Through the first half of the 2012 Major League Baseball season, there have been surprises, disappointments and award-winning performances. Scott Cullen breaks down the major leagues at the midway point.
It's no surprise that the New York Yankees have the best record in baseball -- they're the Yankees, after all -- but getting such quality starting performances from Andy Pettitte (coming out of retirement) and Phil Hughes (back from a rough 2011 campaign) sure helped the cause.
What also counts as surprising is that the team sitting in second place in the American League East, behind the Yankees, is the Baltimore Orioles. Though the Orioles have the third-worst run differential in the AL, they've managed to go 45-40, somehow sitting second in a division that doesn't have a single team under .500 at the break.
In the American League Central, the surprise starts right at the top. The Chicago White Sox had no expectations coming into the year, with Vegas setting their win total at 74.5 (I was under), but the resurrection of Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy, combined with the emergence of Chris Sale (who was removed from the rotation ever-so-briefly) suddenly has the White Sox ahead of Cleveland and a slightly disappointing crew in Detroit.
Texas and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are waging an expected battle for supremacy in the American League West, which has overshadowed an impressive first half by the Oakland A's. They're 42-42 for an even .500 record, but the A's have exceeded expectations.
In the National League the dominance of the Philadelphia Phillies is coming to an abrupt end. Injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were expected to hinder the offence, but losing starting pitcher Roy Halladay to injury and Cliff Lee's ongoing battle to win a game (last yea's 17-game winner has one win in 14 starts this year) has the Phillies looking up at the rest of the National League East.
At the top of the NL East, the Washington Nationals have an okay lineup, bolstered when they called up Bryce Harper, but their pitching has been spectacular. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson give the Nats a shot to win night after night.
While the Nationals' emergence may not come as an outright shock (I did have them in the preseason Top 10 of the MLB Power Rankings), the same can not be said for the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose preseason win total over/under was 70. The batting order has been adequate, carried for the last couple months by MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, but it's been pitching that has kept the Pirates competitive. James McDonald and resurgent A.J. Burnett have anchored a surprisingly effective staff.
Their lead in the National League West has dwindled to a half-game over the San Francisco Giants, but it's an accomplishment for the Dodgers to even be there considering that they've had Matt Kemp for 36 of 87 games.
Here is my look at some individual awards, including Gold Gloves, All-Surprise and All-Disappointing teams for the first half of the 2012 season.
Robinson Cano, 2B, N.Y. Yankees (20 HR, 51 RBI, .313 AVG, .953 OPS)
Josh Hamilton, CF, Texas (27 HR, 75 RBI, .308 AVG, 1.016 OPS)
Mike Trout, CF, L.A. Angels (12 HR, 40 RBI, 26 SB, .341 AVG, .959 OPS)
This race is open for business and could very well be taken by Trout if he continues his exceptional all-around play. Cano holds a slight edge over Hamilton right now, due to defence, but both are playing at the standard required for an MVP award.
Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati (14 HR, 48 RBI, .348 AVG, 1.087 OPS)
David Wright, 3B, N.Y. Mets (11 HR, 59 RBI, .351 AVG, 1.004 OPS)
Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh (18 HR, 60 RBI, 14 SB, .362 AVG, 1.039 OPS)
Votto and Wright have been getting on base like no one else (and Votto is .030 ahead of Wright) with Votto's offensive dominance so impressive that it offsets his defensive contribution at first base. McCutchen has been spectacular since the beginning of May and is mounting a charge, not unlike Trout's emergence in the American League. If Pittsburgh keeps winning, that will shine a spotlight on McCutchen that is atypical for anyone on the Pirates.
AL CY YOUNG
Justin Verlander, Detroit (9-5, 2.58 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 128 K, 132 2/3 IP)
Jered Weaver, L.A. Angels of Anaheim (10-1, 1.96 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 73 K, 96 2/3IP)
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox (10-2, 2.19, 0.96 WHIP, 98 K, 102 2/3 IP)
Missing a couple starts due to injury could be the only thing holding Weaver back from Verlander and Chris Sale edges his teammate, Jake Peavy, as well as C.J. Wilson for inclusion among the runners-up.
NL CY YOUNG
R.A. Dickey, N.Y. Mets (12-1, 2.40 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 123 K, 120 IP)
Gio Gonzalez, Washington (12-3, 2.92 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 118 K, 101 2/3 IP)
Zack Greinke, Milwaukee (9-3, 3.32 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 111 K, 111 IP)
Dickey's season has been freakish for anyone, let alone a 37-year-old knuckleballer who had 106 career starts entering this season. Stephen Strasburg and James McDonald are both viable candidates for runner-up spots, but Gonzalez and Greinke have been ever-so-slightly more productive.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Mike Trout, CF, L.A. Angels (12 HR, 40 RBI, 26 SB, .341 AVG, .959 OPS)
Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas (10-5, 3.59 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 117 K, 102 2/3 IP)
Jarrod Parker, RHP, Oakland (5-4, 2.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 67 K, 85 IP)
Since Trout it pushing for MVP honours, he should be a lock for Rookie of the Year. Both Darvish and Parker have been good, but good won't be nearly enough.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Lance Lynn, RHP, St. Louis (11-4, 3.41 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 105 K, 103 IP)
Bryce Harper, CF, Washington (8 HR, 25 RBI, .285 AVG, .826 OPS)
Norichika Aoki, RF, Milwaukee (5 HR, 20 RBI, 11 SB, .301 AVG, .818 OPS)
Trout's phenom counterpart in the National League, Bryce Harper, is most likely to ultimately win the race, but he's still playing a little bit of catch-up against Cardinals starter Lance Lynn, who has started to come back to earth after dominating early. Aoki along with Reds infielders Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier are in the running as well.
C - Yadier Molina, St. Louis
Runners-Up: Miguel Montero, Arizona; Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia
Montero guns out baserunners like no others (46.9%) and Ruiz has handled more total chances than any other backstop, but Molina remains the best all-around defender at the position. There really should be room to inject Matt Wieters, best in the AL, into this discussion too.
1B - Adrian Gonzalez, Boston
Runners-Up: Albert Pujols, L.A. Angels of Anaheim; Mark Teixeira, N.Y. Yankees
It hasn't been the kind of offensive season he'd been expecting, but Adrian Gonzalez is doing his work with the glove, leading first basemen in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating/150 (www.fangraphs.com). Pujols, Teixeira, Joey Votto and Casey Kotchman are all worthy of consideration as well.
2B - Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati
Runners-Up: Dustin Pedroia, Boston; Jason Kipnis, Cleveland
With far-and-away the best Ultimate Zone Rating at the position, Phillips stands out enough to hold an edge on Kipnis, Pedroia, Darwin Barney and Robinson Cano. Pedroia and Barney have each made one error thus far, while Kipnis leads second basemen in assists.
3B - Brett Lawrie, Toronto
Runners-Up: Mike Moustakas, Kansas City; Chase Headley, San Diego
Miles ahead of the rest at the hot corner when it comes to Defensive Runs Saved, Lawrie makes more errors than many, but gets to more balls than any other third basemen. Moustakas and Headley are also up-and-comers, getting a slight nod at this point over perennial contender Adrian Beltre.
SS - Brendan Ryan, Seattle
Runners-Up: Yunel Escobar, Toronto; J.J. Hardy, Baltimore
The exact same trio as the first quarter, holding off challenges from Starlin Castro and Mike Aviles.
LF - Alex Gordon, Kansas City
Runners-Up: Josh Willingham, Minnesota; Martin Prado, Atlanta
Advanced metrics for outfielders can be iffy due to small sample sizes, so the inclusion of someone like Willingham comes as a surprise, but Alex Gordon is clearly the best at the position, using any number of measures (Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating/150, Total Chances).
CF - Mike Trout, L.A. Angels of Anaheim
Runners-Up: Austin Jackson, Detroit; Michael Bourn, Atlanta
Even though he got a late start, Trout is already an all-around force, including in the field, where he effectively supplanted one of the best glove men in the game, Peter Bourjos. Denard Span and Adam Jones are possibilities and Jon Jay has been solid when healthy.
RF - Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle
Runners-Up: Josh Reddick, Oakland; Jay Bruce, Cincinnati
Reddick hasn't just been a revelation as an offensive threat, he has been a terrific defensive right fielder, surpassed only by Ichiro. Jason Heyward, Torii Hunter, Giancarlo Stanton and Brian Bogusevic have all been very good.
(I realize there are Gold Gloves awarded in both leagues. I'm just trying to recognize the best fielders at each position.)
C - Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia (13 Hr, 46 RBI, .350 AVG, .995 OPS)
1B - Bryan LaHair, Chicago Cubs (14 HR, 30 RBI, .286 AVG, .883 OPS)
2B - Aaron Hill, Arizona (11 HR, 40 RBI, .300 AVG, .860 OPS)
SS - Jed Lowrie, Houston (14 HR, 36 RBI, .254 AVG, .803 OPS)
3B - Kyle Seager, Seattle (10 HR, 52 RBI, .243 AVG, .726 OPS)
LF - Josh Willingham, Minnesota (19 HR, 60 RBI, .261 AVG, .913 OPS)
CF - Colby Rasmus, Toronto (17 HR, 53 RBI, .259 AVG, .821 OPS)
RF - Josh Reddick, Oakland (20 HR, 43 RBI, .268 AVG, .880 OPS)
SP - James McDonald, Pittsburgh (9-3, 2.37 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 100 K, 110 IP)
SP - R.A. Dickey, N.Y. Mets (12-1, 2.40 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 123 K, 120 IP)
SP - Chris Capuano, Los Angeles (9-4, 2.91 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 100 K, 111 1/3IP)
SP - Edinson Volquez, San Diego (5-7, 3.52 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 98 K, 107 1/3 IP)
SP - Jason Hammel, Baltimore (8-5, 3.47 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 101 K, 106 1/3 IP)
RP - Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay (2-1, 25 SV, 0.93 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 38 K, 38 2/3 IP)
C - Alex Avila, Detroit (5 HR, 23 RBI, .242 AVG, .721 OPS)
1B - Gaby Sanchez, Miami (3 HR, 17 RBI, .202 AVG, .556 OPS)
2B - Jemile Weeks, Oakland (2 HR, 13 RBI, 12 SB, .222 AVG, .620 OPS)
SS - Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox (2 HR, 44 RBI, .266 AVG, .628 OPS)
3B - Mark Reynolds, Baltimore (7 HR, 23 RBI, .207 AVG, .718 OPS)
LF - Eric Thames, Toronto (3 HR,. 11 RBI, .243 AVG, .652 OPS)
CF - Cameron Maybin, San Diego (4 HR, 24 RBI, 16 SB, .212 AVG, .596 OPS)
RF - Jeff Francoeur, Kansas City (7 HR, 25 RBI, .251 AVG, .667 OPS)
SP - Ricky Romero, Toronto (8-4, 5.22 ERA, 1.47 WHIP)
SP - Daniel Hudson, Arizona (3-2, 7.35 ERA, 1.63 WHIP)
SP - Tim Lincecum, San Francisco (3-10, 6.42 ERA, 1.58 WHIP)
SP - Jhoulys Chacin, Colorado (0-3, 7.30 ERA, 1.86 WHIP)
RP - Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs (1-2, 8 SV, 5.61 ERA, 1.87 WHIP)
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.