Midsummer classic: a look at 1st half


After the games today, baseball will have arrived at its ceremonial halfway point.

It's been a half season of surprises (Detroit Tigers, Dan Uggla, Bronson Arroyo), disappointments (Cleveland Indians, A.J. Burnett, Barry Bonds' body) and, of course, scandal (Jason Grimsley, Brett Myers, Bonds' trainer).

Basically, it's been like any other season, with a few redacted names tossed in for purposes of intrigue.

Here's a look at who made this first half what it was. For the Orioles' sake, we'll try not to jump ahead to the developing pennant race.

Best story: Jim Leyland and the Tigers win this one without a contest. Leyland slyly says he knew this team he inherited had some talent. Fooled us. Even the chain-smoking, grizzled managing guru couldn't have predicted the majors' best record at the All-Star break. With the Tigers' impressive pitching -- and a bunch of quality arms in the minors as trade bait for a bat -- they should be hanging around in September, too.

Biggest nightmare: Those darned blackened names. When a redacted version of former Oriole Grimsley's federal affidavit became public, baseball's witch hunt began. We know former Oriole David Segui is on there. We also know three 2005 Orioles -- who also could be 2006 Orioles -- are mentioned in a discussion about amphetamines. That could be it. Or there could be more embarrassment on the way for an organization that gave its share at the office last season. If it isn't the Orioles, though, it'll be another team or several spinning the public relations machine once the names are leaked.

Best uncontrived moment: How about a standing ovation given to New York Mets ace Pedro Martinez on his return to Fenway Park? He left for big bucks, but he didn't go to the New York Yankees. So the Fenway Faithful expressed their gratitude.

Best contrived moment: Roger Clemens' return to baseball. Yawn. Yes, we all expected him to come back to his part-time job with the Houston Astros. But baseball is better when the Rocket is on the mound.

Worst moment, period: The afternoon last month when the Philadelphia Phillies' Brett Myers pitched, fresh off his arrest on charges of assaulting his wife on a Boston street. Sure, he might be found not guilty. But when something like that happens, the team needs to take swift action to show domestic abuse -- even the perception of it -- is not tolerated.


American League Cy Young Award: Johan Santana, Minnesota. He's leading in ERA among qualified starters and strikeouts and is right there in wins. Besides, this is no fluke. He's the best pitcher in baseball. Runners-up: Toronto's Roy Halladay and B.J. Ryan, Detroit's Justin Verlander, Boston's Jonathan Papelbon.

AL Rookie of the Year: Papelbon, Boston. Normally an everyday player gets consideration over a starting pitcher, who gets the nod over a closer. But Papelbon has been amazing in one of the highest-pressure jobs in the sport. Runners-up: Verlander, Minnesota's Francisco Liriano.

AL Manager of the Year: Leyland. No one else is in the conversation.

AL Most Valuable Player: Joe Mauer, Minnesota. Yes, batting average has been devalued over the years by statistical gurus who prefer other indicators such as on-base percentage. I get that. But for historical comparisons, batting average is still relevant. And what we have is an excellent catcher and virtual neophyte hitting nearly .400 at the break. He stands out because the rest of the candidates are too similar to separate: They are all sluggers who either don't play defense or don't play it well. Runners-up: Boston's David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, Chicago's Paul Konerko and Jim Thome and Cleveland's Travis Hafner.

National League Cy Young Award: Brandon Webb, Arizona. Although he has slipped a little recently, he's been solid in every important pitching category and has kept the undermanned Diamondbacks breathing in the NL West. Runners-up: Los Angeles' Brad Penny, Cincinnati's Arroyo, Milwaukee's Chris Capuano.

NL Rookie of the Year: Uggla, Florida. The stocky Rule 5 draft pick from Arizona wasn't one of the hyped rookies on the Marlins. But he has the best offensive numbers across the board and has played a solid second base. Runners-up: Washington's Ryan Zimmerman, Milwaukee's Prince Fielder, Florida's Josh Johnson.

NL Manager of the Year: Willie Randolph, New York Mets. The Mets have a high payroll and cadre of stars, but Randolph has also dealt with an injured pitching staff and enough egos to make it complicated. And the Mets will clinch a playoff spot by Labor Day. Runners-up: Florida's Joe Girardi, Cincinnati's Jerry Narron, Colorado's Clint Hurdle.

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, St. Louis. Banged up or not, there's no better player in baseball. Runners-up: Los Angeles' Nomar Garciaparra, Washington's Alfonso Soriano, New York's David Wright.

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