Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Maybe you're a fan of what knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has done this season.
Maybe Jose Bautista's prodigious homerun stats are more your cup of tea.
Or perhaps you've been captivated by Chris Sale's dominance for the White Sox.
The first half of the 2012 major league baseball season has been full of surprises and great storylines but my favorite involves two players who share the same first name.
For years, Carlos Ruiz has been living under the radar. Sure, everyone knows who he is. He's the Philadelphia Phillies' starting catcher and after watching the Phillies play on Sunday Night Baseball 10 times a year for the last four seasons, you start to pick up on these things.
But acknowledging one's presence and gaining fantasy respect are two different things. The Phillies' lineup has always been full of stars but most people wouldn't consider Ruiz one of them. Even though "Chooch" entered 2012 having hit .292 with 93 RBI over his past two seasons, he went undrafted in most fantasy leagues.
If you were one of the thousands of fantasy owners who passed on Ruiz in this year's draft, I'm here to tell you that you made a terrible mistake. Ruiz's bat has erupted this season.
He's leading the major leagues in batting average at .356 and his 1.000 OPS is the fifth best in the majors. His 2012 slugging percentage sits at .579, which is higher than the ones recorded by Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton and countless other perennial All-Stars.
Remember, this is Carlos Ruiz we're talking about here, a .275 lifetime hitter who came into the season with 36 homers in 619 career games. The 33-year-old is on pace to blast 22 long balls this season with 86 RBI. His previous career-highs in those categories were nine homers (which he already surpassed with his 10th HR of the season on June 26) and 54 runs driven in (set back in 2007).
What's even scarier is that Ruiz isn't slowing down. Anyone can put together a hot steak, so most fantasy owners shrugged off his .313 opening month. After he batted .418 in May, some of Ruiz's doubters started to pay more attention. Now that it's July and he's still hitting almost .360 (partly thanks to a .337 showing in June), it's pretty hard to deny that Ruiz is one of the best hitters in the game.
Part of Ruiz's rise to fantasy prominence can be attributed to his new position in the batting order. After spending the majority of his career hitting eighth (he's hitting .247 in 1180 career at bats from that spot in the order), injuries to stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have forced Ruiz into the cleanup spot. So far in 20 games as Philadelphia's cleanup hitter, Ruiz has slugged his way to a staggering .390 average and a .597 slugging percentage.
Ruiz might drop to fifth in the order upon Howard's return later in the month but that might not be so bad. Ruiz is a .344 career-hitter when batting fifth and as good as he's been in the first half, Ruiz has always been a better hitter in the season's final three months. His career average is .286 in the second half compared to just .268 prior to the All-Star break.
Amazingly, Ruiz's incredible stats still weren't enough to impress All-Star voters. He'll come off the bench for the National League in next week's All- Star Game while the fan's choice, Giants backstop Buster Posey (.303, 10 HRs, 42 RBI) will get the start behind the plate.
Ruiz's ascent to greatness has surprised everyone, but Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran's stellar first half has been equally shocking. Beltran's final seasons with the New York Mets were a disappointment and at age 35, fantasy owners must not have thought the seven-time All-Star had much left in the tank because his average draft position this season was 113.9.
Apparently he has quite a bit left in the tank. As the first half nears its close, Beltran has already reached 20 homers and 63 RBI. The 20 homers are good for second in the NL and his RBI total is the National League's highest this season.
Albert Pujols left some big shoes to fill when he left for Los Angeles this past offseason, but if you ask Beltran, he'd tell you those shoes fit quite comfortably. While other power hitters like Adam Dunn (.210, 24 HRs, 58 RBI) and Jose Bautista (.243, 27 HRs, 64 RBI) have failed to hit for a high average in 2012, Beltran has accumulated a .308 average to go along with his elite home run and RBI totals. The .308 clip is Beltran's highest mark since hitting .325 for the Mets in 2009 and if his power numbers remain steady, he'll close out the year with 41 homers and 128 RBI. Both of those would establish new career-highs for the 15-year veteran.
For Beltran, the secret has been his ability to stay healthy. Right now, Beltran is projected to participate in 154 games this season, his highest amount since he appeared in 161 games for New York in 2008. Beltran was in the lineup 142 times last season but was only healthy enough to play in 145 games total between 2009-2010.
Beltran and Ruiz have both been terrific this season but the question remains, which Carlos will make the biggest contribution to fantasy after the break? Beltran, Lee, Pena, Quentin, Ruiz and Santana all make the list, but my money's on Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez (.339, 17 HRs, 58 RBI). Who knew one name could hold so much power?
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