MLB: Ranking the Top 3 Contenders for Each Postseason Award
By the All-Star break, the hot summer sun has burned away all the April flashes in the pan. Stats at the All-Star break reflect more than 90 games and provide a fairly accurate basis for predicting how a player will produce the rest of the season.
They also provide kindling to fire months' worth of discussion and speculation about who will win the individual postseason awards.
AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez
Since being free from cavernous Petco Park, Adrian Gonzalez has put up monster numbers. Gonzalez leads the AL in batting average at .354 and RBI with 77 at the All-Star break. Gonzalez hit around .300 for the Padres, but no one could have predicted he would hit more than 50 points above his career average. He is the best player on the best team, but he is also the most complete player in the league as he hits for average and power while playing great defense.
AL MVP Runner-Up: Jose Bautista
Joey Bats is proving that he was no one-year wonder.
Jose Bautista leads the American League in home runs with 31, but more surprisingly he has raised his batting average to .334. Last year, he hit a lot of home runs, but batted only .260. Bautista is a complete hitter and will surpass 50 homers for the second consecutive year if he stays healthy.
If he played on a contender, Bautista would win this award going away, but playing in Canada, he will not get as much exposure as Gonzalez.
AL MVP Third Place: Paul Konerko
That Paul Konerko was relegated to the final vote just to make the All-Star team shows how flawed the selection process is.
Konerko's problem is that he goes about his job with a quiet consistency and is not flashy. He is the main reason the White Sox are hanging around the top of the division, and with the Indians and Tigers both having more than a few flaws, Konerko could lead his team into the playoffs, which would greatly improve his stock.
As it is, Konerko is in the top five in batting average, home runs, RBI, slugging and on base percentage. If that can't get you more than a few MVP votes, I don't know what can.
NL MVP: Jose Reyes
This pick is contingent on Jose Reyes returning from his hamstring injury quickly and playing at 100 percent right away.
Reyes has simply been phenomenal in the first half. He leads the NL in batting average and is in the top 10 in every other major offensive category, including slugging percentage. To realize how impressive that is, consider he has hit only three home runs this season. Reyes has 15 triples already and has kept the Mets above water almost single-handedly.
NL MVP Runner-Up: Prince Fielder
Playing in the nation's bratwurst capital, the league's biggest vegan, Prince Fielder has shown the ability to get scorching hot during a pennant race, and the Brewers will find themselves in the thick of a division championship race with the Cardinals and upstart Pirates. If Reyes falters in the second half, look for Fielder to leapfrog the Mets shortstop.
In what is a relatively weak offensive year in the NL, Fielder is pacing the Brewers' explosive attack and leads the league in RBI. Prince has already proven he can be counted on in a pennant race, and doing so again will only help his MVP stock.
NL MVP Third Place: Andrew McCutchen
The Pirates are the feel-good story of the year and do not appear to be going away. If they are able to sneak into the playoffs somehow, or even give the Brewers and Cardinals a scare, look for the media to look fondly upon Pittsburgh's best player, Andrew McCutchen.
McCutchen has been the driving offensive force of the Pirates, and is a team leader to boot. The future of Pittsburgh baseball looks bright, and McCutchen could not be a more deserving MVP candidate.
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander is 11-2 in his last 13 starts, has already thrown a no-hitter and taken another into the eighth inning and posted an ERA close to two flat. Verlander's style of pitching is made to last well into the waning days of summer, and the Tigers righty seems to get stronger as the innings pass. Verlander challenges hitters to put his fastball into play, and so far not many have been able to do it.
Verlander could become the first pitcher since Pedro Martinez to post an ERA below 2.00 for a full season.
AL Cy Young Runner Up: Jered Weaver
First of all, if Jered Weaver is able to maintain his current statistics for the second half, he will win the AL Cy Young. It just doesn't seem likely that he will be able to continue to match Verlander start for start.
Weaver is 11-4 with a 1.86 ERA. He has delivered quality starts in 17 of 19 starts and has gone at least six innings each time out. Weaver has had brilliant stretches like this in his career, but they have never lasted this long. If Weaver and Verlander continue matching each other start for start, the award will really be a toss up. Voters tend to lean towards the pitcher with the lower ERA in that case, so one bad start could decide this year's AL Cy Young.
AL Cy Young Third Place: CC Sabathia
CC Sabathia leads the AL in wins, and in any other year he would probably be considered the front-runner in the Cy Young race, but Verlander and Weaver have simply been on another level. If Sabathia goes on a run like he did with the Brewers in 2008, he could snatch the award, but that seems unlikely pitching in the AL East and not the NL Central.
Sabathia will continue piling up wins pitching for the Yankees, but the AL Cy Young looks like a two-horse race between Verlander and Weaver.
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay
In the same manner that a league change helped Adrian Gonzalez, it has helped Roy Halladay.
Facing one less hitter in the NL, Doc Halladay has become the most consistently dominant pitcher in the league. Halladay has been business like this year in running up an 11-3 record with six complete games and a 2.45 ERA. The Phillies have not lost a Halladay start since May 15. This year, Halladay has been given run support, something that was not always true last year as evidenced by his 10 losses. With the Phillies bats producing for him, Halladay could win 25 games.
He has taken his pitching to another level with the Phillies, giving them a chance to win every game he pitches.
NL Cy Young Runner-Up: Cliff Lee
If the month of June is any indication, Cliff Lee looks poised to match Halladay start-for-start as the season winds down. His season got off to a rough start, but since June Lee has been the best pitcher in baseball—the only bump in the road coming in Toronto when Charlie Manuel simply left him out there too long. Lee has been challenging hitters and forcing them to put the ball in play.
Were it not for two or three poor starts in the beginning of the season, Lee's numbers would be mirror images of teammate Roy Halladay.
NL Cy Young Third Place: Jair Jurrjens
Jair Jurrjens has always been a pitcher with a lot of potential, and at 25 years old he has a bright future.
However, he seems destined to tail off in the second half, just enough to allow the two Phillies pitchers already mentioned to pass him in the voting. Jurrjens has a microscopic ERA of 1.87 and is 12-3.
Ubaldo Jimenez started the year in similar fashion last season before falling back to earth a little in the second half. Look for the same thing to happen with Jurrjens. His low strike-out rate implies that he has benefited from a little bit of luck this season.
As balls start finding holes, will Jurrjens be able to maintain a 1.87 ERA? Probably not.
AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Pineda
Seattle's gigantic rookie flamethrower, Michael Pineda has been dominant in the first half, leading rookie pitchers in wins, strikeouts, ERA and innings. Seattle will probably limit his innings in the second half, but that does not necessarily mean he will miss starts.
In a weak AL rookie class, Pineda stands out.
AL Rookie of the Year Runner-Up: Mark Trumbo
The Angels first baseman leads all rookies with 17 home runs. With Kendry Morales still out, Mark Trumbo's production has been key in keeping the Angels close to the division-leading Texas Rangers.
AL Rookie of the Year Third Place: Jeremy Hellickson
We got a little taste of Hell Boy last season, and the righty has been consistent again this year, but not as dominant as Pineda. This is a weak class of AL rookie pitchers. Jeremy Hellickson and Pineda are by far the best two.
NL Rookie of the Year: Craig Kimbrel
The Braves rookie closer has racked up saves and strikeouts in the first half. He has an important role on a contending team, which helps his case for rookie of the year. Craig Kimbrel will have plenty of opportunities to close games in the second half as the Braves play a lot of close games.
NL Rookie of the Year Runner-Up: Danny Espinosa
The Nationals shortstop's production is one of the key reasons the Nationals have been able to play winning baseball in the first half. The Nats have a strong core of young players, and Danny Espinosa is one of the best. With 16 homers and 52 RBI, Espinosa is producing enough offense to make up for Jayson Werth's struggles.
NL Rookie of the Year Third Place: Freddie Freeman
The Braves' hulking first baseman started off slowly but has been hot of late. With Chipper Jones out and Dan Uggla continuing to struggle, how Freddie Freeman does in the second half could play a big part in deciding the NL East. A strong August and September could vault Freeman ahead of Espinosa.