Biggest Surprise – San Diego Padres. At the halfway point of the season, the San Diego Padres have to be considered the biggest surprise in baseball. Over the winter there was speculation the Padres would trade hometown hero, Adrian Gonzalez in an effort to start yet another rebuilding phase. The Padres hung on to Gonzalez and are glad they did, as he leads the team in nearly every major offensive category. Led by pitching staff that ranks first in the majors in ERA and second in shutouts. The staff is, surprisingly, led by 22-year old Mat Latos. Latos has been a revelation in his first full season in the majors. Latos has posted a 2.45 ERA, is averaging 3.54 strikeouts per walk, and has compiled a 10-4 record. In addition to Latos, the Padres are getting solid seasons form Jon Garland, Clayton Richard, and Wade LeBlanc. Combine the great starting pitching with a pitcher-friendly park and a lights out bullpen (2.91 ERA and 25 saves) and you have the Padres going into the Break with the 2nd best record in the National League. Runner-up: Cincinnati Reds. The Red have not had a winning season since 2000 and find themselves 1 game up on the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.
Biggest Disappointment – Seattle Mariners. On the opposite end of the spectrum (and West Coast) from the Padres are the Seattle Mariners. Seattle, finished 85-77 last season, and made moves to bolster their team over the offseason. They signed Chone Figgins to a 4 year, $36 million contract in an effort to get better defensively at second base, but also in an effort to add more speed to the top of their order. For their investment, the Mariners have gotten a .235 average, with 22 RBI, 24 SB and 9 errors from Figgins. These numbers are far below Figgins’ career averages and clearly not worth the money they are spending. If you compare Figgins with the man he essentially replaced (Adrian Beltre) the Mariners sure do look foolish. Beltre is having a great season with the Red Sox and signed a 1-year contract worth $9 million (the same amount as Figgins for over twice the production). In addition to Figgins, the Mariners traded for former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee (now shipped to Texas) and temperamental slugger Milton Bradley. The pairing of Lee with Felix Hernandez was supposed to solidify the top of the rotation and Bradley was supposed to provide some pop in the middle of the order. While Lee pitched exceptionally well, Bradley imploded (he’s hitting .210 with just 8 HR). The Mariners clearly have given up on this season, shipping Lee to the Rangers for prospects. It will be interesting to see if any other players are traded and how the Mariners play in the 2nd half. Runner-up: Chicago Cubs. A year after finishing 5 games above .500, the Cubs (with the 3rd highest payroll in MLB) are 11 games under .500 going into the Break.
First Half NL Cy Young – Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins. The race for the first half NL Cy Young was a close one, with at least 4 pitchers having legitimate cases for the award. In the end, the award goes to the Marlins’ big right-hander. Johnson has been nothing short of stellar this season, posting the lowest ERA in the majors (1.70). Sure Ubaldo Jimenez has a more impressive record and excellent stats, Roy Halladay has a perfect game and more complete games than all but 2 teams, and Adam Wainwright has put up stellar numbers across the board. Johnson has put up equally impressive numbers as the aforementioned trio. He has averaged 9.07 strikeouts per 9 innings, has more strikeouts than innings pitched, and a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.39. Johnson has not given up more than 4 runs in a game all season (and that game was the first of the year), and has walked only 28 batters in 122 innings. Opponents are hitting just .203 against him. His consistency, control, ability to make hitters swing and miss, and ERA make him my choice for the first half Cy Young. Runners-up: Ubaldo Jimenez , Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright
First Half AL Cy Young – David Price, Tampa Bay Rays. The AL doesn’t have nearly as many dominant pitching performers as the National League. The 2nd year man is my choice for the first half AL Cy Young. Price leads the Rays’ pitching staff, which is 4th in the league in ERA and has led the Rays to the 2nd best record in the majors. Price has pitched 2 complete games, 1 shutout, and has the lowest ERA in the AL. In addition, he is tied for the AL lead with 12 wins and opponents are hitting just .223 against him. Runners-up: Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez, C.C. Sabathia
First Half NL MVP – Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds. It is truly amazing that Joey Votto had to wait for MLB’s Final Vote to make the All-Star game. He has been awesome this season. He’s hit 22 home runs, driven in 60 runs, has the highest OPS (1.011) in the National League, and is batting .314. Through in 4 stolen bases and a .997 fielding percentage and Votto is deserving choice for first half MVP. Runners-up: Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn
First Half AL MVP – Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers. This decision was the easiest of the awards. Cabrera is pushing for the Triple Crown this season. He leads the league with a .346 BA and 77 RBI, and is second in home runs with 22. Cabrera also leads the league in OPS. If Cabrera can keep up his current pace, he would become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Runner-up: Josh Hamilton. In virtually any other year, Hamilton would have a case to win the award. Like Cabrera, he has a .346 batting average and 22 homers. He has 64 RBI and an OPS of 1.015.
First Half NL Rookie of the Year – Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals. The race for rookie of the year in the National League is between two pitchers. My choice for the first half ROY is the Cardinals’ lefty. He has posted an 8-4 record in 17 starts with a 2.17 ERA. He has a strikeout ratio of 7.22 K/9 and has been the 2nd best pitcher on the Cards’ staff. Runner-up: Mike Leake. Leake has been the 2nd best pitcher for the Reds, which is made even more impressive by the fact that he never pitched in the minors.
First Half AL Rookie of the Year – Brennan Boesch, Detroit Tigers. The race in the AL is between two Detroit outfielders. For me, the choice is Boesch. Since being called up in late April, Boesch has been on fire. He is 4th in the league in batting average, at .342. He has hit 12 homer runs, driven in 49 runs, and his OPS is .990. Runner-up: Austin Jackson. If not for his teammate, Jackson would be the front-runner. He’s batting .300, with 20 RBI and 14 SB. He has been a catalyst at the top of the Tigers’ order and the clear prize in the trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees.
NL Manager of the First Half – Bud Black, San Diego Padres. See entry on the Padres as surprise team of the first half.
AL Manager of the First Half – Ron Washington, Texas Rangers. Washington has rebounded nicely after a summer of turmoil in which it was revealed that he tested positive for cocaine during the 2009 season. The Rangers are 4.5 games up in the AL West (the largest lead in the league) and look poised to make a run to their first playoff appearance since 1999.