Surprise, Surprise: MLB's First-Half Studs
Every baseball season is full of surprises. Whether it be Carlos Pena hitting 46 home runs for Tampa Bay last year, or the Tigers making it to the World Series in 2006, every season gives us something new.
This season is no different.
We have seen the new-and-improved Tampa Bay Rays hold a solid lead on first place in the A.L. East, and we have seen history made as Manny Ramirez hit his 500th career home run not long ago.
This season has given us some individual performances that will not be forgotten. We have seen Jon Lester overcome cancer and throw a no-hitter in one of the most unforgettable and emotional nights in Fenway Park's history.
We have also seen the likes of Josh Hamilton, who just a few years ago was out of baseball due to drug-related issues, have one of the best comeback seasons ever.
And we are only halfway through the season!
Here is my list of this season's biggest surprises. (All numbers are as of July 5, 2008)
C—Dioner Navarro, Tampa Bay
This was the guy that was the deal-breaker in the Randy Johnson trade to New York. After Arizona acquired him, he was then traded to the Dodgers and then to Tampa Bay.
Before this season, his career high RBI was 44. He already has 33, and he's only halfway through the season. Also, his career high for doubles was 19, and he will easily surpass that as he already has 14. He is hitting .315 with four home runs, 33 RBI, a .434 slugging percentage, and a .368 OBP.
The Rays have been the biggest surprise of the season, and Navarro has responded by having the best season of his young career.
1B—Kevin Youkilis, Boston
We have seen what this guy can do before, but he is going to be making his first All-Star Game and deserves to be on this list.
He is on pace to break all of his career highs. He will surpass his home run, RBI, and hit total. Not to mention, he is most likely going to set a new career high in batting average, slugging percentage, and possibly a new high in stolen bases.
Don't forget, this guy can play defense too! He won a Gold Glove last year and will probably win one again this year, as he plays stellar defense at first and can fill and do a great job at third. Youk is a huge part of the Red Sox, and he can help carry them to another championship
2B—Ian Kinsler, Texas
Every year this kid gets better and better. He is hitting .325, which is a 62-point turnaround from last year. He has already stolen 23 bases, which equals his total from last year.
Kinsler is only 10 RBI away from matching last year’s number, 21 runs away from tying last season total, and 11 hits away from equaling 2007's total. He has already surpassed last year’s doubles total and is looking to shatter last year’s slugging percentage.
The only thing that this kid needs to improve on is his defense, which is God-awful. He already has 16 errors, and his career high is 18.
There are few bright spots for the Rangers, and Ian Kinsler is one of them.
3B—Mark Reynolds, Arizona
Before anyone yells at me, I know that Reynolds is only hitting .258. But he has 17 home runs! He leads all major-league third basemen in home runs, and he has matched his total from last season in only 80 games.
Reynolds will surpass all of his numbers from last year. He is only 10 RBI away from last year’s total, six doubles away from equaling last year’s number, six runs away from tying last year's, and two walks away from tying his career high.
His average is way down, but the D'backs knew they weren't getting a batting champion when they stuck him into their lineup. He has been a huge part of Arizona's success up to this point, and he will continue to showcase his power as the D'backs look to win another division title.
SS—Yunel Escobar, Atlanta
Escobar was a big surprise last year when he filled in for Renteria, and he was a big enough surprise for him to be handed the starting job after Atlanta traded away Renteria in the offseason.
Escobar has responded nicely, as he has hit .290 and set new career highs in home runs, RBI, triples, and walks. He is also on pace to set new career highs in runs and hits.
He fits in very well in a lineup that has some big power bats with Jones, Teixeira, and Francoeur. He is a great contact hitter that gets on base for the big guys. He has even improved his defense, which was very shaky last year.
OF—Carlos Quentin, Chicago White Sox
Acquired by the White Sox from the D'backs in the offseason, Quentin has put together an astounding season thus far. He is tied for second in the A.L. in home runs, fourth in the majors in RBI, and 11th in the majors in runs scored.
He has surpassed his career highs by a huge margin, as he was not an everyday player in Arizona. Much like Reynolds, he does not hit for a very high average, but he is hitting a respectable .273.
He makes great contact and gets on base a lot, which has helped the White Sox become a contender in the American League once again. Quentin will most likely be making his first All-Star Game after a spectacular start to the season.
OF—Josh Hamilton, Texas
Drug problems kept this highly touted prospect out of baseball for several years. Still, at the young age of 27, Josh Hamilton is finally reaching his potential.
Up to this point in the season, he leads the majors in RBI, is sixth in the majors in home runs, 13th in runs scored, and his hitting is .306. For the majority of the first half of the season, Hamilton was contending for a Triple Crown. It is unlikely that he will win the award, as his average has fallen a bit.
However, he has put together one of the best first-halves of baseball in recent memory. He has already surpassed all of last year’s numbers, in six less games! Hamilton will be making his first All-Star Game, and it is well deserved after the struggles he has gone through.
OF—Nate McLouth, Pittsburgh
Like Texas, there are not many bright spots, and the fans will take what they can get. Nate McLouth has been one of those bright spots.
He is second on the team in home runs, tied for first in RBI, first in doubles, first in runs scored, first in hits, and first in stolen bases. He is on pace to set new career highs in batting average, slugging percentage, and OBP.
He has played great defense as well, as he has not made an error in 81 games. Hopefully McLouth will be able to keep up his numbers. He could potentially be the recipient of the N.L.'s Comeback Player of the Year.
SP—Aaron Cook, Colorado
We all know that the Rockies got hot at the right time last year, as they went undefeated in the playoffs until they hit a brick wall named the Boston Red Sox.
The Rockies have been a huge disappointment this season. They are fourth in their division and have been hit with the injury bug. They have seen the likes of Tulowitzki, Holliday, Barmes, Helton, Hawpe, and Francis all land on the DL.
Aaron Cook has been their only upside. He has won 11 games, a new career-high, in the first half of the season. More importantly, his home ERA is more than a run less than his road ERA! At Coors Field his ERA is 2.77 and on the road it is 3.96.
He is on pace to set new career-highs in strikeouts, complete games, and innings pitched. He has also been helping his own cause as he is hitting .278, and has already tied a career high in RBI. If he keeps up these numbers, he will be a contender for Comeback Player of the Year.
RP—George Sherrill, Baltimore
Baltimore has been a big surprise this season as well. Many figured they would be the cellar-dwellers of the A.L. East again, but they have been competitive by their standards.
Sherrill has been very good. He is second in the majors in saves with 27. With that said, only two relievers with as many as 22 saves have higher ERA's. Sherrill has been shaky at times, but impressive nonetheless.
He has recorded a save in 61 percent of the Orioles' wins, which tells you that they do not score much, so he is probably not getting a three-run lead every time he takes the ball, which helps explain his five blown saves already.
Even though he has had his struggles, he has surprised everyone with the amount of saves he has. Baltimore is one of the many teams that do not have much to be optimistic about, but Sherrill has given them hope as a reliable closer at the end of the game.
There it is, my list of surprises for the first half of the 2008 season. There are many players who deserved to be on this list but I just could not find room.
Some of the honorable mentions go to Jason Giambi, J.D. Drew, Jorge Cantu, Ryan Ludwick, Kelly Johnson, Ervin Santana, Edison Volquez, and Joe Saunders.
Feel free to comment on my list and let me know who I left out, or if you disagree with my decisions. I just ask that if you suggest someone that you believe belongs on the list, just back it up. Tell me why they should be on the list.
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