Well, this somewhat misleading given the fact were are over halfway through the season and nearly at 100 games in, but the All-Star Break really signals the end of the first half and given how MLB is doing away with traditions, I’m keeping this one as the first half being over at the All-Star Break. We’ll talk about things and I will hand out my awards of NL and AL of how I see fit. Sit back, enjoy and you can yell at me later on for my picks and thoughts!
Let’s start with the typical first half awards:
AL MVP: MOOKIE BETTS, RED SOX: IF things continue with Betts, Mike Trout, JD Martinez, and Jose Ramirez, we will have one of the best MVP races in baseball history. And you can go with any one of them and not get an argument from me. Now, what will happen is when the voters actually vote, Betts and Martinez will probably get neutralized because of being on the same team and it is a two-player race between Trout and Ramirez (and to my good friend who will lose his poop over me not picking Trout, bite me). Betts is hitting .362 with 23 HR, 51 RBI while stealing 17 bases and has an OPS over 1.148. Now what may take away from his numbers will be the fact of the addition of JD Martinez in Boston, who has been lights out for the Red Sox as well. Betts has been nothing short of spectacular this year and is a key reason why Boston is rolling in the AL this year after last year when the Red Sox had offensive issues all throughout the lineup. HONORABLE MENTIONS: Trout, Martinez, Ramirez
NL MVP: JAVIER BAEZ, CUBS: This one I know I will get grief about especially from my friends. Yes, arguments can be made for Freddie Freeman (whom I want to see win over everybody else), Jesus Aguilar, and even Max Muncy. But when the Cubs scuffled early on, Baez was that guy that was the constant and still hitting. He is the guy who starts rallies, gets big hits, and has power. And he’s pretty darn good with the glove. Chicago has like an embarrassment of riches and he is a prime example. And maybe my bias is getting to me (he’s on my fantasy team aka the cellar dwellers), but he is the most exciting player to watch and probably the most dynamic player in the NL in 2018 so far. HONORABLE MENTIONS: Freeman, Aguilar, Muncy, Paul Goldschmidt
AL CY YOUNG: JUSTIN VERLANDER, ASTROS: Like the AL MVP voting, this may be a fight with Verlander, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, and Blake Snell (me personally I WANT Snell to win). Verlander is getting that moniker of always being left for dead and rising from the ashes. It seemed like after he signed his huge contract with Detroit a few years back, his career went south. But 2016 Verlander probalby should have won the Cy Young with the Tigers. In 2017, many thought his contract was immovable and that whoever got him would be burdened with it. But Verlander since joining Houston has been nothing short of dominant. And this year he’s been rolling (though had a hiccup today against his old Tigers team). Anyway, his numbers are stout and far better than when he won the Cy Young and MVP in 2011. Of course, any struggles and it opens the door for Kluber or Sale to take the lead. Or even teammate Gerrit Cole. HONORABLE MENTIONS: Sale, Kluber, Cole, Edwin Diaz, Snell
NL CY YOUNG: JACOB deGROM, METS: If deGrom was on the Braves, Brewers, or Cubs right now, he’s 14-1 with his ERA and WHIP and this isn’t even remotely a debate. But he’s with the offensively challenged Mets and is only 5-5 so we are now back to talking about Max Scherzer going for a three-peat. But I don’t know how you can cut deGrom’s 1.68 ERA and 0.97 WHIP for how he’s pitched. He’s been one of the game’s top pitchers season after season but is overlooked in part because of his teammates in the rotation, first Matt Harvey and then Noah Syndergaard. But deGrom has just been on his game better than anybody and even with Scherzer right now somewhat looking human in his last few starts I think it is a runaway. Hopefully the voters figure that out. HONORABLE MENTIONS: Scherzer, Jon Lester, Aaron Nola
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR, GLEYBER TORRES, YANKEES: To me, there isn’t much of a competition on this one. And Torres didn’t even start the season with the Bombers and is also on the DL. But his numbers are great (.294, 15 HR, 42 RBI, OPS of .902. The only guy who comes close would be teammate Miguel Andujar and that could be a bit of a fight given that Andujar has played more games. But really can’t go wrong either way. If Torres comes back soon then I think he will continue his run. If not, then the title goes to Andujar. HONORABLE MENTIONS: Andujar
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR, JUAN SOTO, NATIONALS: Soto has probably been the Nationals MVP to this season so far and probably keeping Washington from being sellers. He is hitting the ball like the fans had hoped Bryce Harper would hit them and he has done a great job on the field as well as the plate. He’s hitting .306 with 9 HR in only 50 games. The only other competitor for rookie of the year has been Ronald Acuna for the Braves, but he hasn’t played in as many games and had a good stint on the DL. If Acuna gets rolling in the 2nd half and Soto gets a funk at some point, perhaps this race gets closer, but so far, not right now. HONORABLE MENTION: Acuna
AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: SCOTT SERVAIS, MARINERS: From a standpoint of where teams were projected to do well, I don’t think Seattle was projected to do terrible (think I had them around the .500 mark in my predictions), but I never thought the Mariners would be almost 20 games over .500 at this point of the year. 58-39 with Robinson Cano suspended. 58-39 with a middle-of-the-road pitching staff. But he’s getting a lot from his guys as we are still seeing Nelson Cruz be Nelson Cruz, Mitch Haniger & Jean Segura are having great years, Dee Gordon is doing his thing and while Ryon Healy and Kyle Seager are still having average issues at the plate, they both have a combined 34 HR. Seattle is winning these nail-biter games and that is a huge nod to what Servais has done (26-12 in 1-run games) And Servais has a lights-out closer in Edwin Diaz this year so Seattle has done great in 2018. Maybe they get a pitcher at the deadline, who knows? HONORABLE MENTIONS: Bob Melvin, Alex Cora, Kevin Cash
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR: GABE KAPLER, PHILLIES: If you were to let the fans decide fates of managers, Kapler would have been canned in Philadelphia after the first game of the year when he took out Aaron Nola, who was lights out against Atlanta before the 6th inning and the Phillies blew a lead on the Braves and lost. He was grilled and vilified for it. But he explained that he was using the numbers game and analytics for his decision. And Kapler is probably the face of the math vs. science now as he probably relied too much on metrics. He’s learned from that as he relies more on Nola as his guy and even Jake Arrieta when he’s on to make the right pitches and such to give the Phillies a fighting chance. And with it, he really has a solid bullpen and uses it relatively well for a first year manager. But Kapler has Philadelphia in first in the NL East with a solid lineup and timely hitting. While the Phillies were on the upswing, nobody thought them or the team that’s chasing them, Atlanta, would be in the mix of a division title this year. But lo & behold, with the Nationals struggling on top of it, the Phillies are rolling and Kapler has to get a lot of love especially after he has learned from his mistakes early on. HONORABLE MENTIONS: Craig Counsell, Dave Roberts, Brian Snitker
AL COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: MANNY MACHADO, ORIOLES: I know it sounds funny this guy is up there, but had Machado repeated 2017 with Baltimore, 28-69 would actually be a pipe dream for the Orioles this year and probably would be 22-75 at best thus being ahead of the 03 Tigers and 62 Mets for worst record in baseball history. I know it sounds funny of a .259-33-95 guy with a .782 OPS the year before to have a comeback player bit, but Machado is one of the league’s elite players and last year you would have to say would be a disappointment. But he’s been tearing the cover off the ball like we all expected him to do so. HONORABLE MENTIONS: Michael Brantley, Blake Snell
NL COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: NICK MARKAKIS, BRAVES: People look at Matt Kemp of being the comeback guy, but Kemp’s numbers in relation to last year is a slight growth (save for average where he is far higher this year). Markakis this year has been one of the major reasons why Atlanta is in the position they are in. While he always collects hits and finds ways to get on base, he is doing it a high pace this year, leading the league in hits (120) and doubles (29) while having a .323 average. While it isn’t 2007-08 for Markakis who had a little more power then (only has 10 HR this season), this has been his best year since that time. He’s gone about it in a professional manner and is doing it on a contract year, and his numbers are far greater than what they were last year for Atlanta. HONORABLE MENTIONS: Jason Heyward, Matt Kemp
AL DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR: MINNESOTA TWINS: Minnesota in previous years had a farm system that was near the top with the likes of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano leading the way. And with a good mix of youth and veteran leaders, it seemed like it was a logical argument the Twins would be in the mix of October baseball. However the pitching collapsed badly with their veterans in Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi while Jose Berrios is either really good or really bad at times. Sano and Buxton are in the Minors again. Brian Dozier has been a mess and the team has been very flat in 2018. The lone bright spot aside from Kyle Gibson has been the fact Minnesota is in 2nd place thanks in part to being in the same division with the rebuilding Tigers & White Sox and a flatlined Royals squad.
NL DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR: WASHINGTON NATIONALS: When April ended and the Nationals were in 4th place behind the Braves, Phillies, and Mets, people weren’t too bothered with their slow start and figured they’d be in the mix. When May ended the Nationals were looking to break out and had a slight lead over the Braves before Washington lost 3 of 4 to Atlanta at SunTrust Park. Still, nobody in the Nation’s Capital panicked. When June ended, the Nationals were a .500 team and their franchise star Bryce Harper was in still funk and were starting to fall a healthy distance behind Atlanta and Philadelphia, and people were getting concerned. The Nationals traded for Kelvin Herrera to shore up the bullpen woes (again). However, Herrera has not been the answer and more of a question mark and the Nationals ended a 11-game stretch being 6-5 to the Marlins, Pirates, and Mets thus being only .500. Rumors still have Washington buying at the deadline, but the Nationals have 6 games with the Braves and Brewers out of the gate in the 2nd half. A 2-4 or 1-5 start my flip the script and become sellers and may move a piece or two (Bryce Harper perhaps?). It would be a far cry from the team who was supposed to win the NL East decisively and be the World Series frontrunner in the NL. The problem is, the hitting hasn’t been there. The pitching hasn’t been there, manager Dave Martinez looks clueless behind the wheel, and the team is playing with no sense of urgency, despite Max Scherzer calling a players-only meeting and ripping the team to shreds.
TOP STORYLINES OF 2018 SO FAR
THE FALL OF BRYCE HARPER: Harper has been the most polarizing player in baseball ever since Alex Rodriguez retired (and maybe even before ARod did retire). You either love the guy or hate the guy. I can see it both ways. You love the swag he can bring, but you also can hate his porous attitude when things go south, not trying as hard, making bonehead decisions, nothing being his fault, saying things to the media which scratches your head, etc. He’s coming up on his free agency and many people viewed him as being a $400 million man to which he has somewhat not denied he wanted to make (and given his agent is Scott Boras…). However, it seems like Harper is going out there playing for a contract, not necessarily playing to win, trying to pull everything and jack it out of the park, and just doesn’t seem like he’s having any fun. What fans who love Harper had hoped to see was a parallel to what Mike Trout is doing, but when you see Trout playing, he is loving the game, playing hard and just wanting to have fun. You see it with the best players in the game wanting to have fun. Harper seems like it is a job similar to taking out the garbage or having to eat vegetables as a kid. But I still say Harper’s issues are the fact he is being around people who say things he WANTS to hear, and not what he NEEDS to hear. And for a 25-year old that is a problem.
OHTANI-MANIA RAN WILD FOR A SHORT TIME: Shohei Ohtani was the talk of the nation in the first month with his ability to pitch and hit. However, it looks like he’s more of a hitter than a pitcher with arm troubles that can keep him out of pitching until 2020 as of this point. He’s still been a fine addition to what feels like is the one-man-band of the Angels in Mike Trout. But it may just be hitting only until Ohtani can get surgery and come back to pitch later.
YANKEES AND RED SOX BACK ATOP THE AL EAST BY A WIDE MARGIN: New York and Boston will always be rivals and in the off-season it seems like they were trying to stockpile the bats. The Yankees grabbed Giancarlo Stanton from Miami, hoping he would have an MVP caliber year like he did with the Marlins last year. After a slow start, he’s picked it up, though not as much as Yankee fans had hoped. Boston signed JD Martinez and has been nothing short of an offensive monster like he was in Detroit and his short stint in Arizona. And what you get is two teams who will just club you to death on offense with the rosters the way they are. The pitching both have the strengths and weaknesses. Boston has the starting pitching while the Yankees have the stout bullpen. It could be an interesting deadline if the Yankees and Boston try to one-up each other like they did in the mid portion of the 2000’s.
CLEVELAND SLEEPWALKING TO A 3RD STRAIGHT DIVISION TITLE: The Indians are fortunate to have 3 teams in the midst of either early stages of rebuilding, or still rebuilding while one team has greatly underachieved. They’ve struggled most of the year, notably in the bullpen where Andrew Miller has been dinged up and there hasn’t been help in that sense. Adding onto it, the Tribe has not gotten much in the way of offense ouside of Lindor, Ramirez, and Brantley so in that case, the team has severely struggled. They still have a good starting rotation headed by Corey Kluber and unless Minnesota has a torrid run to start the 2nd half, Cleveland should be well rested and ready for October baseball and sometimes coming in from the back door and not being taken seriously is the best thing for a team.
AL WILD WILD WEST: While the Astros didn’t believe their division would be similar to the AL Central, I don’t think they would have a tough time shaking off the Mariners and now having to see the Athletics in their periphery. The irony is Houston’s season may be better than last year as the pitching is just sick and their offense remains one of the deepest in the game (though there are declines from Altuve, Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, and Springer from last year). But with Seattle winning these nail-biters and Oakland coming out of nowhere, they can’t let up like they had in August before they made the move to get Verlander or else the West will REALLY get wild. As for the Mariners and Athletics, it may be a fight for that 2nd wild card as Oakland has really come on strong the last few weeks (15-4 in their last 19). You figure the A’s to be buyers now and not sellers. And if they get a front end guy, who knows what may happen.
CARDINALS ON THE DECLINE? One of baseball’s constants over the past 15 years have been the St. Louis Cardinals. They have always been how you viewed a professional team should be. There was a way to them that made teams envious of how things were. However, the last few seasons have started to show the cracks. Mike Matheny is fired as people point to the team’s decline since 2016 and many wanted him gone. His inability to handle some things that were going on the clubhouse which how he handled players and allowing possibly Bud Norris to act like Mr. Bigshot (and some considered a bully) to others in the clubhouse while Cardinals president John Mozeliak to publicly question Dexter Fowler’s effort (as the moves of Fowler and Marcell Ozuna have completely backfired on the organization to this point). It doesn’t seem like this is Cardinals-esque at all. Mike Matheny fired was probably a long time coming, but there are still problems in St. Louis. Ones we’ve really haven’t seen there in a while.
NL WILD WILD WEST: The Dodgers suffered injuries early on notably to Corey Seager, Justin Turner, and Clayton Kershaw that really kept the team from a fast start. However, Los Angeles has gotten offense from two unlikely candidates in Matt Kemp and Max Muncy to help take the Dodgers back atop the NL West after that horrid start. Arizona is still in the mix as Paul Goldschmidt is starting to wake up and looking more like his MVP caliber self, though sometimes the team goes through phases of being really good or really bad. The Giants have had a decent rebound year thanks to veterans on the squad while Colorado remains the team nobody wants to go against with their ability to explode for 15 runs on any given night. 4 games separate the 4 teams right now. Time will tell if the Dodgers run away or one of the other squads make a big run themselves.
POWER RANKINGS: Here are my top 10 squads as of right now.
(1) BOSTON RED SOX: Boston has a variety of offense and pitching that can really flatline any team especially in post-season. The bullpen while not like the Yankees is still a strong one, but you can figure the Sox will try to get close to New York by the deadline in that area.
(2) HOUSTON ASTROS: The pitching is stout from top to bottom while the offense still remains strong. I would like to see the Astros pick it up on the offensive side more from either Springer or Correa as it will probably get them past Boston, the Yankees, or anybody else in October
(3) CHICAGO CUBS: We talk about the Yankees having a fierce offense, but the Cubs have a strong one as well when they are on their game. The pitching is starting to come around though the biggest issue is consistent starting pitching outside of Lester. Sometimes Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana look to be guys to be trusted on to go 7 and allow a run or two and then turn around and get shelled and pulled by the 4th inning. Bullpen has been fine for them, but has that vibe it can be a house of cards, but right now they are back to being the best team in the NL.
(4) NEW YORK YANKEES: The offense can rake like nobody else. That’s not the problem. The problem is the Yankees have questions outside of Luis Severino. CC Sabathia is still doing it, but he isn’t the innings eater that he once was. Sonny Gray has been a massive flop to this point and Tanaka is still coming off injury. The bullpen is great, and more than likely the best in baseball but if the Yankees still have issues in the rotation, you wonder when that bullpen gets overworked.
(5) CLEVELAND INDIANS: Cleveland has struggled compared to last year, but they are still a talented bunch with Ramirez, Lindor, Brantley, Kluber, etc. The depth is a slight concern as is the bullpen, but this is Cleveland’s window. I’d be very surprised they stand pat at the deadline and not go after relievers and another outfielder.
(6) LOS ANGELES DODGERS: The Dodgers have rebounded from their funk and starting to click offensively. If Kershaw pitches like we know how he can pitch and the others (Alex Wood, Rich Hill) can get more consistent, they can run away with the division. And you can always expect Los Angeles to be a threat to make a big trade at the deadline. They’re in the Manny Machado sweepstakes as it is.
(7) PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: The last time I said a Philadelphia team was a sleeper, the Eagles were hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. IF-IF-IF the Phillies can get a healthy Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez healthy, they may end up having the best rotation in the NL with Aaron Nola at the top and Jake Arrieta starting to pitch like many Phillies fans hoped. It will be a huge thing, though I think the Phillies need a major bat as they are at the bottom of most offensive categories. The Phillies and Dodgers look like they will fight over Machado. Philadelphia may also need some help in the bullpen, but right now that pitching staff is what may keep the Phillies ahead of the Braves the rest of the way.
(8) MILWAUKEE BREWERS: Milwaukee’s offense is pretty strong as they can club home runs and score runs with the likes of Jesus Aguilar and Travis Shaw, while having good hitters in Christian Yelich & Lorenzo Cain have been if nothing else solid pickups. However, the holes they have are gaping, notably on the middle infield, which is why like the Dodgers and Phillies are heavily involved in the Machado sweepstakes. While the rotation isn’t porous, there is no true ace to the staff. The bullpen is actually one of the stronger ones in the league. But Milwaukee is not one of these teams that can sit around and hold prospects for a lengthy run. If they’re going all-in, it will be THIS year.
(9) SEATTLE MARINERS: Seattle has definitely been the surprise of the 2018 season with how well they’ve played. The offense is clicking even without Cano, but obviously the question will be can the Mariners hold off Oakland with a pitching staff that isn’t really up to snuff, save James Paxton? The bullpen is solid, but if the Mariners still have consistency issues in the rotation, how solid will it be?
(10) ATLANTA BRAVES: The Braves like the Phillies many feel are a year ahead of schedule. Many fans though feel like the team has overachieved to this point with Markakis having his best year in nearly 10 years, Anibal Sanchez coming out of nowhere, and having good starts from Ozzie Albies. But the team when they aren’t scoring runs has a very thin feel outside of Markakis, Freddie Freeman, and Albies while the rotation is starting to get rocked, notably Brandon McCarthy & Sean Newcomb while you never know what you’ll get out of Julio Teheran. Many also feel the starters struggles especially in the last couple of weeks has really worn the bullpen out as the bullpen has woes too. They could be buyers but it has the vibe they will stand pat or make minimum impact moves at the deadline.
That’s it for the first half. Later in the week, I will post the 2nd half predictions before I go on a trip to Philadelphia to see the Phillies and Dodgers for a game (maybe I see Manny in one of the dugouts???) and then off to Cooperstown to pretty much see my baseball life go in the Hall of Fame.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat