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STEVE DESHAZO: These guys bring their own fireworks

July 4 is supposed to be a magic date in baseball. If you’re leading your division on Independence Day, you’ve got a great shot at finishing the season in first place—or so conventional thinking goes.

Rebuttal No. 1 is the Pittsburgh Pirates.

For the past two seasons, the Pirates have arrived at the All-Star break with a winning record and optimism about the chance of ending a record streak of losing seasons that now spans two full decades. But they staggered to a 16–36 finish in 2012 and an 18–41 close the previous year.

Undaunted, the Pirates boast baseball’s best record as the nation pauses for barbecues. Will it mean an end to 20 years of futility? We’ll see. But it’s enough to earn at least one midseason individual honor—which, we’ve seen, isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Nevertheless, here are one man’s half-witted picks for half-season awards:

NL MVP: Yadier Molina, Cardinals

He’s been arguably baseball’s best defensive catcher for nearly a decade. But he’s also leading the NL in batting (.347 entering Wednesday) and handling a pitching staff with the game’s third-lowest team ERA (3.33). A clear choice.

Runners-up: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; Buster Posey, Giants; Michael Cuddyer, Rockies; Joey Votto, Reds.

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

The Orioles’ Chris Davis may deny him a second straight Triple Crown, but there’s little dispute that Cabrera (.368, 26 home runs, 85 RBIs through Tuesday) is baseball’s most dangerous hitter.

Runners-up: Davis, (.329, 31 homers, 25 doubles, 80 RBIs) is a close runner-up after a career rebirth in Baltimore. Teammate Manny Machado, still just 21, is another worthy candidate, as are Boston’s Dustin Pedroia and the Angels’ Mike Trout.

NL Cy Young: Matt Harvey, Mets

He leads the league in strikeouts (132) and winning percentage (7–1), and his 2.00 ERA is just shy of Clayton Kershaw’s 1.93. Plus, he’s outpitched Stephen Strasburg, Roy Halladay.

Runners-up: Kershaw; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Adam Wainright, Cardinals; Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks.

AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Tigers

It’s not easy being the best pitcher on a staff that includes Justin Verlander, but Scherzer (12–0, 3.10 ERA) gets the nod. It hasn’t hurt that Detroit has scored 7.5 runs per start, but when you’re mentioned in the same breath as Roger Clemens (and not for steroids), that’s impressive.

Runners-up: Yu Darvish, Rangers; Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez, Mariners; Bartolo Colon, A’s.

NL rookie: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers

Yes, it’s a small sample size. But the Cuban defector’s numbers from his first 27 big-league games (.443, eight homers) have evoked comparisons to Joe DiMaggio. Enough said.

Runners-up: Evan Gattis, Braves; Matt Adams, Cardinals; Jose Fernandez, Marlins; Gerrit Cole, Pirates.

AL rookie: Jose Iglesias, Red Sox

Another Cuban defector who was late to the party but has made a mark (.415, 56 hits in 40 games). He’s the best in a so-so field.

Runners-up: Conor Gillaspie, White Sox; Justin Grimm, Rangers; Oswaldo Arcia, Twins.

NL manager: Clint Hurdle, Pirates

Again, he has Pittsburgh poised to reward its long-suffering fan base—or flame out for a third straight year. The Pirate hitters that

Stafford native Gregg Ritchie tutored need to heat up in the second half.

Runners-up: Mike Metheny, Cardinals; Fredi Gonzalez, Braves; Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks.

AL manager: John Farrell, Red Sox

Until the Yankees were swept by the Orioles last weekend, this vote might have gone to Joe Girardi, who has kept New York afloat without Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson. But Farrell’s reclamation of the mess Bobby Valentine left behind can’t be ignored.

Runners-up: Girardi; Buck Showalter, Orioles; Terry Francona, Indians; Bob Melvin, A’s.

Most disappointing

Team: Dodgers (39–43); Position player: Josh Hamilton, Angels (.223, 29 RBIs); Pitcher: Cole Hamels, Phillies (2–11, 4.58 ERA),

 

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