With the final game of today ending and the Mets destroying the Rockies, the "first half" of the 2008 MLB Season is officially over. This first half was incredibly crazy, teams who we thought would compete didn't, teams we didn't think would compete did, and Josh Hamilton shocked the world.
There was probably one thing that put a damper on the entire first half, and that was incredibly terrible umpiring throughout the season to date. Umpires have blown everything from home run calls to whether or not the first baseman kept his foot on the bag while catching the ball. (I'm not bitter at all Jim Wolf...not at all)
Justin Morneau did not drop this ball...Marcus Thames did not beat the throw...Morneau's foot did not come off the bag, yet Thames was called safe...hmmmm...Now, this is the point where I completely change my stance on Instant Replay. Baseball needs this now. Yes, the fact that the umpires in baseball ARE in fact human does make the game a little bit more interesting, but something needs to be done now or the MLB umpires will end up like the NBA referees...or is it not possible to go that low? Anyway, I would propose a penalty system for blowing an obvious call like the one above. In cases where there is INDISPUTABLE EVIDENCE that the call was blown and ONLY THOSE SITUATIONS, the umpire should be penalized for blowing the call. You don't think that would force umpires to make the right calls? Now, I'm not talking about the strike zone, that's not going to happen, you can't change someone's strike zone and you can't fine umpires for not keeping a good zone. Until Instant Replay is brought into the league, however, SOMETHING needs to be done...
Now, on to the actual first half stuff...
MOST SURPRISING TEAM-American League: Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are by far the most surprising team in the AL. No one thought they'd even beat out the Orioles, who themselves are surprising, in the AL East, yet as of today, even after losing seven straight games, the Rays are only half of a game behind the Boston Red Sox for the AL East lead and lead the Minnesota Twins by 2.5 games for the Wild Card.
The Rays, MLB's perennial bottom feeder, had basically the same lineup as last year, except they had traded one of their young budding superstars to the Twins (Delmon Young) and had some rookies with no experience that were going to be forced into starting roles. (Evan Longoria, Andy Sonnanstine). All of those question marks seem to have been answered, and those unproven guys have contributed along with vets like Dioner Navarro and Carl Crawford have played well and led the team to this point. Plus, they have a very good young rotation with Scott Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza that is pitching well and has allowed them to get into this position.
Honorable Mention: Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers
MOST SURPRISING TEAM-National League: Florida Marlins
Ah, the OTHER perennial bottom feeder of Major League Baseball...this one just happens to have won two rings...This team was loaded with youth and guys who have bounced around but never actually really done anything or were washed up now. Plus, they had just traded their best player and their "ace" to the Tigers for prospects. They weren't in a position to go anywhere this year. Then we found out that they could hit Home Runs like none other.
The main reason that the Marlins are winning now is that they score runs. They are sixth in Major League Baseball in runs scored, and that takes a huge amount of stress off of a young pitching staff led by Andrew Miller (23) and Scott Olsen (24). This team would be nothing without their power from the middle infield. Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla are arguably the best hitting 2B-SS combo in the NL, if not MLB. Not to mention guys that you wouldn't think would be contributing like Luis Gonzalez and Jorge Cantu have played well and led this team thus far.
Honorable Mention: St. Louis Cardinals (It's kind of a stretch, but the NL Central was supposed to be a two-horse race...)
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM-American League: Cleveland Indians
What do you expect from a team that went 96-66 last season and didn't lose anyone? What? Last place in the weak AL Central? You must be joking...
The Indians were in a great position to win the AL Central or the Wild Card this season. The White Sox were supposed to be bad, the Twins were supposed to be bad...the only competition they were supposed to have was the Tigers. They had a very talented team coming back with Pronk, Victor Martinez, and Grady Sizemore. They had a great 1-2 punch with CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. They didn't expect Cliff Lee to go 11-2...
They also didn't expect Travis Hafner to play 46 games, hit .217 and have 4 HRs. They didn't expect Victor Martinez to slump. Suddenly two thirds of their core was gone. Grady was playing well, but when your two other best hitters aren't, or aren't even playing, you've got yourself in a bad situation. Then the rotation went. CC was 3-7 through May. Carmona was 4-2 but had more walks than strikeouts...The only bright spots were Sizemore and Cliff Lee.
The Indians were supposed to be better, they were supposed to completely dominate the AL Central, but they've been completely dominated by the division, going 13-24 against the AL Central.
Honorable Mention: Seattle Mariners, Detroit Tigers
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM-National League: Atlanta Braves
The Braves...I picked the Braves because they were supposed to be up at the top of the NL East...not five games under .500 and 6.5 games back...
Granted, the Braves are where they are because their rotation has been decimated by injuries, but they really haven't had any of their star players contribute OTHER than Chipper, Teixeira, and Brian McCann. The Braves have just not gotten the production that they got last year and they were supposed to get again this year from guys like Jeff Franceour and others. They just were not supposed to be in 4th...
Honorable Mention: Entire NL West
AL MVP BALLOT
1. Ian Kinsler-TEX
2. Carlos Quentin-CWS
3. Alex Rodriguez-NYY
4. Justin Morneau-MIN
5. Kevin Youkilis-BOS
6. Josh Hamilton-TEX
7. Joe Mauer-MIN
8. Evan Longoria-TAM
9. Vlad Guerrero-LAA
10. Milton Bradley-TEX
Kinsler wins this by a mile over Quentin, as Kinsler is the best hitter on a stacked lineup in Texas. No, he's not a Gold Glove caliber fielder by any means, but Ian holds his own out there and does so much to set up guys like Bradley and Hamilton witht those enormous RBI numbers that they have. Kinsler is the MVP of the AL for the first half.
NL MVP BALLOT
1. Chase Utley-PHI
2. Albert Pujols-STL
3. Chipper Jones-ATL
4. Lance Berkman-HOU
5. Hanley Ramirez-FLA
6. Ryan Braun-MIL
7. Derrek Lee-CHC
8. David Wright-NYM
9. Dan Uggla-FLA
10. Pat Burrell-PHI
Utley wins a very, very close race with Albert Pujols for First Half MVP despite Pujols batting .350. Utley has contributed so much to the Phillies this season, and when he slumped, the Phillies were terrible. TERRIBLE. Utley is the most valuable player in the NL.
AL CY YOUNG: Roy Halladay-TOR
Whoa...did he just say Halladay? Really? What the hell?
Yes. Halladay is the best pitcher in the AL, especially playing on the team that he plays for. He's 11-6 with a 2.71 ERA (!) and 121 Ks to 21 BBs. Halladay has SEVEN complete games and TWO shutouts, both leading MLB. Halladay has been completel lights out, and he doesn't have the record to show it. Why? Because unlike Cliff Lee, he plays on a team that WON'T give him run support. Unlike Justin Duchscherer, he doesn't get 5.71 runs per game.
Halladay has done the most in the AL with the least behind him.
Honorable Mention: Mariano Rivera, Justin Duchscherer, Cliff Lee
NL CY YOUNG: Tim Lincecum-SF
A self-described "freak", Lincecum barely beats out Edinson Volquez here.
Lincecum is second in MLB in Ks, has a freakish 10-2 record with a 2.57 ERA. He's done all this with fewer runs per game than Volquez and by walking fewer people than Volquez has. Lincecum has Cy Young stuff and he's exhibited that stuff this year.
Like Halladay, Lincecum has done more with less...
Honorable Mention: Edinson Volquez, Jake Peavy, Dan Haren
That's all that I'm going to do for First Half awards, but I'd like to throw in a few bold predictions for the second half of 2008...
Bold Prediction #1: The St. Louis Cardinals win the NL Central
Why in the HELL would I go against the Cubs right now? Easy. The Cardinals are a very good team with Pujols and Ludwick. They've got a rotation that's playing well with Kyle Lohse and Todd Wellemeyer leading it right now, plus they'll get Adam Wainwright back in August. The Cubs just made a huge move getting Harden, but the Cardinals are going to be adding another good pitcher when Wainwright comes back, which will help to spring them into the NL Central lead. The Cardinals lineup is just too good for the Cubbies.
Bold Prediction #2: Tampa Bay doesn't make the playoffs
This one is easier. Boston is too good, they're making the playoffs regardless of whether it's the AL East title or the Wild Card. That leaves the competition to be betweent the Yankees and Rays. Yes, the Rays have had the Yankees' number this year, but they play each other SIX times during the second half, so I don't think that H2H record will come into play that much...Tampa Bay is on a 7 game losing streak right now, against the AL CENTRAL'S BOTTOM FEEDERS. This is showing the baseball world that the Rays, in fact, are not invincible. The Yankees are going to make a deadline move to get a pitcher and shore up the rotation, and when they do that, they will be in a prime position to overtake the Rays.
Bold Prediction #3: The NL West Champion's final record is under .500
Ha. I even laughed when I wrote that. This just laughs at the fact that the NL West is just brutal. The D-Backs have a ONE game lead right now but are only 47-48. The Dodgers are coming on, but no team in the NL West really has what they need to get over the .500 mark and STAY THERE for the rest of the season. Not the D-Backs. Not the Dodgers. Definitely not the Giants.
There ya go...thanks for reading all that jibberish...Have a happy All-Star Break and have fun watching all your favorite sluggers lose to Justin Morneau on Monday Night...Comments are always appreciated...