With the first half of the 2009 Major League Baseball season coming to a close, it's a good time to look back and reflect on a great first 81 games.
As with every baseball season, there are always ups and downs, surprises and disappointments, and memorable or not-so-memorable moments. The sheer unpredictability of the sport is one of the things that make our pastime great.
So with that said, it's time to look back on a great first half of the 2009 baseball season.
The 2009 All First-Half Team
Joe Mauer, C, Twins: Despite early injury, he batted over .400 for most of the first half. His 15 first-half homers are a career best.
Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals: Leads the Majors in homers (32) and RBI (85). The best player in the game, and it's not even close.
Aaron Hill, 2B, Blue Jays: Hill's 20 homers and 59 runs batted in are a huge reason the Jays have stayed in contention in the tough AL East.
David Wright, 3B, Mets: Power numbers are down significantly, but Wright was leading the NL in batting for most of the first half. The fact that he's still hitting over .320 with nothing around him is amazing.
Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins: Terrible defense, but maybe the best hitter in the NL not named Pujols. Currently leading the NL in hitting at .347.
Jason Bay, LF, Red Sox: Manny who? Even with Big Papi struggling for much of the first half, Bay has hit 20 homers and currently leads the AL in RBI with 72.
Torii Hunter, CF, Angels: Hunter has led a team that has lost its best pitcher and player to injury (Lackey and Vlad), another pitcher to a fatal auto accident, and a ton of talent to free agency. Hunter has stepped in with a career year, hitting .305, 17 HR, and 65 RBI.
Jayson Werth, RF, Phillies: Werth is proving to be an everyday player, having already belted 20 homers and driven in 56 runs (he hit 24 HR and 67 RBI all of 2008). Great defense and solid speed (12 SB in 2009) have led to his first All Star selection.
Dan Haren, RHP, Diamondbacks: Haren has nine wins and leads the majors with a 2.01 ERA on a last-place team. With Brandon Webb injured, Haren has become the ace of the staff and has answered the call brilliantly.
Johan Santana, LHP, Mets: He's had a few mediocre outings of late, but Johan was unhittable for the first two months of the season, yet got some of the worst run support. On even a decent offensive team, his nine wins would be more like 11 or 12.
Mariano Rivera, CL, Yankees: He's the greatest of all time, and while there may be a few closers with slightly better numbers in 2009 (i.e. Heath Bell), Rivera is still the best on the most pressure-filled team in the bigs.
NL Manager of the first half : Tony La Russa, Cardinals
La Russa's teams are always solid and competitive, even when they probably shouldn't be. That could be said for this season as well.
Of course, Pujols is going to be Pujols, but other than that, everything the man does works (Chris Carpenter's return, Skip Schumaker's move to second base, etc.).
It's no wonder the Cardinals are leading the division most people thought would be won by the Cubs.
AL Manager of the first half: Mike Scioscia, Angels
Hey Jerry Manuel, take a look at this guy. Scioscia's team has had the cards stacked against them from day one (losing a boatload of talent in the off-season).
They they lost their best pitcher, and another one was killed in an auto accident. Scioscia has also had to deal with limited production from an aging franchise player in Vlad Guererro.
Luckily, Scioscia's players have continued to play hard, fundamentally sound baseball when no one would have blamed them if they gave up. The result: The Angels are where they always are, right in the middle of playoff contention in the AL West.
NL Rookie of the first half: Randy Wells, P, Cubs
Wells started the season by throwing 11 shutout innings against the Brewers and Astros, and followed that up by pitching seven quality starts in his next eight appearances.
He's currently 4-3, with a terrific 2.48 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 69 innings pitched. Wells has been one of the few bright spots in a thus-far disappointing season on the North Side.
AL Rookie of the first half: Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
Offensively, nobody is going to confuse Andrus with Nomar Garciapparra in 1997, but he's hit enough to stay in the line-up, and his defense has been spectacular.
The Rangers are much better defensively with Michael Young at third base, and Andrus has helped the Rangers surprise in the AL West.
NL First Half Cy Young award: Dan Haren, Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks have been disappointing in 2009, but it's not because of Haren. He's stepped into the role of team ace since Brandon Webb has been out due to injury.
Haren has won nine games, is third in the NL with 129 strikeouts, and currently leads the NL in ERA (2.01), WHIP (.808), innings (130.1), and complete games (3).
AL First Half Cy Young award: Zack Greinke, Royals
Greinke has finally begun to live up to his potential. Greinke is on pace to become the first Royals pitcher to win 20 games since Bret Saberhagen in 1989, and currently leads the AL in ERA (2.12), innings (127.1), complete games (5), and shutouts (2). He also had a 38-inning scoreless streak in 2009.
NL First Half MVP: Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals
What can be said about Pujols that hasn't been said a million times already? The best player on the planet is at it again, leading the majors in home runs and RBI, and his .336 batting average is third in the NL. Pujols has a serious chance at the Triple Crown in 2009.
AL First Half MVP: Torii Hunter, CF, Angels
I know there are players with better numbers than Hunter, even though he is having a career year offensively (.305, 17 HR, 65 RBI), but think where the Angels would be without their center fielder.
John Lackey is out, Vlad Guerrero has played poorly when he isn't injured, Nick Adenhart was killed, and they lost their best player and record setting closer to both New York teams via free agency in the off season.
Most teams would have crumbled, but the Angels have stayed in contention, and Hunter is a big reason why.
Biggest First Half Surprise (player): Ben Zobrist, IF/OF, Rays
Zobrist has provided an offensive spark the Rays thought they were getting when they signed Pat Burrell. Zobrist has seemed to come out of nowhere as a very good all around player.
He's hit for average (.290), power (17 HR), driven in runs (51), and even shown some speed (11 SB). Zobrist's versatility doesn't end there, however, as he has even played six different positions in 2009 (2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, RF).
Biggest First Half Surprise (team): Milwaukee Brewers
A tough call between the Brewers and Texas Rangers, but I have to admit I thought the brewers had absolutely no chance in 2009. Not many teams could lose both CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets and still be only four games out of first place, but Milwaukee has done it.
They've gotten great hitting, including an MVP-caliber season out of Prince Fielder, Yovanni Gallardo has stepped in as ace of the staff without a problem, and maybe most importantly, the Brew Crew finally have stability at closer with Trevor Hoffman having a very good season.
Biggest First Half Disappointment (player): Oliver Perez, P, Mets
After refusing to offer Derek Lowe a fourth guaranteed season and watching him sign with Atlanta, the Mets re-signed Perez for three years and $36 million. So far the investment has been terrible for the Mets.
Perez has been injured most of the first half, and prior to that he was completely ineffective, posting and ERA close to 9.00 and walking more batters than innings pitched (28 BB, 26 IP).
Biggest First Half Disappointment (team): Cleveland Indians
Another tough call between the Indians and Cubs, but Cleveland gets the dubious nod. Many people (including myself) predicted the Indians to contend for the AL Central division title, only to watch Cleveland play terrible baseball during the first half of the season.
They have had Grady Sizemore out with an injury, Cliff Lee has been more like his 2007 self rather than last season's Cy Young award winner, and their bullpen, including new closer Kerry Wood, has been terrible.
They are currently in last place at 34-53 (14 games out of first), and have already started selling off players.
Comeback Player of the first half: Chris Carpenter, P, Cardinals
Since winning the 2005 NL Cy Young award, Carpenter has pitched in only one full season (2006, 15-8, 3.09 ERA). In 2007 and 2008 combined he pitched in a total of five games, with very poor results.
Then came Tommy John surgery, and the very real possibility that St. Louis' ace would never return to the mound.
Carpenter, even after a brief DL stint this season, has proved all doubters wrong. He has regained his place as ace of the Cardinals' staff with a stellar first half of 2009.
Carpenter is back to his old self, posting a 7-3 record and an ERA of 2.47, good for fourth in the National League. His return is a huge part of St. Louis currently leading the NL Central.
Well, there it is, the 2009 first half wrap up. While it's true 81 games does not a season make, it is usually a good indicator of things to come.
Then again, this is baseball, and anything can happen in baseball.
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