Two months into the 2012 MLB schedule, we now have some idea of how this season is going to develop.
It's becoming clearer as to which players and teams will have impressive seasons and which of them will be disappointments. Of course, there's plenty of baseball to be played, and these storylines can change or go in different directions. Early-season surprises can fall back to the middle of the pack. Heavy favorites can emerge to fulfill expectations.
This applies for each of the major individual awards handed out at the end of the season. In some of these categories, the winner may already have been determined. The choice is that clear. In others, we still have some suspense.
But if we had to pick the National League winners for each major award right now, these look like the favorites entering June.
Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers
Mattingly already had the Dodgers in first place in the NL West over the favored San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks. But his team also has the biggest first-place lead in baseball while compiling the best record, as well.
The Dodgers have two of the best players in the NL with Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. Yet despite Kemp starting the season like an MVP candidate, Mattingly and the Dodgers have been winning without those two playing at their best. Most everyone on the roster is making a meaningful contribution.
Mattingly has continually made the right decision and plugged in the right piece at a key time. At this point, it would be a surprise for him not to win this award.
Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Some may roll their eyes at this selection, thinking that Harper already receives far more hype than his achievements have warranted thus far. But the Nationals needed a boost to their lineup when he was called up from Triple-A. Maybe Harper hasn't quite supplied the power that the Nats were hoping for, but he's brought energy and enthusiasm.
And now the numbers are beginning to match the effort. Harper's .861 OPS is second on the team. He's getting on base consistently and driving the ball for extra bases. That's given the Nats a batter near the top of the order who can provide some quick offense and give the RBI bats someone to drive in.
Harper may not be the best rookie yet, in terms of total numbers. But he'll be there by the end of the season. He might even be there by midseason.
Cy Young Award: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
Hamels was already a leading topic of conversation this season due to his contract status. Is he going to re-sign with the Phillies. If so, for how much and for how long? Or will Hamels test what's likely to be a prosperous free-agent market with suitors like the Dodgers ready to spend some cash?
His performance so far this season has certainly done nothing to hurt his market value. With Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee struggling with injuries, Hamels has been the team's ace. He leads the majors with eight wins. His 72 strikeouts are second in the NL, while his WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and opponents' batting average each rank among the 10 best in the league.
Hamels picked a great time to have his best season. It's going to make him a very rich man.
Most Valuable Player: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Votto already knows how this MVP thing works, having won the award in 2010. After a somewhat slow start to the season (slow for Votto, that is), he's taking on that MVP look again.
Once again, Votto is an on-base machine. His .463 OBP is tied for tops in the big leagues, powered by 43 walks, the highest total in the majors. Votto's eight home runs are a notch below the sport's top sluggers, but he's consistently driving the ball for extra bases. His 22 doubles are the most in baseball, and he's on pace to lead the majors in that category for the second consecutive season.
Votto isn't ringing up these numbers for a team that's not winning games, either. The Reds are playing like one of the best teams in the NL and have taken over first place in the NL Central from the St. Louis Cardinals. They may not give up that lead.
And if the best player on the best team is often the leading candidate for MVP, like we said, Votto has that MVP look to him.
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