Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The MLB All-Star break signals the midpoint of the baseball season.Starting next week the playoff picture will come into view, trade rumours will heat up, and the great teams will begin to separate themselves from the pack.
The first half of the AL season has gone more or less according to plan. The Red Sox and Yankees are using their explosive offenses to maintain the two best records in the league. The only real shock in the standings is the Cleveland Indians’ resurrection putting them on top of the AL Central.
The MLB awards races haven’t been a total shock either. The biggest stars in the league are the front-runners to win the shiniest trophies, but of course, there are exceptions to those developments.
2011 Team Record (through July 8th): 47-39
2010 Team Record (through July 8th last year): 33-51
Why he'll win: There were just about as many baseball experts who picked the Cleveland Indians to win the AL Central as there were law experts who felt Casey Anthony and Barry Bonds would end up getting convicted. Yet, here we are.
The Indians are solid defensively, have at least three steady starters in their rotation, and they have a bullpen with almost no weak links. Perhaps Acta was lucky to see Asdrubal Cabrera perform at a new level, and what looks like a turn-around season from Travis Hafner, but the recipe for making a manager of the year always involves a cup of luck.
Other contenders: Jim Leyland (DET), Ron Washington (TEX), Mike Scioscia (LAA)
2011 Stats (through July 8th): 1-1, 1.91 ERA, 21 saves, 4 blown saves
Why he'll win: He does have four blown saves this year, but he's given up two runs in an outing only once this year. The rest of his blown saves were in situations where the Yankees were up by a single run. He's been lights out the rest of the way.
Rivera is now dealing with sore triceps muscle and is skipping the All-Star game, but he isn't expected to miss a lot of time.
Other contenders: Jose Valverde (DET), Chris Perez (CLE), Jonathan Papelbon (BOS)
2011 Stats (through July 8th): .333 BA, 29 HR, 61 RBI, 1.158 OPS, 6.2 Wins Above Replacement
Why he'll win: I'll admit that I am one of those guys who thinks that the MVP award should go to a team that is in the playoff hunt. How is a player truly valuable if the season goes nowhere? Not everyone agrees with that, but most of them don't work here.
If Toronto was in the hunt, Jose Bautista would be the near-unanimous American League MVP. He leads the planet in WAR, home runs, on-base percentage, and on-base plus slugging. Hammerin' Hank would be proud.
Other contenders: Curtis Granderson (NYY), Adrian Gonzalez (BOS), Miguel Cabrera (DET)
2011 Stats (through July 8th): .271 BA, 25 HR, 62 RBI, .944 OPS, 3.7 WAR
Why he'll win: This is probably the toughest award to determine in advance because we have a really tight race. James Shields of the Rays bounced back from a sub-par year and is out pitching fellow All-Star David Price. Travis Hafner in Cleveland missed much of the first half of the season, but when he performs, he is a force to be reckoned with. The Red Sox' Jacoby Ellsbury has had a fantastic season after missing most of 2010 with a freak rib injury.
Curtis Granderson of the Yankees gets the nod since his numbers are eye popping and he hasn't been anywhere near this good since 2007. After hitting only .247 last campaign, Granderson is now batting nearly 30 percentage points higher. He was also right on Jose Bautista's heels in the AL home run chase for parts of the season. His defensive capabilities have also seen improvement ever since he decided to make better routes to fly balls than he had in seasons past.
Other contenders: James Shields (TB), Travis Hafner (CLE), Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)
2011 Stats (through July 8th): 8-5, 2.58 ERA, 106 SO, 1.009 WHIP, 2.5 WAR
Why he'll win: It's not often that a baseball team immediately gets one of the most fearsome 1-2 combinations to lead a rotation in all of the league because a rookie made the squad for the first time.
Felix Hernandez and rookie Michael Pineda are a lethal pairing, no disrespect to Seattle's third best pitcher Doug Fister who is also having a splendid season. While Hernandez comes at batters with several plus-pitches, Pineda overpowers them with a great heater, and then follows that up with a parachute change-up. He already pounds the strikezone regularly, which is often unseen from rookies. He does rely heavily on his forearm in his delivery, so he could be an injury waiting to happen, but for right now, Pineda is dealing.
Other contenders: Alexi Ogando (TEX), Mark Trumbo (ANA), Zach Britton (BAL)
2011 Stats (through July 8th): 11-4, 1.86 ERA, 120 SO, 0.912 WHIP, 4.9 WAR
Why he'll win: Justin Verlander of the Tigers has received more attention for his May no-hitter, and his near no-hitter in June. While Verlander has been firing 100 mph seeds into catcher Alex Avila's poor, unfortunate right hand, Jered Weaver has quietly taken over the Cy Yong race with quality start after quality start.
Weaver started the season by becoming the first pitcher in Major League history to earn six wins before April 25th. The wins have slowed down a little bit since, but his ERA has stayed about as low as the Mariana Trench. Weaver has not given up more than four runs in a start all season long.
Other contenders: Justin Verlander (DET), CC Sabathia (NYY), Dan Haren (ANA)
2011 Stats (through July 8th): .351 BA, 17 HR, 76 RBI, 1.000 OPS, 4.6 WAR
Why he'll win: Are any baseball players actually worth a giant contract? Compared to the services fire fighters, teachers, and social workers provide, probably not. That being said, are the Red Sox kicking themselves for signing Adrian Gonzalez to a seven-year, $154 million contract extension? Definitely not.
Gonzo has paid immediate dividends to Boston. His prowess at the plate in the American League is practically unmatched (he leads the AL in both batting average and RBIs), and he has been the best defensive first baseman in the Major Leagues all season long.
Other contenders: Curtis Granderson (NYY), Jose Bautista (TOR), Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)
2011 Team Record (through July 8th): 52-35
Why will they win?: A couple of weeks ago, I predicted that the Red Sox would have a tough road to the World Series, and the Yankees might have the best shot to win the league.
That being said, I forgot that Derek Jeter had been dragging the entire team down with the ground balls that he keeps hitting weakly to short and with the ground balls that he keeps not getting to at short. The moral is: don't make prediction about a team's success when the dude who is doing the most harm to the cause is on a trainer's table somewhere.
A team won't make the World Series with a lead-off guy touting a .321 on-base percentage, and 0.5 WAR. When the Captain was hurt, the Yankees played their best baseball of the season, going 14-4 over that time.
Assuming the Red Sox get Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz back at full-strength in the second half, Boston will have enough to win the league. The Yankees aren't out of it, but they should probably do something about the Jeter situation.
Other Contenders: New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers
2011 Team Record (through July 8th): 55-33
Why they'll win: Shockingly enough, the Phillies don't have the lowest team ERA in the Majors. In fact, they don't even have the lowest team ERA within their own division.
They still do have the highest WAR for a pitching staff (15.6), and their top three starters Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee are ranked first, third, and fourth in the league in WAR respectively. Once they have their closer situation straightened out when Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson come back, their staff will separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Another thing to keep in mind: Ryan Howard is a notorious second half hitter. The Phillies' offence will find traction eventually.
Other Contenders: San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers
Why they'll win: There isn't an offence in baseball that can defeat Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee in succession, and that's exactly what the AL Champion will have to eventually face. Boston's line-up is good, and as far as success goes, they have done fairly well against Halladay, but have been held to nothing against Hamels and especially Lee.
Pitching. Wins. Championships. As a result of that, so will the Phillies.
Other Contenders: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.