MLB: A Review of the 2012 Season's First Half and Midseason Awards
This past offseason for Major League Baseball provided a lot of excitement and much anticipation. Big name players such as Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and Prince Fielder left their respected ball clubs for greener pastures—or greener contracts. Small-market clubs grew up in Miami and Washington following multiple signings, a high profile coaching hire and trades.
Halfway through this season, and with the deadline still a couple of weeks away, we're yet to see a large amount of in-season trades. But, the action and storylines have not disappointed.
With almost three months of the regular season to go, there are still some big questions that remain to be answered.
Will the surprising teams continue their success?
Will this year's disappointments right the ship in time for October?
And, of course, what team and which players will be taking home some hardware?
The American League West has been a two-man race these past few years and appears to be headed for a neck-and-neck race down the stretch between the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels again this year.
Texas Rangers: 52-34
Los Angeles Angels: 48-38 (4 Games Back)
Oakland Athletics: 43-43 (9 GB)
Seattle Mariners: 36-51 (16.5 GB)
Both Texas and Los Angeles figure to be buyers at the upcoming deadline as both try to out-duel one another for the American League West crown. Texas has injury concerns in their pitching staff and already have made a big acquisition with the signing of Free Agent pitcher Roy Oswalt. They are rumored to be interested in Philadelphia Phillies starter Cole Hamels as well, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
The Angels made a lot of the headlines prior to the season with the signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, and both have produced, but perhaps not to what the Angels had expected. Pujols has bolstered his power numbers as of late but is still batting below .270, and Wilson sits at 9-5 at the break but has a great ERA at 2.43.
The Angels, you could argue have actually been lead by their two young prospects. Mike Trout, at 20 years old leads the American League with a .341 batting average and 26 stolen bases. Mark Trumbo is showing some pop hitting 22 first-half home runs and accounting for 57 RBI's while hitting .306.
The Oakland Athletics came into the season with little expectations but a lot of interest when Cuban defective Yoenes Cespedes signed with Oakland this past off-season. Cespedes has missed a large chunk of the season due to injury. The Athletics, even at .500, figure to be all but likely out of contention in the AL West given the two juggernauts above them.
Outfielder Josh Reddick with 20 first-half home runs has been a pleasant addition to the A's however.
The 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle featuring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan had nothing to do with baseball, but diehard Mariner fans (I'm sure) have had many sleepless nights watching their club really struggle these past few years. The biggest flaw to the Mariners this year is with the team's hitting as the team has three players hitting above .300 this year—all pitchers.
The top hitter for the M's is batting just .267 and it isn't even Ichiro! Ichiro is batting just .261 this season and his supporting cast isn't helping to carry the weight. As usual, their power arm Felix Hernandez is battling to stay above .500 and struggling to find run support.
Could this be the year King Felix is dealt and finds a new home?
When the Detroit Tigers signed Prince Fielder this past off-season, the question wasn't whether the Tigers would win the American League Central but by how much would they win the AL Central.
The Tigers were hot out of the gate, but until a four game win streak to end the first half, they spent the bulk of the season under .500 and now find themselves in third place. On the contrary, the Chicago White Sox, who figured to be in a rebuild year, head into the All Star Break leading the division.
Chicago White Sox: 47-38
Cleveland Indians: 44-41 (3 GB)
Detroit Tigers: 44-42 (3.5 GB)
Kansas City Royals: 37-47 (9.5 GB)
Minnesota Twins: 36-49 (11 GB)
The Chicago White Sox have surprised many and have found themselves in a position to be buyers come the deadline. The White Sox have gotten a head start with the trade for Kevin Youkilis from Boston, and so far it has paid dividends for Chicago.
Cleveland has a lot of young talent but is kind of forgotten amongst the Central because they struggled for a number of years. For the second consecutive year they have had a solid first half but are expected to fizzle in the second half. Starting pitching for the Tribe has struggled all year with none of their regular starters showcasing an ERA lower than 4.40.
The Detroit Tigers have struggled with consistency all year. They've lost plenty of games where the bats went cold while their pitching was solid, and they've lost numerous times hitting the cover off the ball while serving up batting practice when their pitching staff took the mound.
The Tigers ended their first half on a good note, finishing 16-9 in their last 25 games. Because of their hot, recent stretch, it's unsure as to whether Detroit will try to add a piece or two at the deadline or if they'll stand pat and trust what General Manager Dave Dombrowski has brought in the past couple years.
In Kansas City, the Royals got off to a horrendous 3-14 start that crippled the hopes of competing in the AL Central. A 12 game losing streak, much of which was at home, set the Royals back and earned them just one All Star selection (Billy Butler) for their hometown fans at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City this week.
The Royals' pitching staff remains a struggle as it has been in recent years, and at the plate, a lot of the young talent are struggling as well. Kansas City ranks 7th in batting average across the league but fails to get runners across the plate. They sit at 22nd in runs scored.
The Minnesota Twins, who have been bitten by the injury bug the past couple years, are sitting in last place in the AL Central and could be big sellers at the end of the month. Since this time last year, Minnesota has already dealt away or have seen four key players find a new club in Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and Delmon Young. They could see another couple guys depart come the deadline, in particular outfielder Denard Span.
For the second consecutive year, the Boston Red Sox have scuffled during the first half of the season, giving the edge to the Yankees—Red Sox rivalry to the pinstripes again. New York isn't getting much of a challenge in the East thus far except from a surprise in the Baltimore Orioles who stand in second place yet are the only team in the AL East with a negative run differential.
The Tampa Bay Rays, who made a late-season rally to earn the Wild Card spot last year, will be listening to teams at the deadline for even big names like James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson, albeit for high prices, as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports. However, given their proximity to the playoffs right now, they will still be looking to make a run to October.
New York Yankees: 52-33
Baltimore Orioles: 45-40 (7 GB)
Tampa Bay Rays: 45-41 (7.5 GB)
Boston Red Sox: 43-43 (9.5 GB)
Toronto Blue Jays: 43-43 (9.5 GB)
The New York Yankees have a pretty comfortable lead at the break thanks in part to a 13-2 stretch in June. Even after losing Mariano Rivera to a torn ACL in the first month, the Yankees haven't missed a beat. The power numbers are of course high in the new Yankee Stadium, and aging Derek Jeter is playing like the Jeter of old hitting .308 through the first half.
Home Run Derby captain Robinson Cano is pacing the offense, hitting .313 with 20 long balls and 51 RBI's thus far. A big question heading into the season was the starting pitching for the Yankees. Ivan Nova is showing no signs of a sophomore slump and is actually one win ahead of C.C. Sabathia. Both pitchers combine for a 19-6 record through the first three months.
Perhaps the most surprising team in the first half along with the Chicago White Sox is the Baltimore Orioles.
The O's got off to a hot start going 26-14 but have cooled off a bit since. But they still find themselves in second place thanks in large to the work of their bullpen, especially the back end with closer Jim Johnson who has 26 saves and a 1.21 ERA. Late leads for Baltimore aren't slipping away this year, and that could be key down the stretch if the bats can get going.
Oriole fans are hoping a recent trade for Jim Thome will add some pop to the bat and help produce some offense around Adam Jones who has 20 home runs himself at the break.
For Tampa Bay, it's a tough call to judge whether they will be buyers or sellers at the deadline. After an incredible comeback to make the playoffs last year thanks to a from-behind victory on baseball's final day of the regular season, the Rays find themselves 7.5 games back at the break.
Sidelined since April, Evan Longoria is projected to remain out until sometime in August at the earliest. David Price leads a talented rotation and was a shoo-in for the All Star Game with his 11-4 record and 2.82 ERA; however, James Shields is drawing a lot of interest, and the Rays could become a seller depending on how the next couple weeks go.
Bobby Valentine's return to managing has not gone the way he had hoped so far. In fact, hardly anything has gone right. Injuries have plagued the team, and after last year's collapse, there isn't much optimism in Beantown.
Carl Crawford is yet to play this season and will "likely need" Tommy John surgery, according to The Boston Herald. Jacoby Ellsbury has been out since April but could return sooner rather than later.
One bright spot offensively is that David Ortiz looks like the Big Papi from 2004 again. Batting .312 with 22 home runs and 57 RBI's, Ortiz will represent the Red Sox in Kansas City tonight for the All-Star Game. Pitching is a big concern in Boston right now as no regular starter has an ERA under 4.00, and both John Lester and Josh Beckett are currently struggling with losing records.
Toronto, though sitting in last place in the AL East, is currently third in runs scored across all of Major League Baseball; however, they're 26th in team ERA. The combination of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion has produced 50 home runs and almost 125 RBI's.
With the Red Sox struggling and Tampa Bay possibly looking to sell at the deadline, it would be the perfect opportunity to make a run in the East, but with the current pitching staff, Bautista and Encarnacion will have to double their output to give the Blue Jays a chance.
The National League West has produced some of the best second half races and has shown a lot of balance in recent years. This year appears to be no different as the top three teams are within four games of each other.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 47-40
San Francisco GIants: 46-40 (0.5 Games Back)
Arizona Diamondbacks: 42-43 (4 GB)
San Diego Padres: 34-53 (13 GB)
Colorado Rockies: 33-52 (13 GB)
Dodger fans can breathe a sigh of relief now that baseball has hit its All-Star break, and Matt Kemp will be back healthy for the second half. Losers of 11 of 12 to end June and finishing 5-15 in their last twenty games, the Dodgers are in need of a jolt in their offense.
Even though Kemp has been out since the end of May, he still leads the team with 12 home runs and is second on the team in runs batted in. On the mound, the Dodgers have one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball. Clayton Kershaw is a victim of a lack of run support and only showcases a 6-5 record, but don't let those numbers fool you as he is yielding a 2.91 ERA. Off-season, pickup Chris Capuano is thriving in his new environment with a 9-4 record and a 2.91 ERA thus far.
In San Francisco, the pitching rotation is about as strong as it is in LA, but not necessarily from who you think it would be. The Giants are 7th in ERA, and Quality Starts, but Tim Lincecum is having an incredibly tough first half, going 3-10 with an astounding 6.42 ERA.
However, the other four starters in the rotation are a combined 33-18 with Matt Cain leading that group at 9-3. Offensively, it's good to see Buster Posey back and healthy after that nasty home plate collision last season. Posey has responded well, hitting a solid .289 and leading the team with 10 home runs, but the real story is Melky Cabrera hitting .353 with 44 RBI and 55 Runs Scored.
At the break, Arizona is rumored to have been fielding rumors for outfielder Justin Upton, according to Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic. In my opinion, should ask for a strong arm in return if they do intend to trade him.
The Diamondbacks are in the top half to middle of most of the offensive categories around the league but are near the bottom in most for pitching. Jason Kubel is liking his new ballpark this season as he maintains a .293 batting average and leads the team in both homers and RBI's. In the rotation, only young-arm Wade Miley has shown consistency with a 9-5 record and an ERA just over 3.00.
Will the Padres trade Carlos Quentin? That's the big question in San Diego and all over baseball, especially for those seeking a bat at the deadline.
Quentin's numbers are down this year, and he recently just broke out of a 0-21 stretch at the plate. But throughout his career he has shown a pop in his bat and the potential to be a solid run producer.
It's not exactly a hitter's park in San Diego either; in fact, no Padre currently has more than eight home runs this season. On a positive note, Huston Street seems to have found himself with a daunting 1.13 ERA and 13 saves. Now if the Padres could only score some runs to get more leads.
As always in Colorado, balls are having no trouble finding the seats. Unfortunately for Rockies' fans, its the opposing team finding the seats more often. Pitching is perhaps at an all time low for Colorado as no pitcher has more than four wins. Jeremy Guthrie, brought in to become the number one in Colorado, is 3-8 with an ERA over 6.00 at the break.
At the plate, Carlos Gonzalez is flexing his muscles to a tune of a .330 average with 17 home runs and 58 RBI's thus far.
It's been 20 years since the Pirates last made the playoffs, and fans in Pittsburgh are anxiously waiting to end that drought. Halfway through this season they find themselves in first place in the NL Central by one game over the Cincinnati Reds. Pittsburgh got off to a similar start last year before fizzling in the second half.
Another tight division at the top could come down to the wire.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 48-37
Cincinnati Reds: 47-38 (1 Game Back)
St Louis Cardinals: 46-40 (2.5 GB)
Milwaukee Brewers: 40-45 (8 GB)
Chicago Cubs: 33-52 (15 GB)
Houston Astros: 33-53 (15.5 GB)
In Pittsburgh, Andrew McCutchen leads all of baseball with a .362 batting average and is in pursuit of a league MVP award with his 18 home runs and 60 RBI's at the break. On the mound, Pittsburgh has one of the top one-two punches in the majors currently with A.J. Burnett (10-2 3.68 ERA) and James McDonald. (9-3 2.37 ERA)
The back end of the bullpen with Joel Hanrahan's 23 saves is also a key to the Pirate's early success. If Pittsburgh hopes to continue with their winning ways and clinch the playoffs for the first time in two decades, another bat may be needed at the trade deadline.
I thought the loss of Ryan Madson before the season would hurt Cincinnati's chances significantly a few months back. Apparently, I didn't consider Aroldis Chapman to be an absolute machine out of the bullpen. Chapman thus far has a 1.83 ERA while averaging nearly two strikeouts per inning.
Starting pitching has also had success this year with Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos combining for a 17-7 first half record. Joey Votto is doing his best to compete with the numbers of McCutchen, hitting .348 and blasting 14 home runs. Jay Bruce is the Reds leader with 18 home runs.
The defending World Series Champion Cardinals did well to replace slugger Albert Pujols with Carlos Beltran. Beltran, thus far, has 20 home runs and 65 runs batted in at the break. The Cardinals are one of the top-hitting teams this year with six guys hitting over .300 and five with at least 13 home runs.
On the mound, St Louis was hit with a major setback when Chris Carpenter was listed to miss the remainder of the season, but guys like Kyle Lohse (9-2, 2.79 ERA) and rookie Lance Lynn (11-4) are off to tremendous starts.
When Ryan Braun's PED case was dismissed due to contaminated evidence, everyone wondered how he would respond in 2012. Well, Braun picked up right where he left off. Through the first half, Braun is batting .306 with 24 home runs, 61 RBI's and 15 steals.
Losing Home Run Derby Champion Prince Fielder this off-season is proving to be hard to replace as the Brewers offensively are in the middle of the pack to bottom in offensive numbers.
Zack Greinke has started strong with a 9-3 record and is on many team's radars as the deadline approaches.
If the Cubs' fans have one thing to look forward to the rest of the way, it's watching Anthony Rizzo, the latest young Cub to be brought in a couple of weeks ago. Rizzo has gotten off to a great start, hitting .354 with four home runs. That being said, the Cubs appear to be sellers once again this year, and power arms Ryan Dempster (4-3 1.99 ERA) and Matt Garza (4-7 4.32 ERA) are expected to be near the top of the list.
Houston has a lot of young talent in their system, but they are a couple years away from contending with that talent. Jose Altuve and Jed Lowrie look as if they could become fixtures in the infield, and veterans like Carlos Lee and Wandy Rodriguez could be shopped to bring in more youth to build up this young team.
If you looked at the standings in the National League East, you might think they had been upside down. No way would I have expected the Washington Nationals to be in first place and the Philadelphia Phillies to be in last.
However, Washington seems to be doing just about everything right, and in Philadelphia, nothing seems to be going right.
Washington Nationals: 49-34
Atlanta Braves: 46-39 (4 Games Back)
New York Mets: 46-40 (4.5 GB)
Miami Marlins: 41-44 (9 GB)
Philadelphia Phillies: 37-50 (14 GB)
The good news about having consecutive awful seasons is you get consecutive high draft picks. It's even better news when those draft picks are Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.
Coming off Tommy John Surgery last year, Strasburg has shown no signs of a tired arm or lingering injury while starting off the campaign with a 9-4 record and 2.82 ERA. Bryce Harper, making his debut in the major leagues at just 19 years old, is also doing well, hitting .282.
The Nationals currently have the best pitching in baseball yielding the lowest ERA, WHIP and BAA.
The acquisition of Gio Gonzalez prior to the season has paid major dividends as he contends for a Cy Young award mid-way through, posting a 12-3 record and 2.92 ERA.
The Nats have three starters with ERA's under 3.00, and Tyler Clippard is holding down the back end of the bullpen with a 1.93 ERA. Offensively, the Nationals need to step it up at the plate; however, they are hoping that with Jayson Werth coming back from an injured wrist, they will hold off contenders in the NL East.
The Atlanta Braves let a chance at post-season play slip away last year on the last day of the regular season, and that bad taste left in their mouth has carried them to a great start in 2012. Closer Craig Kimbrel is a big reason why and is off to a start that has Mariano Rivera looking over his shoulder. OK maybe not yet, but Kimbrel's 25 saves and sub-1.40 ERA are keeping Atlanta's late leads safe.
At the plate, the Braves big guns Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann are on pace for 100 RBI seasons, and Michael Bourn is setting the table with a .311 BA and 25 steals.
The New York Mets weren't expected to do much this season, but they have stolen a lot of the headlines. Prior to this season, the Mets had never had a no-hitter thrown by one of their pitchers until Johan Santana did it earlier this year. Veteran R.A. Dickey then threw a one-hitter that was later challenged by the team before ultimately being ruled good.
Dickey has come out of nowhere from a journeyman to an ace with a 12-1 record. Offensively, David Wright is a one man wrecking crew, hitting .351 and 59 RBI's.
Miami spent a ton this off-season between building a new stadium, getting flashy uniforms, hiring an explosive manager and of course, improving their roster. The result: Fourth place in the division and nine games back at the break. New addition Jose Reyes is batting just .264, Hanley Ramirez just .248 and Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson are both .500 for the year.
Giancarlo Stanton has showcased some moonshots with his 19 home runs, but the team is a long ways away from reaching its potential and expectations.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment in all of baseball this year is the Philadelphia Phillies. When Ryan Howard went down on the final out in the NLDS loss last year to eventual champ St Louis, everyone knew it would be hard to fill his shoes for the start of this season.
No one expected it to be this bad.
Howard has returned this past week along with Chase Utley, who has missed a significant amount of time to injury as well.
Even with Howard and Utley back, fans are seeing usual stars struggle significantly. Placido Polanco is batting just .266, Jimmy Rollins just .256 and Shane Victorino only .245. On the mound, two of the game's best are also having perhaps the worst starts of their careers. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are a combined 5-10 and both have ERA's barely under 4.00.
With the Phillies sitting at 14 games back at the break, they could be sellers at the deadline. Ruben Amaro Jr. said in mid-May that the team would be trading assets if they were not in contention near trade deadline time. Many teams appear to be interested in pitcher Cole Hamels. (10-4 3.20 ERA). Even with Howard and Utley back healthy, it appears unlikely that the Phillies will be showing much fight come September.
And the Winners Are...
American League MVP: Mike Trout (LAA) .341 BA, 12 HR, 40 RBI's, 26 Steals
National League MVP: Andrew McCutchen (PIT) .362 BA, 18 HR, 60 RBI's, 14 Steals
American League Cy Young: Jered Weaver (LAA) 10-1, 1.96 ERA
National League Cy Young: R.A. Dickey (NYM) 12-1, 2.40 ERA
American League Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout (LAA) See MVP Stats
National League Rookie of the Year: Wade Miley (ARZ) 9-5, 3.04 ERA
American League Manager of the Year: Robin Ventura (CHW)
National League Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson (WSH)
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