A look back at the first half
Phoenix, AZ (Sports Network) -
Major League Baseball's first half is now in the books. So, lets take a look back at some of the top stories and hand out our midseason awards.
In no particular order and without further ado:
If you wrote a script describing the events at Yankee Stadium on Saturday when Derek Jeter etched his name even further into the record books with his 3,000th hit, it would have been rejected for being too corny. Not only did he get the milestone with a home run, but he picked up five hits on the day. And oh by the way his last hit was a game-winner. Jeter is taking a bit of a hit for not appearing at the All-Star Game, but his chase to 3,000 was as big of a story as there was in the first half. Stay tuned for the HBO documentary.
When you look at the young talent on the Pittsburgh Pirates, you knew they were coming. However, I'm not sure anyone thought they would be coming this soon. If you had the Pirates a game out of first place at the break you are either a genius or know nothing about baseball. I'm going to guess the latter because most had them pulling up the rear in the NL Central and stumbling to yet another losing season. Clint Hurdle has done an outstanding job with this young team and has gotten some unexpected starting pitching from the likes of Charlie Morton and Kevin Correia. I'm not sure if the Pirates can hang in there, but reaching .500 - something they haven't done since 1992 - is certainly not out of the question.
Derek Jeter's chase to 3,000 was as big of a story as there was in the first half.
It was funny to hear people complaining in Philadelphia about Cliff Lee at the end of May. He was under .500 and pitching to an ERA close to 4.00. Well all the left-hander did in June was put forth one of the best months ever seen by a pitcher, going 5-0, while allowing just one earned run. In fact he actually drove in more runs at the plate than he allowed. Breath easy Philadelphia, Cliff Lee is fine.
PHILADELPHIA'S PHOUR ACES
Speaking of the Phillies' pitching staff, they have been as good as advertised. We've already discussed Lee, but Roy Halladay has been his usual dominant self and Cole Hamels has arguably been the best of the bunch. Roy Oswalt's crankiness and injury concerns are a problem, but it doesn't seem like that big of a deal considering the Phils own the best record in baseball at the moment.
Everyone knew Jose Reyes was going to be a big story this season. But, the buzz around him was going to be his pending free agency and at what point the Mets were going to trade him. Well Reyes isn't going anywhere after putting forth one of the best first halves of baseball ever seen by a Met. The question isn't whether Reyes will be traded, it's how much it's going to cost to keep him in Flushing. And why wouldn't they keep him? Reyes was absolutely electric before going down with a calf injury two weeks ago. He still leads the league with a .354 average, 124 hits, and an amazing 15 triples. I'm not sure if the Mets have the money to keep him, but they will be crushed by their fanbase if they let him walk.
For all those people who thought Jose Bautista was a fluke last year, think again. The Blue Jays outfielder, I mean third baseman, has continued to abuse opposing pitchers, as he heads into the break with a league-high 31 home runs. He's hit 85 since the start of last season and has easily entered the discussion of the best players in the game today.
If we are going to have a surprise team in the NL we might as well throw our AL team in there. Cleveland has cooled down significantly after jumping out to a 30-15 record, but is still headed into the break a half-game back of the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central, something nobody could have seen coming after a 93-loss season in 2010. What makes the Indians first half even more surprising is the fact that the team got next to nothing from their best player, Shin-Soo Choo. Asdrubal Cabrera, though, has blossomed into a star, while Chris Perez has anchored a pretty solid bullpen. The AL Central figures to be a dog fight the rest of the way and the Indians should be right in the middle of it.
BOSTON SLOW START
People were pushing the panic button in Boston when the team lost their first six games and were just 2-10 through 12. Well the concerns were quickly put to rest, as Adrian Gonzalez started mashing and the Red Sox were back in first place on May 27. They've traded the top spot with the Yanks a few times, but head into the break with a one-game lead on their rivals. Gonzalez has been the MVP of the league in the first half as the world is starting to find out just how great a player he is. Also Josh Beckett has been tremendous, showing that last year's plus-5.00 ERA was an aberration. They should be even better in the second half once players like Carl Crawford, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz return from injuries.
There is one golden rule in sports: You don't quit on your team. Apparently Jim Riggleman and Edwin Rodriguez never got that memo. Riggleman abruptly quit the Washington Nationals with his team finally starting to put things together, while Rodriguez bailed on the Florida Marlins with his team struggling badly. Riggleman put himself before the team, as he wanted a new contract and used the team's strong play as leverage. Rodriguez, meanwhile, saw a sinking ship and jumped. Don't be surprised if neither is a big league manager again. If anything positive came out of it, we got to see Jack McKeon, at age 80, back in a big league uniform. Although, I'm not sure he is going to have the same kind of magic he had in Florida in 2003 when he took over midway through the year and guided the Marlins to a World Series title.
Perhaps the worst story of the 2011 first half has been the absolute mess the Los Angeles Dodgers have become. Major League Baseball has stepped in to run the team because owner Frank McCourt drove a once-great organization into the ground. The franchise hit rock bottom a couple of weeks ago when it filed for bankruptcy. Eventually McCourt will be forced to sell and suitors will be lining up to buy one of the premier franchises in all of sports. I have a feeling Selig will do a little more homework this time around then when he handed the keys over to McCourt. Mark Cuban anyone?
AL MVP - ADRIAN GONZALEZ: When you look at the type of years that players like Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia are having, it's kind of hard to fathom that the Boston Red Sox head into the break with the best record in the American League. Adrian Gonzalez, though, is a big reason why. Gonzo has been everything the Red Sox could have hoped for, as he is tied for the major league lead with a .354 average, while knocking in a MLB-best 77 runs.
AL CY YOUNG - CC SABATHIA: Justin Verlander has been great and James Shields is having the best year of his career, but nobody has been better than the Big Bossman, CC Sabathia. The big left-hander heads into the break leading the majors with 13 wins and is pitching to a 2.72 ERA. He has won his last six and 10 of his last 11 starts, while not allowing a run in any of his last three outings. Oh, and Sabathia wasn't an original choice for the All-Star team.
AL ROOKIE - MICHAEL PINEDA: Where do the Seattle Mariners find these guys? As if having Felix Hernandez wasn't enough, the Mariners seem to have found another ace in 22-year-old righty Michael Pineda. The Dominican hurler has racked up eight wins at the break and is pitching to a 3.03 ERA, and that includes and awful seven-run outing his last time out that raised that number nearly a half-run.
AL MANAGER - MANNY ACTA: Seattle's Eric Wedge has been great too, but it's his former team that has been the league's biggest surprise. Most people knew Manny Acta was a great manager in Washington, but that was a no-win situation at the time. Now everyone is finding out just how good Acta is on the bench. His players love him and it shows. Acta has done a great job of blending his young stars like Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana with his aging veterans like Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner. The Tribe will be a fun team to watch in the second half.
NL MVP - JOSE REYES: You've seen players thrive in contract years. Hopefully this is a case of a player just starting to figure it out. Jose Reyes has shown flashes of this brilliance over his career, but it has never really been sustained because of nagging injuries. He was completely healthy at the start of the year and we saw the results. We'll see how this calf injury affects him in the second half, but regardless Reyes has become the most exciting player in the game.
NL CY YOUNG - ROY HALLADAY: Roy Halladay is getting to the point that he is so good that he is actually underrated. He is amazing. You know what you are going to get from him start-in and start-out. Atlanta's Jair Jurrjens may have better numbers, but game on the line tomorrow who do you want pitching, Halladay or Jurrjens? Jurrjens has made three fewer starts and has thrown 33 fewer innings than Doc. Not to mention Halladay has thrown six complete games. Halladay is the man.
NL ROOKIE - CRAIG KIMBREL: This one is a no-brainer. Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel has already broken the rookie saves record before the break with 27 and has struck out over 12 batters-per-nine innings. His seamless transition to the closer's role is a big reason why the Braves are nipping at the Philadelphia Phillies' heels in the NL East.
NL MANAGER - CLINT HURDLE: Kirk Gibson has done a great job in Arizona and Tony LaRussa has had to deal with a ton of injuries in St. Louis, but what Hurdle is doing in Pittsburgh is going to make him a legend in the Steel City. Look at all that young talent on that team. If they can start spending money soon they could be a factor for a long time to come.