Handing out First-Half Awards to Blue Jays

Matthew Appleby@@applebyincContributor IIJuly 1, 2013

Handing out First-Half Awards to Blue Jays

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    Now that the halfway point of the 2013 MLB season is here, it is time to look back on what has transpired so far this season in Toronto.

    As of July 1, the Blue Jays are 40-41 and 8.5 games in back of the AL East division lead.

    It has been an action-packed season so far that started extremely poorly and only got worse when injuries depleted the Blue Jays’ starting rotation and the left side of their infield. But the Blue Jays managed to reel off a franchise best 11-game winning streak in June to bring them briefly back to relevance, just in time for ailing shortstop Jose Reyes to rejoin the team.

    Although out of the playoff hunt right now, the Blue Jays are far from eliminated. With another 81 games to play, their roster is finally getting healthy and learning to play together. Although it will take some strong baseball from here on out to secure a wild-card spot, they definitely have the potential to do so.

    There is plenty of baseball to look forward to, but for now, let’s take a moment to look back on the first half of this season in order to present some first-half awards.

    Here are my picks for the Blue Jays' most valuable player, most improved player and some other almost-cleverly named awards. Have your say in the comments section.

The Duracell Bunny Award

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    The Duracell Bunny Award is presented to the player who brings the most energy to the baseball team. He motivates his teammates, keeps them smiling and never stops going.

    Just a quick sidenote before I hand out this award. The Duracell Bunny actually predates the better-known Energizer Bunny, but for some reason the Energizer Bunny took off and the Duracell Bunny was left in his dust.

    Think of it like Peyton and Cooper Manning, but with bunnies. Oh yeah, and one has sunglasses.

    Without further adieu, the Duracell Bunny Award goes to...Munenori Kawasaki!

    Kawasaki may not have wowed anyone with his baseball skill—although he did hit his first MLB home run this season—but his off-field antics are another story.

    Kawasaki can often be found doing pregame headstands, conducting fake interviews in the dugout, bowing to everyone and dancing up a storm. His teammates, and fans, all seem to love having him around.

    Kawasaki was demoted to Triple-A once Jose Reyes returned to the lineup, but was almost instantly recalled when Melky Cabrera was placed on the disabled list.

    He also gave one of the best postgame interviews of the season. Check it out above to get an idea of how much the Blue Jays like him and the energy he brings to the ball club.

The Rick Ankiel Comeback Award

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    The Rick Ankiel Comeback Award is presented to the Blue Jays player who exemplifies determination and hard work while completing a successful comeback to the major leagues.

    In last year’s end-of-year awards column, I handed this award out to Steve Delabar. Delabar is still pitching well for the Blue Jays, but this year, it will go to a different member of the Blue Jays' bullpen.

    Dustin McGowan has been with the Blue Jays for his entire MLB career. It has been nine years since he made his professional debut, but has pitched in just 85 games since then. He has battled various injuries his whole career, with shoulder problems being his latest adversary.

    As coincidence would have it, McGowan has been able to make his return to the Blue Jays thanks in large part to the same workout program that Delabar used during his recovery.

    McGowan has found a home in the Blue Jays' bullpen after years of hard work. He entered the league as a starting pitcher, and once won 12 games for Toronto in 2007, but has since converted to a relief pitcher.

    He has appeared in six games this season with a 4.10 ERA. Although he has come a long way, he has a lot of work ahead of him to finish his career on a positive note.

The Most Improved Player Award

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    The Most Improved Player Award is presented to the Blue Jays player who has shown vast improvement from the 2012 season and has been able to contribute positively to the team’s success.

    One Blue Jays player has had such a remarkable turnaround from last season that you can’t help but notice.

    In 2012, he hit .255. This year he is up to .329. His OBP has climbed 0.74 points and just halfway through the season, he has nearly as many total bases as he did all of last season.

    The Most Improved Player Award goes to Adam Lind.

    Last year, Lind was optioned to Triple-A in the middle of the season and needed to clear waivers. Not one team put in a claim for him, which meant the Blue Jays retained his rights.

    That is an indication of just how far Lind has come. No major league team wanted him last season, and now he his hitting in the cleanup spot for the Blue Jays.

    Lind has always been a streaky player with good weeks and bad weeks, as well as good months and bad months, and even good years and bad years. So far this season, all indications are that Lind has rectified whatever was ailing him at the plate and he has found a home at first base.

    Hopefully, this meaningful award will not go to his head and he will continue to hit the ball well.

The Most Outstanding Player Award

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    The Most Outstanding Player Award is presented to the Blue Jays player who has contributed the greatest individual performance over the first half of the season.

    Although there were many great candidates to choose from, Edwin Encarnacion has been truly amazing for the Blue Jays. His 23 home runs rank third in the majors and he leads the Blue Jays with 66 RBI.

    Encarnacion is hitting .270 with an OBP of .350 while appearing in all 81 Blue Jays' games this season. Encarnacion has filled in at third when needed, has played above-average defense at first and has been crushing the ball at the plate.

    He has the benefit of hitting third in the lineup between two very good hitters in Jose Bautista and Adam Lind. Consequently, pitchers are forced to throw him strikes and he has been able to capitalize on that.

    This is nothing new for Encarnacion, who has led the Blue Jays' offense all season. In 2012, Encarnacion led the Blue Jays in batting average, home runs, RBI, OBP and hits.

    The Blue Jays have some amazing players this year. Honorable mentions go out to Adam Lind, Jose Bautista and Casey Janssen.

The Most Valuable Player Award

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    The Most Valuable Player Award is presented to the Blue Jays player deemed most valuable to his team.

    No matter what sport you’re talking about, the MVP award is always a tough one to give out. By definition, it is not for the player who is the best, or the most popular, player on his team, but the player deemed most valuable to his team.

    The first half of 2013 has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for the Blue Jays, but a familiar face has been finishing off games all season.

    Casey Janssen has 17 saves on the season with a WHIP of 0.71 and an ERA of just 2.03. When the game is on the line, manager John Gibbons has consistently handed the ball over to Janssen and seen favorable results.

    Without such a consistent force at the back end of the bullpen, the Blue Jays likely would have dropped a couple more close games. The security of knowing that if you can get a late lead, the closer will finish the job, is tremendous. It can completely change the strategy Janssen’s teammates take at the plate and the way that Gibbons is able to manage his team.

    He is arguably the best player on the team, and in my mind, he is definitively the most valuable.


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