Handing Out Mid-Season Awards

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - July 19, 2006
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Here we go again. Another All-Star Game. Another half season played. Another mid-season awards list.

AL Rookie of the Year: As good as Detroit’s Justin Verlander has been (10-3 3.01 ERA), it’s really a two-horse race between Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon and Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano. While Papelbon has been sick with a 0.59 era and 26 saves, closers are part time players with limited exposure to the opponents best hitters. Starting pitchers have no such luxury and are in there for the long haul. Liriano’s the winner. He’s been so good he has pushed his team-mate and former Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana to the back pages. But then again, a 10-1 record with a 1.83 ERA while holding your opponents to a .201 batting average tends to draw attention.

NL Rookie of the Year:

Where the junior circuit’s candidates are dominated by pitching, the National League features three rookie hitters who have been lights out for their clubs. Prince Fielder, Dan Uggla and Ryan Zimmerman will all be at the top of any list, but it’s Uggla who has truly stood out. He leads the other candidates with a .307 average, is second in RBI and home runs and leads in runs scored. Plus he was the only one to make the All-Star team. Not bad.

AL Cy Young Award:

Liriano’s midseason success and his first-half Rookie of the Year nomination make this category a bit anticlimactic. Roy Halladay (12-2 and 2.98 ERA) is his only real competition and Schilling’s strikeout/walks (115/15) have been amazing, but at least at the halfway point, Lirian is the best.

NL Cy Young Award: Talk about a tough list. Brad Penny (10-2 and 2.91 ERA), Tom Glavine (11-2 3.48), Carlos Zambrano (8-3, 3.24 and a .200 batting average against) and Bronson Arroyo (9-6 3.12) would all be fine choices, but Brandon Webb has been the best of the best. No. 1 in ERA (2.65) with nine wins and 103 strike-outs to only 21 walks, he’s been just a tad better than All Star game starter Penny.

AL MVP: Take your pick. Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter. If the criteria is best numbers on the best team that would be Thome.

The most clutch: Ortiz. Best athlete: Alex RodrÌguez, who isn’t even on the list. Or who had the least help: Vernon Wells. While the Yankees have suffered through poor pitching and the loss of Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield, no one is toiling in obscurity and has fewer hot shots around him than Wells. Although his numbers are not the best among the list: .311 (5th), 21 HRs (6th), 66 RBI (7th), 48 runs (8th) and .594 slugging (8th), Wells has not benefitted from an All-Star cast surrounding him. That’s value.

NL MVP: Only one of two no-brainers on the list. Even while missing 17 games to injury, Albert Pujols has still managed to lead the National League in homers and slugging percentage, and is second in RBI. He’s also hitting .316 at the All-Star break and has scored 63 runs. Yes, he’s getting help from a rejuvenated Scott Rolen (.331, 14, 57) but with a starting pitching staff that has only Chris Carpenter with an ERA below 5.24, the Central-leading Cardinals would be nowhere without Pujols.

AL Manager of the Year: The other no-brainer. Three years ago, the Detroit Tigers lost an American League-record 119 games, and before this season 80 wins would have been a measured improvement. Now with a healthy lineup, talented young players and deft handling by Jim Leyland, the Tigers boast the best record in baseball. Leyland has been a teacher and motivator who has done a great job soothing modern egos while not being afraid to go old school and take his team to the woodshed when needed.

NL Manager of the Year:

Bruce Bochy finds his team on top of the National League West. Even with a putrid offense, it’s hard to be surprised by the Padres’ showing. If for no other reason that the West has no dominant team. That cannot be said in the Central, where the Cincinnati Reds were expected to finish near the bottom of the division behind a starting pitching staff that limped along a season ago with a 5.39 ERA. The pitching has improved to 4.78, which is good for no better than ninth. And while the long ball (130) has been there, hitting for average has been poor (.263). If Jerry Narron can deal with this type of performance and still keep his team four games behind St. Louis, he has to be doing something right.

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