It isn’t quite the All-Star break for baseball, yet most of the league’s teams are at or past the halfway point of this year’s grueling 162-game season.
With that being said, there are certainly a number of teams and players that have already stood out in a positive way. Yep, like a teacher gives her best students, it’s time to hand out some gold stars, this time, to the best performers during baseball’s first half.
Gold Stars: Volume III
Baseball’s Halfway Point
Tampa Bay Rays (49-32) Many prognosticators had these guys competing in 2008, but let’s be honest, did we all really believe it? One thing’s for sure, the Rays are loaded with talent all over the field, and oh yeah...Evan Longoria is for real.
Baltimore Orioles (41-39) Many critics had the Orioles finishing with the worst record in the majors. Meanwhile, the O’s are finding ways to stay afloat. Baltimore is 17-12 is one-run games, that’s four more one-run victories than all of last season.
Their bullpen has been the strong point, posting the fifth-best ERA in the majors (3.15).
Andy MacPhail also deserves “props” for the deals he made in the offseason, as the players acquired in the Tejada and Bedard deals are making significant contributions to this year’s club (as well as in the minors).
Philadelphia Phillies (44-39) In recent years, Philadelphia has been a consistent slow starter. However, 2008 has been a different story. While many would point to Chase Utley and Cole Hamels as the main reasons for their hot start, one shouldn’t dismiss how deadly Philly’s bullpen has been, with a major-league leading ERA of 2.62.
Boston Red Sox (50-34) The reigning champs have sustained some injuries, with David Ortiz going down weeks ago and Curt Schilling being lost for the year. Still, the Sox keep picking each other up, and they remain in a battle with the Rays and Angels for the AL’s best record.
Chicago Cubs (49-33) We knew they would likely perform well, but were the Cubbies expected to have a commanding lead for best record in the NL at the midway point? Maybe, maybe not.
Either way, it’s going to be interesting to see what Chicago does at the trade deadline, especially with Carlos Zambrano injured.
George Sherrill (3.53 ERA, 26 saves) Taking over as a full-time closer for the first time in his career, did anyone see these kind of numbers coming out of Sherrill? His 26 saves are second in the major leagues. If this guy doesn’t make the AL All-Star team, it’s a shame.
Carlos Quentin (.288 average, 19 HR, 61 RBI) Looks like the D’Backs gave up on Quentin one year too early, as he’s putting up MVP-type numbers for the White Sox through the first half.
Nate McLouth (.283 average, 15 HR, 51 RBI) Pittsburgh’s 26-year-old center fielder has already reached career highs in home runs and RBI. The real question is: how long can he keep this torrid pace up?
Chase Utley and Dan Uggla (23 HR each—leads MLB) Who out there had two National League second basemen leading the majors in home runs? Yeah, I didn’t think so. The real question is: who deserves to start at second in the All-Star Game?
Josh Hamilton (.312 average, 19 HR, 79 RBI) It’s been years since there was talk about a Triple Crown winner. That is, until Hamilton stepped up to the plate as a Texas Ranger in 2008. Currently, he leads the AL in homers and RBI, but has dropped to 10th in average. There’s plenty of season left for Hamilton to hit the record books.
Lance Berkman (.364 average, 21 HR, 67 RBI) Sticking with the Triple Crown theme, Lance Berkman has rustled up similar rumors in the NL this season. On a ridiculous pace in 2008, Berkman is currently second in the NL in average, third in HR, and second in RBI.
Chipper Jones (.394 average, 16 HR, 46 RBI) It’s nice to once again have a story about someone chasing .400 this far into the season. Then again, do any of us really think that Chipper can pull it off? One thing’s for sure, if he does, Jones will be feeling...well...chipper.
Edinson Volquez (10-3, 2.08 ERA, 110 Ks) In his first full season, Volquez has been dominant since being traded from the Rangers to the Reds. He doesn’t count as a rookie, but should definitely be considered a candidate for the NL Cy Young award as the season progresses.
Tim Lincecum (9-1, 2.38 ERA, 114 Ks) In only his second season, the 24-year-old Lincecum has been dominant in the young Giants rotation. If San Francisco could just acquire some supporting cast....
Cliff Lee (11-1, 2.34 ERA, 90 Ks) and Ervin Santana (9-3, 3.32 ERA, 99 Ks) After abysmal 2007 campaigns, Lee (6.29 ERA) and Santana (5.76) were nearly traded by their respective teams. In the end, neither was dealt, and now both are comeback stories of the year.
Justin Duchscherer (8-5, 1.91 ERA) With nearly 200 relief appearances over the last four seasons, Duchscherer was placed in the Oakland rotation this year, and he has flourished. Now, he leads the majors with the best ERA, and a start in the All-Star Game is certainly not out of the question.
Ryan Dempster (9-3, 3.26 ERA) Starting for the first time since 2003, Dempster has pitched extremely well for the Cubs. How smart is Lou Piniella looking right now for moving him back into the rotation?
Francisco Rodriguez (2.04 ERA, 31 saves) Rodriguez is having an incredible season, and is well on his way to challenging Bobby Thigpen’s record of 57 saves (set back in 1990).
Silver Stars (Honorable Mentions) Rich Harden, Jim Johnson, Mike Mussina, J.D. Drew, Adrian Gonzalez, Ian Kinsler, Milton Bradley, John Danks, Joe Saunders, and Aaron Cook.
If you get a chance, check out this post’s counterpart, “Throwing Tomatoes: Baseball’s Halfway Point”.
This has been “Gold Stars”...let’s see who performs during the second half.
** All stats as of Sunday June 29, 2008