Wild second half could be on the way
Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
With the National League's first All-Star Game win over the American League in 14 years now in the books, we turn the page to the second half of the season, when teams really start to kick it into high gear.
History tells us that there is one team out there right now, laying in the weeds, that you don't think of as a playoff team but will come out of nowhere in September with a run to get them into the postseason.
Could it be Houston? Kansas City? The Cubs? Maybe Toronto? Who knows, but with 17 teams within five games of a division lead, everything is still up for grabs with 2 1/2 months remaining in the regular season.
So with that said, let's take a look at a few storylines to keep an eye on in the second half, as well as choosing some award-winners for the first half:
CHASING HISTORY IN THE AL
I wasn't alive for Carl Yastrzemski's Triple Crown season in 1967, but I think I may have a good shot at catching one this year. That milestone could be in play come September for Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, who is currently tied for the AL lead in average (.346), leads in RBI (77) and is two home runs off the pace of Toronto's Jose Bautista league-leading 24. Cabrera isn't the only one chasing the Triple Crown either. Texas' Josh Hamilton is tied with Cabrera in both average and home runs, but is 13 RBI behind the pace. Hamilton gets his RBI in bunches, so don't be surprised to see both of them battling for it in September.
Miguel Cabrera has a good shot at winning the AL Triple Crown this season.
PHILLIES ON THE MARCH?
I still think the Philadelphia Phillies are the best team in the National League. The All-Star break could not have come at a worse time for the two- time defending National League champions, as they went in having won four straight. However, it may not have come a better time either, as the Phils have had to deal with more injuries than any other team in the NL. I still like their chances, though. I think they will get another pitcher at the deadline and will probably add a bat to replace Chase Utley at second base. Nothing special, but something better than Wilson Valdez. Think Ty Wigginton or someone of that ilk. Keep in mind, nine of their final 12 games come against the two teams ahead of them in the division, with six of those contests against the front-running Atlanta Braves.
AL EAST DOGFIGHT
It is a shame that one member of the trio including the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays is going to miss out on the postseason this year. They are the three best teams in the American League and very well could be the three top teams in baseball. The Yankees carried a two-game lead over Tampa into the break, but Boston is right there at five games back, despite an unbelievable amount of injuries. I think the Yankees are going to be extremely motivated in the second half and as last week's near-deal for Cliff Lee showed, they are always looking to make themselves better. Boston at the moment is without Dustin Pedroia, Josh Beckett, Victor Martinez, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury, among others, not to mention the nagging injuries to Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew and Adrian Beltre. The Yankees have done most of their damage with little or no contribution from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Both, though, started to show signs of life before the break. Boston is going to be even better once it starts to get healthy, which could be bad news for the Rays come October.
CAN SURPRISE TEAMS HANG ON?
A lot of people pegged the Cincinnati Reds as a surprise team heading into the year, but not me. I was way off on them. They are as good as anyone in the National League, their lost re-break weekend in Philadelphia not withstanding. And they could get better with the imminent return of Edinson Volquez. Nobody, though, thought the San Diego Padres were going to do anything but hold a fire sale sometime in July. Yet, both team find themselves atop their respective divisions at the break. I am not sure if either will be there at the end, but it will certainly be nice to have some new blood involved come September.
If you thought Texas was going to fade in the second half, think again, as the acquisition of Cliff Lee not only makes the Rangers the clear-cut favorites in the AL West, but a team that could even make some noise come October.
FIRST HALF AWARDS
AL MVP - MIGUEL CABRERA, DETROIT TIGERS
With all due respect to Hamilton, Cabrera has been the most important player in the American League so far. Hamilton has Vladimir Guerrero to help pick up the slack ... who does Cabrera have? Brennan Boesch has been good, but he is a rookie. Cabrera has been terrific, especially when you think of where he came from at the end of last season. Cabrera was my pick before the season to win the AL MVP and I am sticking with him midway through.
HONORABLE MENTION: Hamilton, Texas
AL CY YOUNG - DAVID PRICE, TAMPA BAY RAYS
You knew Price was going to be in contention for an American League Cy Young Award one day. I am not sure anyone thought it would be this soon, though. Price, the AL's starting pitcher for Tuesday's All-Star Game, has been tremendous for the Rays, going 12-4 with a league-low 2.42 ERA and 100 strikeouts. He is still only 24 and could run out of steam down the stretch. How he finishes the year may determine whether or not the Rays are still playing in October.
HONORABLE MENTION: CC Sabathia, NY Yankees
AL ROOKIE - BRENNAN BOESCH, DETROIT TIGERS
Most people pegged a Detroit Tigers outfielder as the Rookie of the Year in all the preseason picks. However, not one of them had Boesch as their guy. Austin Jackson was the rookie that received all the fanfare at the start of the season, but it has been Boesch who has had the biggest impact for Jim Leyland's crew. Boesch's numbers - .342 with 15 home runs and 49 RBI - are even more impressive when you factor in that he wasn't recalled from the minors until late April. He also has 34 extra base hits on the year.
HONORABLE MENTION: Neftali Feliz, Texas
AL MANAGER - TERRY FRANCONA, BOSTON RED SOX
I know it is hard to give the manager of the year to someone who manages the Red Sox or the Yankees, considering their payrolls, but take a look at what Francona has done this year. All those injuries, and he still has his team right in the thick of the playoff race.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ron Washington, Texas
NL MVP - DAVID WRIGHT, NEW YORK METS
You could go a lot of different ways here. Cincinnati's Joey Votto has been tremendous and St. Louis' Albert Pujols is always a good choice. Wright, though, was left for dead last season. A lot of people wrote him off after last season's power drought. He still strikes out too much, but he has hit everything in sight from about May on for the surprising Mets. Now that Carlos Beltran is back hitting behind him, I expect Wright to be even better in the second half.
HONORABLE MENTION: Votto, Cincinnati
NL CY YOUNG - JOSH JOHNSON, FLORIDA MARLINS
With all things being equal, Johnson probably should have been starting that game on Tuesday instead of Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez. I think wins for a pitcher are overrated, but 15 wins at the break is pretty impressive, especially given how good Jimenez has looked at times. Johnson, though, was in my opinion the National League's best pitcher from start-to-break in the first half. Jimenez has had a few hiccups in there, but not Johnson, who went into the break sporting a major league-low 1.70 ERA.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jimenez, Colorado
NL ROOKIE - JAIME GARCIA, ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
You would have been hard-pressed to find any name other than that of Jason Heyward on the preseason lists for NL Rookie of the Year. While Heyward has no doubt lived up to his advanced billing, Garcia has been the class of the first- year players in the Senior Circuit. He has been so good (a 2.17 ERA that ranks among league leaders), with so much poise, you have to remind yourself that he is a rookie. With Brad Penny injured for most of the first half, Garcia has been the perfect complement to the dynamic tandem of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright atop the Cardinals rotation.
HONORABLE MENTION: Heyward, Atlanta
NL MANAGER - BUD BLACK, SAN DIEGO PADRES
The only news I thought the Padres would make this season was the trade of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to a contender. Well, Gonzalez is not going anywhere, as the Padres entered the break two games in front of the both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies in the NL West. One of the best pitching coaches in baseball up until the time he took managerial job in San Diego, Black has now worked his magic with the Padres, who have pitched to a major league best 3.25 ERA.
HONORABLE MENTION: Dusty Baker, Cincinnati