The calendar has flipped to July, trade rumors have intensified, and teams are preparing to start their final series before the All-Star Break after a getaway day on Thursday. That can only mean one thing: The Chicago Cubs are only a few months away from tacking another year of futility onto the ever-growing grand total (which you can now track on your iPhone!).
But it also means something else: It’s time to dole out some midseason awards.
Since our primary focus here at Midwest Sports Fans is, well, the Midwest, I am going to focus my award-giving to just the Central divisions of the American and National League. Let’s get right to it.
NL Central First Half MVP
Albert Pujols, and I really don’t need to say anything else about it. His name itself is becoming hyperbole. I want to see a new version of “The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials featuring Pujols.
They could be called “The Most Dominating Presence in Baseball” and include lines like, “He once struck out, just to see what it felt like” and “He’s seen fewer pitches than the World Cup, yet his goatee alone has hit more home runs than Ryan Ludwick.”
Albert Pujols is amazing and is not just the NL Central MVP, but the MLB MVP for the first half of 2009 as well.
AL Central First Half MVP
This one is not so clear-cut. Let’s take a look at a few of the candidates (stats as of July 9):
Joe Mauer, Twins: 60 G, 224 AB, .388 BA, 15 HR, 47 RBI, 48 R, 1.118 OPS
Justin Morneau, Twins: 84 G, 319 AB, .317 BA, 21 HR, 69 RBI, 56 R, .984 OPS
Jermaine Dye, White Sox: 77 G, 276 AB, .297 BA, 20 HR, 54 RBI, 51 R, .940 OPS
Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals: 10-5, 2.12 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 129 K, 29 BB
Obviously, I really want to say JD, or even Scott Podsednik, and I think there is an argument to be made for them, as their value has been highlighted by the injury to Carlos Quentin, but I have a hard time giving it to anyone other than Justin Morneau or Joe Mauer with the impressive stats both have racked up.
It certainly isn’t Zack Greinke, whose team becomes more irrelevant with each passing week. If his ERA was still 1.00, then maybe. But he hasn’t been as lights-out recently, which is to be expected since he isn’t the greatest pitcher in the history of mankind and all beings, as some have suggested.
While everyone is salivating over Mauer—and don’t get me wrong, he has been great since returning from injury—Morneau has been producing at a high level for 24 more games and over the span of almost 100 more ABs than Mauer.
Plus, batting average is an overrated stat, so Mauer gets no bonus points from me because he’s making everyone dream about .400.
Both are great candidates, and by the end of the year such a difference in games won’t be so magnified, but right now I have to go with Morneau, who has been the most consistent run producer in the division over the course of the entire first half.
NL Central First Half Cy Young
I see two primary contenders: Adam Wainwright of St. Louis and Yovani Gallardo of Milwaukee. Here are the stats:
Yovani Gallardo, Brewers: 8-6, 109.2 innings, 2.95 ERA, 120 K, 51 BB
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: 9-5, 122.1 innings, 3.09 ERA, 110 K, 45 BB
Pretty damn close based on the numbers (and you could probably throw Ryan Franklin in the mix here too, who has been great as the Cardinals’ closer).
My first instinct when comparing Gallardo and Wainwright is to go with the guy pitching for the team in first place, but it’s hard to use team record as a tiebreaker considering the Cardinals are only one game up on the Brewers in the standings.
Or is it? With two pitchers this close, sometimes it comes right down to head-to-head battles.
Thus far in 2009, Wainwright has absolutely dominated Milwaukee. He is 2-0 in two starts against the Brewers, going 15.1 innings and giving up just a single run while striking out 18.
Gallardo, on the other hand, has struggled somewhat against his team’s primary competition for the division title. Despite having a better overall ERA and WHIP than Wainwright, Gallardo is 0-1 against St. Louis.
Sure, he pitched eight innings of shutout ball while only giving up two hits in the teams’ May 25 battle, so you can’t blame him for the no-decision there, but that game was not head-to-head against Wainwright like the July 7 game was. In that battle, Gallardo lasted only five innings and gave up four runs in a 5-0 loss for the Brew Crew.
So maybe that one-game difference for the Cardinals is the difference between Wainwright and Gallardo. I’m giving the first half Cy Young for the NL Central to Adam Wainwright.
AL Central First Half Cy Young
Lots of legit contenders here. Let’s list them out with stats:
Mark Buehrle, White Sox: 9-2, 3.14 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 114.2 innings, 65 K, 25 BB
Joe Nathan, Twins: 0-1, 1.13 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 33.1 innings, 22 saves, 43 K, 7 BB
Justin Verlander, Tigers: 9-4, 3.59 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 115.1 innings, 141 K, 35 BB
Edwin Jackson, Tigers: 6-4, 2.59 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 114.2 innings, 93 K, 33 BB
Zack Greinke, Royals: 10-5, 2.12 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 127.1 innings, 129 K, 29 BB
Fausto Carmona, Indians: 2-6, 7.42 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 60.2 innings, 36 K, 41 BB
If we were giving this out to the pitcher who has been the most generous to opposing hitters and teams, Fausto Carmona would win in a landslide. And yes, this is the same Fausto Carmona that went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA in 2007.
But obviously I only listed Carmona here to throw more salt in the multitude of open wounds Cleveland’s start has given its fans. More on him later.
Back to the subject at hand. Greinke obviously has the best numbers, but I just don’t believe in handing out awards to players whose teams are not in the playoff race. There is a different level of pressure when your team is expected to win and when games are meaningful.
If the award were Most Outstanding Pitcher, it’s Greinke by a landslide. It’s not, and it clearly states in the fine print of my own personal Cy Young and MVP criteria that last place teams (Cleveland sucks so bad they don’t count anymore) cannot have Cy Young or MVP winners, so we’ll let Willy Wonka tell Greinke what he’s won:
(By the way, credit goes to Hugging Harold Reynolds for tweeting that video yesterday. I hadn’t seen that in forever but always loved Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie Bucket is a golden god.)
Honestly, I can’t find a whole lot to separate Buehrle, Verlander, and Jackson. All three have had excellent seasons. I’d give the edge to Buehrle because he owns the Tigers and Verlander sucks against the White Sox, and both have more wins than Jackson, but it’s really splitting hairs between those three.
My first half AL Central Cy Young goes to Joe Nathan, who has just been out-of-this-world awesome. The Twins’ pitchers (other than Nick Blackburn, who is having a very good yet under-the-radar season) have struggled this season. Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, and Kevin Slowey have all dealt with injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness.
The one constant (throughout all the years, Ray, has been baseball) has been Nathan at the back end of the bullpen making sure that when the Twins do have a late lead, they do not surrender it.
I’m not a huge proponent of giving Cy Youngs to closers who typically pitch less than a third of the amount of innings a top-line starter does, but Nathan has given up only 18 hits in 33.1 innings and is 22 for 24 in save opportunities.
He has been beyond dominant and there is no way the Twins would be as close to first place as they are without him. It’s a competitive field, but Nathan is the choice.
NL Central Manager of the First Half
Tony La Russa, and I don’t think it’s close. Ken Macha has done a nice job in Milwaukee keeping the Brewers in the race without CC Sabathia or Ben Sheets, but La Russa has the Cardinals in first place with one legit hitter in his lineup. Yes, that hitter is the great Pujols, but look at the rest of the team’s offensive stats. Putrid.
It’s not like their pitching has been lights out either. Ryan Franklin has been a revelation in the bullpen, and getting Chris Carpenter back has helped, but this is still a rotation that counts on guys like Kyle Lohse, Joel Pineiro, and Todd Wellemeyer. That La Russa has the Cardinals in first place is a testament to his managerial genius (and to Pujols’ utter dominance, of course).
AL Central Manager of the First Half
I really want to say Ozzie Guillen, and I think that he’s done a great job, but my vote goes to Jimmy Leyland of Detroit. It’s not just that the Tigers are in first place; it’s that they’ve been able to rebound from last season’s disappointment with a far less potent offensive attack and without the benefit of an above-average bullpen.
Leyland has navigated his way through the struggles of Dontrelle Willis and Armando Galarraga, plus had to deal with Magglio Ordonez’s sharp decline.
Leyland essentially has a lineup with only three hitters who have been consistent producers (Miguel Cabrera, Brandon Inge, Curtis Granderson), yet there the Tigers sit, a couple games up and eight games over .500.
2009 has been an excellent rebound season for Detroit, and Leyland deserves credit as the man steering the ship. He also deserves credit for having one of the most hilarious old school baseball cards ever. The hat, the mustache, the sunburned face...I’m not sure if he’s at Spring Training, a train conductor, or working at a carnival.
And with that, let’s transition into a few “alternative” awards for the first half.
NL Central Least Valuable Player of the First Half
Milton Bradley wins this one. Signed in the offseason after putting up terrific numbers in Texas, The Angry One has only gotten 203 ABs so far this season and hasn’t done much with them.
He’s hitting .236 and, even worse, is slugging only .374. Ouch. Plus, he is being his usual distracting self and getting into public pissing matches with his manager when he’s not forgetting how many outs there are in an inning. Like most things having to do with the Cubs, you just get the feeling that this is not going to end well.
AL Central Least Valuable Player of the First Half
Fausto Carmona of the Indians. We touched on his stats above, and they really say it all. This guy has just gone straight downhill since 2007, and the Indians have to be wondering if he’ll ever be able to recapture the ability that made him appear to be one of the bright young pitching stars in the big leagues.
Despite a rough 2008, a lot was expected out of Carmona this year. Well, the Indians have gotten a lot out of him...it’s just all been bad.
AL/NL Central Worst Manager of the First Half
Hands down, Eric Wedge. You need look no further than this site, where our very own AJ Kaufman calls for Wedge’s head in pretty much every article he writes. The Indians were expected to contend for the AL Central crown, yet they are 13.5 games out and 19 games under .500 already.
AL/NL Central Manager with the most potential to give his kids truly awful awesome names
Eric Wedge. If he had any sense of humor, he would name his kids Orange, Potato, and Cheese. No such luck though. As it is, he and his wife named their kids Ava and Dalton Cash. Oh well.
Come to think of it though, Dalton Cash Wedge is a pretty sweet and unique name. The kid is either going be a scrappy middle infielder/No. 2 hitter in the majors or the lead actor in his generation’s version of Dawson’s Creek. Well done, Eric. (See, we don’t always criticize you on Midwest Sports Fans.)
AL/NL Central Quote of the First Half
This one is easy and goes to (who else?) Ozzie Guillen. There were a few of them, all of which were gloriously derogatory towards the team from the North Side.
“But one thing about Wrigley Field, I puke every time I go there. That’s just to be honest. And if Cub fans don’t like the way I talk about Wrigley Field, it’s just Wrigley Field. I don’t say anything about the fans or anything now. But Wrigley Field, they got to respect my opinion. That’s the way I feel...I don’t care if they hate me. They don’t feed my kids. If they hate me, that’s cool.”
That’s just a great quote, although the part about Ozzie not talking about Cubs fans may not be entirely true. Ozzie also had this gem:
“...our fans are not stupid like Cubs fans.”
AL/NL Central Home Run Call of the Year
Hawk Harrelson, two days ago. Hell yeah!
That’s all I’ve got. Sorry for not even mentioning your teams, Reds, Astros, and Pirates fans...they’ve all been pretty uninteresting so far this year, at least as far as I’m concerned. But feel free to add your own midseason awards in the comments.
The White Sox bring out the brooms again tonight and then play the Twins in a pivotal pre-All Star Break series. As Hawk might say, I loooove baseball.