Glass Half Full: Baseball’s Midseason Stars

Last year's Cy Young winner has been even better in 2009.

Last year's Cy Young winner has been even better in 2009.

It may be hard to believe, but the the MLB season is already halfway over. As the month of July rolls along most teams have played 80 to 81 games and about two-thirds of those teams are still in the playoff hunt (apologies to the Pirates, Indians, Athletics, Nationals, etc–start looking forward to the new Harry Potter movie next year) The season has been full of highs (Randy Johnson’s 300th win, Gary Sheffield’s 500th HR), lows (Manny Ramirez steroid scandal) and bizzare celebrity deaths (Michael Jackson and Billy Mays) and undoubtedly there are plenty more of each ahead (is anyone in Hollywood safe these days?) The 162-game marathon has reached the midway point and though there is still plenty of baseball left to play, certain players are worthy of recognition for their contributions thus far. Let’s examine the best from both leagues in the first half:

NL MVP (Albert Pujols-St. Louis): Not much of a debate on this one, Pujols leads the league in nearly every offensive category (HR, RBI, R, BB, SLG, OBP, OPS) and might capture the NL’s first Triple Crown since 1937. Phat Albert has almost single-handedly lead a mediocre Cardinals squad to the top of the NL Central and if St. Louis decides to get some protection for him in the lineup (cough Matt Holliday cough), Pujols will have a season for the ages. No doubt about, 2009 will mark the third time Albert takes home the MVP award. How in the world was this guy only a 13th round pick?

NL Cy Young (Tim Lincecum-San Francisco): There are a plethora of quality young pitchers in the NL (Dan Haren, Johnny Cueto, Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Jair Jurrjens) but the best of the bunch so far has been the Giants’ Tim Lincecum. The defending Cy Young award winner has gotten even better this season, posting a record of 9-2 with a 2.23 ERA and 141 Ks in 121 innings. Lincecum has made major strides with his command, dramatically lowering his walk rate while still striking out more than a batter an inning (which helps to explain his current 23-inning scoreless streak). At only 25, “the Freak” is firmly establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.

Rasmus is starting to look like a star for the Redbirds.

Rasmus is starting to look like a star for the Redbirds.

NL Rookie of the Year (Colby Rasmus-St. Louis): After a slow start to the year, Rasmus has rewarded the Cardinals’ faith in him by hitting for average and power in the #2 hole of St. Louis’ lineup. Rasmus is only 22 and came into the year with zero big league experience so a bit of a learning curve was expected. He only hit .254 in April and .212 in May, but has rebounded to .333 in June and .462 so far in July. It’s a good sign that he didn’t lose his confidence during the early season struggles and it looks like he could team up with Pujols to keep the Cardinals contending for years to come.

AL MVP (Justin Morneau-Minnesota): The AL MVP race isn’t nearly the runaway that it is in the NL, but if the season ended today the junior circuit’s MVP would be Twins 1B Justin Morneau. Although he already captured the award in 2006 (suck on that Derek Jeter), Morneau has continued to fly under the radar as one of the game’s best sluggers. Halfway through the season, Morneau is hitting .323 with 21 HRs and 69 RBIs, putting him on pace for career highs in each. The Canadian Crusher is 4th in the league in batting and 2nd in HRs, RBIs, OPS and SLG. If Morneau can lead the Twins to the division crown, the award should be his.

The Royals stink, but don't blame Grienke.

The Royals stink, but don't blame Grienke.

AL Cy Young (Zack Grienke-Kansas City): Although the Royals’ hurler has come back to earth after an unbelievable start, Grienke stills leads the AL in most major pitching categories. After 17 starts, he is 10-4 with a 2.00 ERA and 120 Ks against only 19 walks, putting him on pace for the pitching triple crown. Even though Kansas City has fallen out of contention (who would have ever thought?), if Grienke can keep pitching like it’s the dead-ball era, the young star could become the Royals’ first Cy Young winner since David Cone in 1994. His only major hurdle will be getting enough wins; Grienke may have been able to overcome social anxiety disorder, but the woeful Kansas City lineup and defense are another story. Look for Roy Halladay to snatch the award if Zach Attack can’t close the deal in the second half.

AL Rookie of the Year (Andrew Bailey-Oakland): There aren’t too many rookies that are difference makers in the AL currently as many hot shot prospects (Elvis Andrus, Matt Weiters, Matt LaPorta) struggle to adjust to the major leagues; the best thus far has been a reliever–Oakland A’s pitcher Andrew Bailey. Bailey came into the season with little hype, but has put a stranglehold on the A’s closer position after Brad Ziegler missed time early on. The rookie reliever has gone 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA and 57 Ks in 48 innings and has also saved 9 games. For his stellar first half work, Bailey was selected to represent Oakland (narrowly beating out Jack Hannahan) in the All-Star game on July 14th.

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