Depending on your perspective, All-Star weekend is either the best or worst 3-day period on the baseball calendar. On the one hand, we get to watch today's biggest stars (and tomorrow's) all on the diamond at once, free of the pressures of the regular-season grind and getting a bit of rest so they're fresh for the final stretch. On the other hand, it's three days of not being able to watch your favorite team, and some fans go through some minor baseball withdrawal.
Luckily, your favorite blog has the answer: mid-season awards! Let's take a look back at the half-season that has given us an AL North race where a team is on pace to notch 114 wins... and lose the division by 9 games. A half-season where an AL West team is on pace to record 77 wins... and comfortably win the division by 6 games. It's been a crazy year so far, so let's hand out the awards!
Rob Lee, Syracuse
His play over the past couple of weeks has pushed him over the top, and he has begun to distance himself from the pack. He currently leads the majors with a 1.107 OPS, including an ML-best .680 slugging percentage. His .365 batting average is one point off the league lead, which is all the more impressive when considering he's also 5th in the AL in home runs (and that's after missing a week due to injury). It's also hard to argue with the impact he's had on his team-- the Snow Pirates last year struggled to a third-place finish in the outstanding AL North, but this season they've been in first place for nearly the entire year with Rob Lee's bat in the middle of the lineup. There are plenty of other qualified candidates for this award, and there is little doubt that things could easily be shaken up in the second half. But for now, Rob Lee has certainly earned his $30 million in season 11, as he is the current AL MVP.
With apologies to: Nap Clements, Ottawa; Wilfredo Leon, Ottawa; Jim Byrne, Fresno; Hersh Greisinger, Ottawa; Omar Siqueiros, Ottawa
Buck Leonard, Helena
Compared with the AL, it's been a bit of a weak year offensively for the National League. But one player has somewhat stood out, and that is Helena's Buck Leonard, a man the Helena faithful have been promoting for MVP consideration for years now. While Jacksonville's Lloyd Patrick has the raw numbers to emerge as the favorite later in the year, his time missed due to a broken finger has paved the way for Leonard, who has played in each of Helena's 91 games. Hitting .325 with 27 home runs, he is one of only two NL players (the other being Patrick) batting at least .300 with at least 24 homers. To be sure, this is a very close MVP race, and Patrick isn't the only one who has a chance to steal the crown by the season's end. But Leonard, 5th in the league in OPS, should be in it until the end, and he can at least take solace in his mid-season honor.
With apologies to: Lloyd Patrick, Jacksonville; Henry Siddall, Charleston; Bryce Hatcher, Seattle; Lonny Infante, New York
AL Cy Young
Felix Wilson, Ottawa
What a half-season! While a Syracuse hitter wins the MVP over a myriad of dominant Ottawa batsmen, an Otter wins the Cy Young over the plentiful aces in the 'Cuse rotation. Nevertheless, Wilson, a masterful offseason acquisition, has simply dominated this year, posting a league-leading 2.72 ERA, including a 1.82 ERA in 10 starts at Lynx Stadium. He is tied for the league lead with 14 quality starts, opponents are hitting a palty .240 off him, and best of all, he works quickly, averaging only 3.57 pitches per plate appearance to give him about 7.1 innings per start. Pretty much everything you like to see in a pitcher. Some of his numbers hint at a slight potential decline in the second half (his .240 opponent BA is still only 6th in the league), but there is no question that Wilson will be a candidate until the end, and his outstanding ability at the rubber could be what keeps this Ottawa team in the hunt for a second-straight division crown.
With apologies to: Warren Hargrave, Syracuse; Greg DeJean, Ottawa; Ebenezer Brett, Syracuse; Benito Terrero, Oakland; Eli Mercado, Fresno; Carlos Perez, Philadelphia
NL Cy Young
Karim Ontiveros, Fargo
Up until a couple weeks ago, Al Mota looked like the favorite in this race. But the tide turns quickly, and the 22-year old Ontiveros is not only looking like the NL Cy Young winner, but the best pitcher in the majors. His 2.56 ERA ranks second in the majors, his 15 wins is first, and he's logged more innings (151.1) than anyone. His 4 complete games is also tied for most in the NL, while his 1.12 WHIP is third. There are a few potential red flags (opponents are slugging nearly .400 against him, not what you'd expect from a Cy Young winner) but for the most part, Ontiveros has been an absolute stud, and with an ERA of 1.64 over his last 4 starts (a period in which he also averaged 8.1 innings per start), he frightningly looks like he's merely heating up. It's no wonder Fargo dominates the league year in and year out when they're able to secure young talent like this, and if Ontiveros keeps pitching the way he has lately, his first career Cy Young (and, perhaps, first of many) will be in the bag.
With apologies to: Dock King, Monterrey; Roland Sweeney, Fargo; Polin Castillo, Fargo; Jonathan Grebeck, Charleston; Al Mota, Charleston
AL Rookie of the Year
Roger Murray, Syracuse
You know it must be a weak year for AL rookies when the mid-season RoY winner is an inning or two short of even being able to qualify for awards. But with 90.1 innings under his belt, Roger Murray's 3.09 ERA, .225 opponent BA, and 1.14 WHIP look more like Cy Young numbers than Rookie of the Year totals. Finding his way into the vaunted Syracuse rotation after a few relief appearances, Murray has started 14 games for the Snow Pirates and posted a 6-3 record overall. His win total may not be as gaudy as some of his competitors, but with an ERA that, if he qualified, would be 6th among all AL pitchers, it's nearly impossible to discount him from consideration. His .225 opponent batting average is better than all but 1 rookie with at least 1 start this year, and his .288 opponent OBP is tops among all rookies with a start. Granted, he will have to keep up the good work this year to stay in contention, but after posting a 3.38 ERA in 48 innings last season, it appears Murray is ready for primetime.
With apologies to: Max Mateo, Nashville; Malik DeJean, Milwaukee; Alberto Machado, Toledo; Tony Merced, Milwaukee; Bruce Fuller, Nashville
NL Rookie of the Year
Matty Coco, Texas
With a .946 OPS (first among qualifying rookies), .338 batting average (first), .417 OBP (first), .529 slugging percentage (second), and 27 doubles (fifth among ALL National League players), there is little doubt that the NL Rookie of the Year award is Matty Coco's to lose. He's put up numbers that most teams would gladly take out of a seasoned veteran, and at 23 years old, it likely won't be long before some of those doubles start going over the wall for home runs (although he's also got 14 homers, fourth among NL rookies). And after heading into the All-Star break having hit an astounding .528 in the last three series of the half (with 6 multi-hit games in 9 played), Coco seems to just be getting hotter and hotter as the season wears on. While you might expect a few more home runs from a first baseman, when taken alone, Matty Coco has simply been the best rookie in the NL by a good margin.
With apologies to: Corky Whitehead, Rochester; Justin Anderson, Kansas City; Davey Quinones, Rochester; Phil Harding, Helena; Wesley Landrum, Iowa City
AL Fireman of the Year
Carlos Perez, Philadelphia
Very little surprise here. Carlos Perez has dominated at age 37, and with a 2.45 ERA and 24 saves in 27 chances, no reliever has been as reliable at Perez this season. He leads the league in saves, has the second-best ERA of any full time closer, and he's struck out 33 to boot. The one challenger here is Atlanta's Jorel Austin, whose ridiculous numbers (2.32 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, .147 opponent batting average) are undercut by having significantly fewer innings, fewer saves, and fewer strikeouts, with an ERA not low enough to convince me that his whole body of work this year has eclipsed Perez. A strong second half with more innings could definitely put him ahead, but with Perez on pace to record 43 saves, Austin will have a long way to go to catch him.
With apologies to: Jorel Austin, Atlanta; Flip Buck, Arizona; Bart Hamelin, Syracuse; Omar Sanchez, Ottawa; Benji Contreras, Syracuse
NL Fireman of the Year
Polin Castillo, Fargo
After having a very rough season 10, Fargo's coaches worked with the 26-year old Castillo to fine-tune his changeup and work on inducing more ground balls. The lessons have apparantly worked, because Castillo has been the best closer in the majors, notching 31 saves in 32 chances and recording a 2.93 ERA in the process. Opponents are batting only .233 against him, but the most important stat is that Fargo's manager feels 100% confident when tossing him out there late in the game, and that's all a Fireman of the Year should be responsible for. Like Perez in the AL, Castillo's only real competition comes in the form of Helena's Ezdra Johnson, a pitcher with eye-popping averages (1.25 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, .172 opponent BA) but whose 16 saves may prevent him from claiming the top prize. While it is certainly understandable to consider relievers with incredible numbers, even if their save totals leave something to be desired, Castillo, like Perez in the AL, has been the complete package this year, and Johnson's mere 16 saves will likely prevent him from claiming the prize.
With apologies to: Ezdra Johnson, Helena; Zack Prince, New York; Robin Sanders, Cincinnati; Willie Pearson, San Francisco; Gerald Richardson, Seattle
While these outstanding players are my picks for the mid-season awards, there is still a lot of baseball to play and as you know, anything can happen. It will be very exciting to see how many of these players handle the pressure of the stretch run, whether some of the also-rans can make a push to the head of the pack, and whether these mid-season winners can step it up both for themselves and their teams in order to prove their greatness. Many of these players will be at the All-Star game, so if you haven't gotten a chance to see some of these superstars with your own eyes, tune in and watch the game's top players as they gear up for the second half!