Cy Young value. Lee has overcome a lot of injuries and looks better than ever this year. Pitching for a team that as of Saturday was two games behind the perenial AL Central cellar dweller Royals, Lee has racked up a 12-2 record and a minuscule ERA of 2.31, which is the third lowest in all of baseball. The Indians’ ace is also seventh in the AL in strikeouts with 106.
He will have to keep up his all-star pace if he wants to bring home the Cy Young, because Ervin Santana (11-3, 3.34, 122) is having a solid year for the playoff-contending Angels, and Blue Jays’ ace Roy Halladay (11-6, 2.71, 121) has been lights out as of late.
AL Sigh Young of the mid-season: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
It would have been easy to hand this honor off to teammate Dontrelle Willis and his 10-plus ERA over five starts. However, Willis has been battling injuries, so why kick a man when he is down. Truth be told, this award could have gone to any starting pitcher on the Tigers, but Verlander is supposed to be their ace. If he gets the credit when the team is doing well, he must take the wrap when it is struggling. Verlander has started 19 games, and has a 6-9 record with only 88 strikeouts in 121 innings. Verlander’s ERA is a meaty 4.24. While the Tigers have played better since their awful start, they will need Verlander to bounce back if they want to get in contention in the AL Central.
NL Cy Young of the mid-season: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
With the exception of a shaky start against the Mets last week, the Giants Tim Lincecum has lived up to his billing, and with his quirky delivery has become one of the most fun pitchers to watch in the game. Two years ago, Baseball Prospectus hailed Lincecum as a mix between Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax, which is an awful lot of praise and expectations for a young starter. He has handled the pressure well. So far on the season, the hurler has 10-2 record, with a 2.66 ERA, while leading the NL in strikeouts with 126.
Though he is having a superb season, it’s unlikely that he will take home a trophy at the end of the season. There are just too many good pitchers in the NL that are playing for playoff caliber teams such as Brandon Webb, Dan Harren, Victor Zambrano, Cole Hamels, Kyle Lohse and Ben Sheets, not to mention the rise of Reds’ ace Edison Volquez, whose stats (11-3, 2.36, 116) are on par with Lincecum’s, but so is his team’s shoddy record.
NL Sigh Young of the mid-season: Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants
The former Cy Young award winner’s decline has been as sharp as his once potent curveball, and after signing a seven-year, $126 million contract last season, he should just cash his check with a mask on. Zito has been downright awful, and nobody is really sure why. On the season he is 4-12 with a 5.62 earned run average, with only 62 strikeouts in 97 innings. His deal just might be the worst contract in history and makes him totally un-tradeable. If he continues on this pace he will finish the season 8-24, earning just about $2.25 million per win. In contrast, Lincecum, Zito’s teammate, will make just over $400,000 this season. The Giants are in for a lot of trouble when it’s time to renegotiate Lincecum’s contract, or any other pitcher’s on that staff.
AL Rookie of the mid-season: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
A vital piece to the Rays’ great run has been the play of rookie third baseman Evan Longoria. In the field, Longoria has been sound, while at the plate he has made sweet music. The first-year star has powered the American League East leading Tampa Bay Rays with 16 home runs, 53 RBIs and 23 doubles. Longoria’s average has been solid, as he is hitting .278. If he and the Rays’ can duplicate their first-half success, he should be a lock for AL Rookie of the Year.
If Longoria slacks off, two rookies who could easily take the award are Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Texas outfielder David Murphy. Ellsbury leads the American League in steals with 35, while hitting .273 with five homers and 27 runs batted in. While Murphy, who is hitting .271, has 94 hits, 13 home runs and 60 RBIs.
NL Rookie of the mid-season: Geovany Soto, C, Chicago Cubs
A much closer competition in the National League, the race for rookie of the year should come down to a pair of teammates and a starting pitcher from the Braves. However, as of now Cubs’ catcher Geovany Soto is the winner. The rookie will be the starting catcher in All-Stars game this week, and with his stats he should be. Playing for the Cubs, whose 57-37 record is currently the best in baseball, Soto has turned in a dynamite half-season. His 16 homers are second on the team to only to Aramis Ramirez’s 17, while he is batting .286 with 55 RBIs. Very good numbers for a catcher, but the question is can his body stand up to the daily grind of being behind the plate.
Meanwhile, Cubs fans’ favorite Kosuke Fukudome has gotten off to a good start as well. Fukudome has 91 hits, 36 RBIs, seven homers and a .280 average. He also has the luxury of being an outfielder, which over the course of 162 games is much easier on the body.
The real dark horse in this race could be Braves’ starter Jair Jurrjens. The Atlanta pitcher is 9-4 with a 3.00 ERA, with 81 K’s in 111 innings. Jurrjens was the NL Rookie of the month in July, and if the voters are torn between the Cubs’ dynamic rookie duo, Jurrjens could sneak in and take the award.