Handing out MVP awards a little early

No player ever receives an award for being the MVP of the first half, the best pitcher, the best manager, the top rookie.

Who cares? The awards races are always fun to debate, and they’re already starting to take shape.

The first-half envelope, please:


Jose Bautista, third base, Blue Jays.

Adrian Gonzalez, first base, Red Sox.

Miguel Cabrera, first base, Tigers.

Normally I prefer my MVPs to play for contenders and perform under pennant-race pressure. The Blue Jays already are out of contention, but Bautista – the league leader in OPS and home runs – is just too dominant to ignore. He gets extra credit for moving from right field to third base to benefit the team.


Jose Reyes, shortstop, Mets

Matt Kemp, center field, Dodgers

Lance Berkman, right field, Cardinals

Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder also is worthy of the top three, but I’ll go with my up-the-middle defenders first and then Berkman, the league leader in OPS and home runs.

Reyes over Kemp is a close call – both had breathtaking first halves – but the Mets are surprisingly above .500 in large part because of Reyes’ electric performance.

AL Cy Young

Jered Weaver, Angels

Justin Verlander, Tigers

Josh Beckett, Red Sox

You know what? It’s not even that close.

Weaver leads the league in ERA by a healthy 0.40 earned runs per nine innings, and he also leads in fielding-independent pitching (FIP), a statistic that measures a pitcher’s effectiveness based on plays that do not involve fielders.

Check this out – Weaver was 6-0 with a 0.99 ERA in his first six starts, 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA in his last five and 1-4 with a 3.29 ERA in between.


NL Cy Young

Jair Jurrjens, Braves

Roy Halladay, Phillies

Cole Hamels, Phillies

As always, a strong case can be made for Halladay, the league leader in FIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Halladay’s ERA, however, is more than a half-run per nine innings higher than Jurrjens’ league-leading 1.87 mark.

Don’t overlook Hamels, my preseason choice. His opponents’ OPS is the lowest in the league.

AL Manager

Joe Maddon, Rays

Manny Acta, Indians

Eric Wedge, Mariners

Could go either way on Maddon and Acta.

Maddon had to piece together an entirely new bullpen and cope with all of the other Rays’ defections, though the team certainly is not without talent.

Acta, like Clint Hurdle with the Pirates, demonstrated strong leadership while transforming the culture of a downtrodden low-revenue franchise.

As for Wedge, the Mariners were .500 before losing their last five games entering the break. Don’t ask how; the M’s pitch like crazy, but their offense stinks.

NL Manager

Clint Hurdle, Pirates

Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks

Terry Collins, Mets

This one is easy: The Pirates, trying to end their streak of 18 consecutive losing seasons, are four games over .500 and one game out of first place. Yet, in most other seasons, either Gibson or Collins could be a clear front-runner for the award.

The Diamondbacks are the biggest surprise in the NL outside of the Pirates – I thought they would be one of the worst teams in the league after seeing them in spring training. Collins’ work with the injury-depleted Mets, meanwhile, is your basic baseball miracle.

AL Rookie

Michael Pineda, right-handed pitcher, Mariners

Jeremy Hellickson, right-handed pitcher, Rays

Mark Trumbo, first baseman, Angels

Pineda was sixth in the league in ERA before a rough start against the Angels on Saturday took him from 2.58 to 3.03.

Hellickson is not far behind Pineda in ERA, and Trumbo is tied with Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa for the major-league lead among rookies with 16 home runs.

Yes, I’m excluding Angels All-Star Jordan Walden, but I generally go with starting pitchers and position players over closers.

NL Rookie

Craig Kimbrel, Braves

Freddie Freeman, Braves

Danny Espinosa, Nationals

Uh, what was I saying about closers?

Kimbrel is the exception, leading the majors with 28 saves (in 33 chances) and setting the rookie record for most saves by the All-Star break.

Freeman, sporting an .806 OPS, could wind up a worthy challenger to his teammate. Espinosa is batting only .242, but he draws walks and hits for power; his OPS is a healthy .792.