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STEVE DESHAZO: Baseball’s retreads, young guns shine in season’s first half
The old saying goes that baseball teams that sit in first place on July 4 have a great chance of staying there.
Don’t tell that to the Washington Nationals, who were 50–32 and 4 games up on second-place Atlanta in the National League East on this very date in 2005, their first season in D.C. But Frank Robinson’s vagabond team faded in the summer swelter and finished last, albeit at 81–81.
Few expect a similar swoon from the first-place 2012 Nats, who have far more star power and cash reserves—not to mention the NL’s best record. This team appears to be in it for the long haul, even if Stephen Strasburg gets shut down sometime around Labor Day.
That’s not the only revelation from the first half of a season long on pitching and parity. Midseason awards don’t come with any hardware, but here are one man’s choices as baseball’s best for the first 80 or so games:
NL MVP: Andrew McCutcheon, Pirates
This is a tough call over Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, the 2010 MVP who’s having another stellar season (.352, 33 doubles, 14 homers, 47 RBIs). Votto’s Reds were tied with McCutcheon’s Pirates atop the NL Central entering Wednesday’s games.
But on an otherwise punchless team, McCutcheon is irreplaceable. He leads the NL in batting (.360), has 54 RBIs and is playing Gold Glove-caliber center field.
AL MVP: Josh Hamilton, Rangers
Another narrow decision over the Yankees’ Robinson Cano, who’s challenging Davey Johnson’s 1973 record for homers by a second baseman (43).
Hamilton’s penchant for injury and personal demons could derail him at any time, but it’s hard to argue with his numbers: .316 with 25 homers and a league-leading 73 RBIs.
Honorable mention: Adam Jones, Orioles; Paul Konerko, White Sox; Mike Trout, Angels.
NL Cy Young: R.A. Dickey, Mets
An easy call. Plucked off the salvage heap, the 37-year-old knuckleballer is 12–1 with a 2.15 ERA and 116 strikeouts. Even more amazing: one wild pitch and no stolen bases allowed.
Distant runners-up: Matt Cain, Giants; Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; Strasburg and Gio Gonzelez, Nationals.
AL Cy Young: Jared Weaver, Angels
Incumbent Justin Verlander is having another sensational season, even if his numbers (8–5, 2.69 ERA) don’t show it. But Weaver is 9–1 with an AL-best 2.13 ERA.
Other runners-up: Chris Sale, White Sox; Matt Harrison, Rangers; David Price, Rays.
NL rookie: Bryce Harper, Nationals
The numbers (.280, eight homers) are good. The impact of his hustle and enthusiasm at age 19 are even more impressive.
Runners-up: That’s a clown question, bro.
AL rookie: Mike Trout, Angels
Another no-brainer. He leads the AL in batting (.340) and steals (22), though—like Harper—he started the season in the minor leagues.
NL manager: Clint Hurdle, Pirates
Once proclaimed “The Can’t-Miss Kid” as a player by Sports Illustrated, Hurdle is showing better chops in the dugout. He led the Rockies to a stunning 2007 World Series appearance, and he’s got Pittsburgh poised for its first winning season in two decades.
Runners-up: Johnson, Nationals; Terry Collins, Mets.
AL manager: Buck Showalter, Orioles
Like Hurdle, he’s trying to reverse a long stretch of futility (14 straight losing seasons). Baltimore entered play Wednesday clinging to an AL wild-card spot despite a minus-28 run differential. Tuesday night’s 5–4 win over Seattle made the
Orioles 15–6 in one-run games. That reflects well on the manager.
Runners-up: Ron Washington, Rangers; Robin Ventura, White Sox.
Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443