By Chris Ruddick
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Well, we have reached the midway point of the 2006 Major League Baseball season. Raise your hand if you had the Detroit Tigers leading the AL Central heading into the break. Or who would have thought that Joe Girardi would have his young Florida Marlins playing the way that they are playing?
The first half, as always, has been full of surprises. Detroit, thanks to some tremendous pitching, has come out of nowhere to make Hockeytown a baseball city again. The Mets have also had an incredible first half and are close to taking The Big Apple over from the Yankees.
Speaking of the Bronx Bombers, they are as predicted, right in the mix of things in the American League. However, injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield along with inconsistent starting pitching, especially from Randy Johnson, means Joe Torre will have to work some magic to get his team a ninth straight AL East title and a 12th consecutive trip to the postseason.
And of course, what would a modern day baseball season be without a good old steroid controversy. In addition to all the Barry Bonds stuff that people heard about on a daily basis as the future Hall of Famer passed the legendary Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list, reliever Jason Grimsley shed even more light on a topic that just will not go away.
So without further ado, let's take a look at some individual accolades that should be recognized at the All-Star break.
AL MVP - David Ortiz (DH, BOS): Big Papi didn't win the award last season, because voters couldn't get over the fact that he doesn't play the field all that much. This year, though, he will not be overlooked. There should be an investigation into whether or not the Red Sox bat out of order, because it seems like he gets a game-winning hit or belts a home run to put his team ahead almost every night. With 31 homers and 87 RBI, Ortiz leads the majors in both categories heading into the break.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jim Thome (DH, CWS)
NL MVP - David Wright (3B, NYM): Wright has gripped the city of New York similar to the way Derek Jeter owned the town in 1996. The 23-year-old third baseman seems to come through just about every time he is put in a clutch situation, and people are already questioning whether or not he is not only the best third baseman, but the best player in all of New York.
HONORABLE MENTION: Albert Pujols (1B, STL)
AL CY YOUNG - Roy Halladay (RHP, TOR): This guy has been sensational for the Blue Jays. The 2003 Cy Young Award winner was on his way to starting last year's Mid-Summer Classic before getting hit with a line drive that fractured his leg and ended his season. This year he has been just as good, as he leads the majors in wins and has 12 victories at the break for the third time in his career.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jose Contreras (RHP, CWS), Jonathan Papelbon (RHP, BOS)
NL CY YOUNG - Tom Glavine (LHP, NYM): Glavine has benefited the most from the Mets' resurgence this season, as he heads into the break with an 11-2 mark to go along with a 3.48 earned run average. The 40-year-old left-hander, who also won the NL Cy Young in 1991 and 1998, is nearing 300 wins and is almost becoming a lock for the Hall of Fame. A third Cy Young Award will certainly punch his ticket to Cooperstown.
HONORABLE MENTION: Brandon Webb (RHP, ARI)
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - Jonathan Papelbon (RP, BOS): Papelbon has been amazing for the Red Sox since assuming the closer's role from Keith Foulke early in the season. His 26 saves are tied for the major league lead and his 0.59 ERA is tops in baseball. In fact, Papelbon has given up just three runs all season and his home run allowed Sunday in Chicago was his first run surrendered on the road all year.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - Prince Fielder (1B, MIL) Fielder got off to a rough start this season, as he fanned in seven of his first eight at-bats. The Big Fella has rebounded nicely, though, and is helping the Brewers back into the mix in the hotly-contested NL Central.
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR - Jim Leyland (DET): This is perhaps the biggest landslide of all of the awards this season. The Tigers can go into the tank in the second half and miss the postseason and this will still go to Leyland. The Tigers rode an incredible offensive wave in the early going and have now relied on some of the best young pitching in the league. There was a point early in the season when the Tigers lost a few games in a row and Leyland, right then and there, publicly ripped his team. From that moment on it was clear that losing was not going to be accepted in the Motor City.
HONORABLE MENTION: John Gibbons (TOR)
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR - Joe Girardi (FLA): Girardi was given basically a Triple-A team in spring training, as all the Marlins stars with the exception of two were dealt or not retained during the offseason. They have used 20 rookies this season, with 10 making their major-league debuts. Girardi, though, has weathered the early storm and has his young team competing hard on a nightly basis.
HONORABLE MENTION: Willie Randolph (NYM)
AL'S BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - Cleveland: Prior to the season just about everyone had the Indians being the team that would challenge the White Sox, not the Tigers. Injuries have taken their toll, but it has been the atrocious pitching of its young bullpen that has the Tribe 18 1/2 games back in the division. One guy who can't be blamed is Travis Hafner, who recently became the first player to belt five grand slams before the break.
HONORABLE MENTION: LA Angels of Anaheim
NL'S BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT - Philadelphia: So let's get this straight. The Phillies could not play for the volatile Larry Bowa, so they hired the laid- back Charlie Manuel. Well, guess what? The same problems exist with Manuel that were there for Bowa. At some point, it is the players' fault.
HONORABLE MENTION: Atlanta Braves
AL MANAGER ON THE HOT SEAT: Eric Wedge (CLE) - He is probably not going anywhere, but when your team underachieves as much as Wedge's Indians did in the first half, job security will definitely be questioned.
NL MANAGERS ON THE HOT SEAT: Charlie Manuel (PHI) & Dusty Baker (CHC) - Baker is a lay-up here, since there are already rumblings that he could be replaced in the coming days. It is tough to blame Dusty for the Cubs' mess, considering two of the top three arms in his rotation have been invisible and his best hitter missed a majority of the year with a broken wrist.
Manuel, on the other hand, has become the poster boy of the Phillies' "So What?" attitude. In addition to Manuel, general manager Pat Gillick needs to unload Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell before their losing mentality takes over the likes of young stars Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN THE SECOND HALF
CAN THE TIGERS HOLD ON?
When the Tigers got off to the hot start in April, most people assumed they would slowly fall back to reality and the White Sox would eventually overtake them. A funny thing happened, though. Leyland's crew has not gone away and heads into the break with a two-game lead in the division and the best record in all of baseball at 59-29. Now the fun starts for the Tigers. If they are going to hold on, they will have earned it, as they play the defending champion White Sox 13 times the rest of the way
Besides the Indians, Mike Scioscia's club was probably the most underachieving team in the AL. The second half will be a different story, though. Bartolo Colon is back to being as healthy as any 250-pound-plus pitcher can be and John Lackey has always been a second-half pitcher. Don't forget about young Jered Weaver, who has been as good as any starter - including Francisco Liriano - in the league. They must find a way to protect Vladimir Guerrero, though. PREDICTION: Will win the AL West
I cannot remember a season where so many good young pitchers have hit the scene. It will be interesting to see how Papelbon, Francisco Liriano, Jered Weaver and all the young Tigers progress as the season heads into the Dog Days of Summer.
WHERE WILL SORIANO WIND UP?
The most intriguing player at the trade deadline will be Washington outfielder Alfonso Soriano, who is having a sensational season for the Nationals in his walk year. It is hard to imagine Washington retaining the 30-year-old superstar. Anaheim has a plethora of young talent to offer and Soriano is exactly the kind of bat the Angels are looking for to compliment Guerrero. With Matsui and Sheffield sidelined, though, the Yankees could also be in the running.
What kind of season would it be if the Yankees and Red Sox were not playing for something. The theme at the All-Star Game these days is "This Time It Counts". Well, the same can be said for the AL East, as one of these teams could be out of the postseason mix at season's end. In years past these teams battled for a division title, but had the wild card to fall back on. That may not be the case this year.