MLB Awards Watch: An Update After the First Third of the Season
The season is starting to take shape as we enter June and players and teams are breaking away from the pack. The playoff picture is anything but clear, although there are some serious frontrunners.
Two months have gone by and some things are clear. Offenses are not what they used to be. Pitching is dominating and it will show in some of the awards.
The other thing after another month is that some players that had monster Aprils have fallen back to Earth in May and some that struggled in April have burst through.
Here are the players and coaches that have made a case for hardware in November.
AL MVP: Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
This picture says it all about Jose Bautista. Pitching to him is laughable because he'll hit the ball and he'll hit it hard.
Bautista was a big MVP candidate in 2010, but his game has evolved in 2011. His batting average was mediocre in 2010 at just .260, but he has improved it in 2011 to .348. As good as his slugging percentage was in 2010 thanks to his 54 home runs, he has increased it by over .100. His OBP has been dancing around .500 all year and is exactly there after Tuesday's win in Kansas City. The two numbers combine for a ridiculous 1.227 OPS, which leads the majors.
There is no player hitting the ball as well as Bautista and he has no plans of slowing down. He can almost coast to the award because pitchers just aren't pitching to him anymore and his walk total will continue to increase. ESPN's projections have him paced at 53 home runs and 146 walks, which should easily give him a unanimous MVP victory.
Runner-Up: Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox
NL MVP: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are in shambles in 2011. The ownership has fallen apart and the team has not been able to keep up with the defending champs and resurgent Arizona Diamondbacks. Injuries have torn the team apart, but the superstars in center and left have continued to develop as one of the best outfield duos.
Between Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, it has been Kemp that has stepped up offensively to carry the team on his shoulders. The 26-year-old has pushed to the top five of all the triple crown categories in the NL. He ranks fifth in average, but is tied for first in home runs and RBI, with Jay Bruce and Prince Fielder, respectively.
His value to the lineup is greater than that of Ryan Braun or any of the three sluggers in St. Louis, so he is the MVP in the NL.
Runner-Up: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
AL Cy Young: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels
Jered Weaver looked like a lock for the Cy Young after he was untouchable in April, but he has since come back to Earth and his ERA has ballooned from under 1.00 to 2.14, still good enough for second-best in the AL. Despite his over 4 ERA in May, he has continued to strike out batters at a freakish pace and is third in the AL.
Weaver refused to lose in April, but couldn't win in May. His struggles really only lasted for the four games that he lost in May because they are the only games in which he has allowed three or more earned runs and he lost all of them. He has strung together three great starts that and looks like he is back on top.
Weaver's struggles narrowed the gap between him and the rest of the AL. Unfortunately for them, he's still the best in the league.
Runner-Up: Dan Haren, Los Angeles Angels
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
Roy Halladay isn't surprising anyone. He won the Cy Young last year and has another from his Toronto Blue Jays days, so it's not a stretch to think he's the best in the league. That's why it's easy to say he's the best.
Halladay's ERA isn't the best in the NL, but he is fifth and has scattered runs well enough to win eight games, tied for the most in the league. He has also racked up 97 strikeouts, which is second only to his left handed counterpart, Cliff Lee.
Doc's greatest feat is his four complete games, which leads the majors. Any player that can give his bullpen the day off that often is worthy of pitching's highest honor as long as the other stats aren't terrible. I'd say Roy isn't doing too badly.
Runner-Up: Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta Braves
AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Pineda, Seattle Mariners
Michael Pineda hasn't just been the best rookie in the majors. He's been one of the best pitchers in the majors.
Pineda's 2.33 ERA is seventh in the majors and almost a run less than his incumbent Cy Young teammate, Felix Hernandez. He is also striking out batters towards the top of the league and winning his fair share of games.
Pineda was locked in a battle with Baltimore's Zach Britton at the beginning of the year, but has begun to run away with the rookie honors. He is overpowering and shows no signs of letting up.
Runner-Up: Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
NL Rookie of the Year: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
The 2010 NL Rookie of the Year race was exciting because there was so much talent and a lot of really deserving athletes at the top of the charts. Buster Posey and Jason Heyward were future cornerstones of their franchises. This year's class is much weaker.
Craig Kimbrel has had a great year. He is second in the NL in saves and has a great 2.70 ERA, but his competition is pretty much Darwin Barney; he is miles ahead of Barney.
Top prospects like Freddie Freeman and Brandon Belt have been huge disappointments. Domonic Brown has entered the fray and could push later for the award. I would also look at Dee Gordon as a potential contender. Tom "flash" Gordon had a lot to be proud of in his son's 3-5 debut with a steal and a run scored. He could sneak his way into the mix as the season continues.
Runner-Up: Darwin Barney, Chicago Cubs
AL Manager of the Year: Manny Acta, Cleveland Indians
The Indians are still the best team in the AL into June and they look like they could still be on the rise. Manny Acta has his team playing .500 ball on the road, which is satisfactory, but he is doing well by taking advantage of home field, going 20-11 at Progressive Field.
The road could be pretty easy for Acta to lead his team of everyone else's prospects to the playoffs. Detroit is the only team in their vicinity, but Acta has shown that he can stay on top.
Runner-Up: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays
NL Manager of the Year: Kirk Gibson, Arizona Diamondbacks
If Kirk Gibson does in fact win this award, I want to see him limp around the bases pumping his fist on Opening Day 2012.
Gibson took over a bad team at the end of 2010. Credit Kevin Towers for making the right moves in the offseason, but Gibson has his team biting at the heels of the San Francisco Giants for the NL West crown.
A lot of their success comes from Justin Upton's development. He has blasted home runs and has started to look like a No. 1 pick. Ian Kennedy also looks terrific and the back end of the bullpen has been great.
Getting rid of Mark Reynolds and simultaneously snatching David Hernandez was huge for the team that had such a high strikeout total and poor bullpen. Hernandez has been one of the best set-up men in the league (save for his implosion Tuesday against the Pirates).
Runner Up: Tony La Russa, St. Louis Cardinals
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Josh Beckett/James Shields
I'm torn between both of these players because they were both around the same amount of bad in 2010 and have become about the same amount of great in 2011.
If I had to choose, I would probably go with Beckett because the Red Sox are doing better than the Rays, but Shields has a strong resume as well.
Beckett's fastball looked way too hittable in 2010, but has been great in 2011. He leads the AL in ERA, but his team hasn't been able to convert his pitching into wins.
Shields has been different. He got away from his changeup in 2010, but has brought it back and it is devastating. He has the second-most strikeouts in the AL and also has a very low ERA. He has also had trouble getting wins, but has been very good at giving his team innings. He leads the AL in complete games with three and shutouts with two.
These two pitchers also have to face the AL East, which means power and patience with deep lineups. Their resurgences have been extremely impressive.
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Charlie Morton, Pittsburgh Pirates
Charlie Morton is an interesting guy for Comeback Player. While Beckett and Shields had previous dominance, Morton was only ever alright in the past.
I think he deserves Comeback Player of the Year because it's a miracle that any team would allow a guy back into the rotation who was 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA. Morton deserves praise for working to make himself a better pitcher and the results have shown significantly.
The shocking number that really makes him deserve Comeback Player honors is that his ERA has dropped over five runs to 2.52. He has been able to eat innings effectively for a young team that needs him and has already tripled his win total from last year. Morton is pitching like he never has in his career and his improvement is a great comeback if you consider his ERA has shot up from mediocre to terrible and then back down to terrific.
Runner Up: Lance Berkman, St. Louis Cardinals