MLB First-Half Awards: National League
JUL 16, 2014 11:16a ET
I’m at a loss for words this morning, properly to the delight of my co-workers. An institution I’ve held sacred since youth is under attack, and there’s no defense I can offer. The Home Run Derby, once a rite of summer, tore us a collective lawn job last night, and the tire tracks are too fresh to discuss that monstrosity. The hurt is deep.
But instead of mourning a body that’s already buried, let’s shift our focus to baseball of actual importance. With the Midsummer Classic upon us, it’s time to hand out our awards from the first half of the 2014 MLB season:
Pittsburgh’s playoff run last fall was a captivating scene. Alas, the Buccos have not handled the transition of hunter-to-hunted well, ending the first half in fourth place in the NL Central. That the Pirates are just three games out of the Wild Card despite this poor play is a testament to their leader McCutchen, the sole entity who’s not regressed in 2014.
If anything, the reigning Senior Circuit MVP is having a better season than 2013’s title-winning campaign, flaunting a .324 batting clip with 17 homers, 61 RBI, 57 runs, 15 steals and a .420 OBP. These figures are especially impressive given the lack of help from the Steel City offense. Coupled with the National League failing to produce many viable candidates for this honor, McCutchen retains his belt with ease.
What about Troy Tulowitzki, you ask? Sorry, I can’t bestow the prize to someone that:
1. Plays for a team with the fewest wins in the league.
2. Owns numbers that are facilitated by a ballpark (.417/.497/.748 at home, .265/.367/.463 on the road).
3. Aided one of the worst Home Run Derby fields in memory. JUSTIN MORNEAU, THE GUY WHO ONLY HAS FIVE HOME RUNS OUTSIDE OF DENVER?!?!?! And I love Todd Frazier, but in no way should the Toddfather have been facing Yoenis Cespedes. An atrocity that could have been avoided if Tulowitzki had put forth an effort in Round 2. Instead, he hit two jacks. The blood is on YOUR HANDS, TULO!
Honorable Mentions: Giancarlo Stanton, Troy Tulowitzki
Johnny Cueto leads all National League arms in innings and WHIP, and Adam Wainwright’s MLB-best 1.83 ERA deserves consideration. Yet Kershaw has been a magician on the mound, confounding batters to the tune of a 1.78 ERA and 0.83 WHIP (because of missed time due to a back injury, Kershaw’s numbers fail to qualify among the league leaders).
The aforementioned DL stint has vaulted Wainwright atop many of these first-half lists, but since a seven-run beatdown by the Diamondbacks on May 17, Kershaw has been damn near unhittable, surrendering eight runs in 74 innings of work. The 26-year-old also boasts a ridiculous 9.7 K/BB ratio, nearly double the output of Zack Greinke’s 5.8 figure (currently leading the NL). Throw in the impressiveness of Kershaw’s 41 scoreless-innings streak and the Dodgers ace gets our nod. Frankly, Wainwright ranks third on our ballot, as thriving in the unfriendly confines of Great American Ball Park warrants recognition for Cueto.
Honorable Mentions: Johnny Cueto, Adam Wainwright
NL Manager of First Half: Ron Roenicke, Brewers
It’s a muddled pack at the midway point in this category, and Roenicke may be an odd choice given the Brew Crew’s freefall before the break. While this could be a sign of things to come in the second half, few had Milwaukee penciled into this spot, so give credit where credit’s due. A tip of the cap to Bryan Price and Fredi Gonzalez for keeping their teams competitive in the face of countless injuries.
Honorable Mention: Bryan Price, Bruce Bochy
NL Rookie of First Half: Billy Hamilton, Reds
It’s a weak field, one that thought was in-line for a jolt of excitement with the promotion of Gregory Polanco. Regrettably, after lighting the world on fire upon arrival, Polanco is batting a buck-seventy in his last 16 contests.
Not that Blazin’ Billy gets this title by default. Since a rough start out of the gate, Hamilton rocks a .305 average in his last 72 games with 40 runs, 35 RBI and 31 swipes. The Cincy speedster has also been formidable in the field, ranking third among all outfielders in defensive rating, a sentiment that is illustrated in the lowered ERAs of the Reds pitching staff.
Hamilton’s being caught a league-high 15 times, but that’s more a byproduct of third base coach Steve Smith’s failure to grasp the responsibilities of his job. I’m serious, that guy’s the worst. At least once a series Smith is part of an ill-advised foray toward second or home. Thank heavens that guy’s not a school crossing guard…ANYWAY, look for Hamilton to continue the good times in the second half.
Honorable Mention: Chris Owings
NL Epiphany of First Half: Dee Gordon, Dodgers
When the Dodgers dropped a cool $28 million on Alex Guerrero, Gordon’s future with the club seemed dubious. However, a strong spring training, coupled with Guerrero’s problems with the leather at second, bequeathed the Opening Day job to Gordon. Little Flash made the most of this platform, hitting .344 in April, and hasn’t looked back. While he’s come down to Earth at the plate (.265/.329/.372 in the last 58 games), he leads baseball with 43 bags and nine triples, good enough to earn a trip to the All-Star Game. After two frustrating seasons, Gordon, only 26 years old, is finally finding his groove as a ball player.
Honorable Mention: Alfredo Simon
Why bore you with my feeble words when this box aptly sums up Cabrera’s performance:
Everth Cabrera Splits
|First Half Before Biogenesis Suspension||.291||.373||34/42|
|First Half After Biogenesis Suspension||.218||.256||13/20|
Though the Biogenesis scandal’s events took place before last year, it’s understandable why some are calling Cabrera’s 2013 All-Star season a fraud. Moreover, it’s easy to pile on the shortstop for whatever sins he committed, but that production line is more condemning than any editorial point can convey. Besides, he plays for the Padres. Isn’t that punishment enough?
Dishonorable Mentions: Dan Uggla, Domonic Brown
NL Head-Scratcher: Bryce Harper, Nationals
Calling out the manager is a senseless act in itself. Throwing a fellow teammate under the bus in the same breath is despicable. God forbid if Yasiel Puig pulled that stunt.
Harper’s been good thus far in his young career…but not that good (.269 average, .349 OBP), certainly not at the level to lob such criticisms. There were questions concerning Harper’s character when drafted in 2010, reproaches that he’s failed to amend. In a sport that values clubhouse chemistry, many in the game are wondering if Harper is worth the hassle. He’s only 21 years old, but don’t be surprised if the two-time All-Star finds himself with another franchise sooner rather than later.
Dishonorable Mention: Pittsburgh letting A.J. Burnett walk
No one thought much of the Braves letting Hudson walk, as the right-hander owned a 3.77 ERA in his last two seasons in Atlanta. However, San Francisco has been a Fountain of Youth for the 39-year-old, touting a 2.87 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 18 starts. The sabermetrics point to a tad of regression in the second half, but for a staff that was hurting with the loss of ace Matt Cain, Hudson’s consistency kept the Giants afloat.
Honorable Mention: Justin Morneau, Matt Garza
Only the Mets would reward a cat that hit .231 over his previous two seasons a $60 million deal. And perhaps you can’t fault the Padres for Johnson’s injury…except it’s an injury that everyone saw coming.
Dishonorable Mention: Bronson Arroyo
NL “He did WHAT???” Play of the First Half
The swim move to avoid a tag is attempted nearly 200 times a season. It’s in vain 199 of those ventures. Here’s the one successful conversion.
Honorable Mention: Andrew McCutchen’s reaction to Giancarlo Stanton’s HR Derby shot
Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @JoelMBeall