Dan's Dugout: Handing Out Honors for First-Half Stars • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: Handing Out Honors for First-Half Stars


If variety is the spice of life, the list of 2018 baseball award winners will be surprisingly free of repeaters.

Yes, Justin Verlander is still on a roll, maintaining the momentum he managed the minute he hooked up with the Houston Astros last summer.

And yes, it’s hard to deny Mike Trout or Max Scherzer, two of the dozen-or-so active players already earmarked for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

That being said, there are plenty of awards to spread around – and plenty of first-time candidates based on their performances over the first half of this season.

Just take a look:

Cy Young Award

Luis Severino has become a stud at the front of the Yankees rotation

American League – Luis Severino stepped into the void as the stalwart of the starting rotation for the Yankees and racked up more wins before the All-Star break than any other pitcher. He’s a bit better than Chris Sale, who started the last two All-Star games for the AL and could do it again. And he’s even better than Verlander or Corey Kluber, previous Cy Young Award recipients who would love to add another trophy to their shining shelves. Should Verlander win, he’s join the elite group who have taken the award for their work in both leagues. Closers Craig Kimbrel and Edwin Diaz should be considered too but voting writers invariably prefer starters.

National League – Thrust into the impossible situation of suing teammates for non-support every time out, Jacob deGrom has inched past Max Scherzer as the best pitcher in the Senior Circuit. The seaon-long leader in earned run average may emerge with the fewest wins of any ERA king. But that’s hardly his fault. He not only passed Noah Syndergaard as the best arm in Flushing but everybody else in the league too. Scherzer may be en route to his third straight strikeout crown and he’ll finish among the league leaders in wins but deGrom has been practically untouchable. There should be a few votes for Aaron Nola too but the formidable Philly star can’t match deGrom start-for-start.

Most Valuable Player

American League – Had his Angels reached the playoffs more often, Mike Trout could be sitting on a string of six straight MVP awards. He’s had to settle for two but is well on his way to a third this summer, at the tender age of 26. The star centerfielder projects to a career high in home runs and has a good chance to pull off a 30/30 season (homers and steals in the same year). He’ll also finish with triple digits in runs, runs batted in, and walks, not to mention a batting average well over .300. Unlike Trout, Red Sox stars Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez can count on a playoff berth – but could split the Boston vote. The same issue holds for Cleveland infielders Francisco Lindor and Jose Martinez. Last year’s surprise winner, Jose Altuve, will finish strong but something fishy will be afoot if Trout sinks at the finish line.

Mike Trout races toward his third AL MVP trophy
Credit: Bill Menzel

National League – When early front-runner Freddie Freeman slipped into a prolonged slump, Atlanta teammate Ozzie Albies picked up the baton and ran with it. Playing his first full season, the second baseman from Curacao did his best imitation of Altuve, proving big bats sometimes come in small packages. The switch-hitting Albies topped 20 homers before the All-Star break and broke Hank Aaron’s club record for most extra-base hits during the first half (Albies also led the majors in that difficult department). Javy Baez beat Albies to the All-Star lineup in a burst of last-minute voting by Cubs fans but doesn’t quite match up. Neither does Nolan Arenado, a smooth-fielding third baseman who benefits from the high altitude of his Denver-based ballclub. Freeman could return to the fore if he finds his stroke again but his power numbers are dwindling.

Rookie of the Year

American League – Experts were ceding this citation to Shohei Ohtani before the Japanese import damaged his elbow. With Ohtani reduced to hitting but not pitching, the biggest competition Gleyber Torres faces comes from Yankees teammate Miguel Andujar. Torres, like Altuve and Albies, provides a power bat unexpected from a second baseman. But he’s also smooth in the field, plugging a huge void in the New York lineup. He’s already been compared to some guy named Derek, who now owns the Miami Marlins.

At 19, Juan Soto has played like a veteran star

National League – An award that was supposed to go to Ronald Acuna, Jr. now seems headed to fellow outfielder Juan Soto. He started the year at Class A but was so good as he advanced up the minor-league ladder that the Washington Nationals made him their leftfielder. Ironically, he’s the same age (19) that teammate Bryce Harper was when he broke in with a bang. With the possible exceptions of Andruw Jones, Robin Yount, and Bob Feller, Soto could become the best teenager in baseball history. Big situations don’t bother him and he has no trouble hitting high-quality pitching out of the park. Plus he’s a selective hitter who gets more than his share of walks.

Comeback of the Year

American League – Andrelton Simmons, arguably the best defensive player in the game, was never much of a hitter before this year. All of a sudden, the Angels shortstop is swinging a mean bat too, providing unanticipated punch to the lineup. He’s a far better fielder than All-Star starter Manny Machado, picked by the fans as the starting AL shortstop, but Simmons may join Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio as Hall of Famers elected because of their gloves.

National League – Given up for dead by the Braves, Matt Kemp returned to the Dodgers as part of a payroll-dumping deal last winter. Desperate for righthanded power, Atlanta would like a do-over. A dangerous hitter who delivers in the clutch, Kemp was responsible for resurrecting the Dodgers after their dreadful start. He deserves his starting spot on the National League All-Star team. So does Nick Markakis, who is having the year of his life at age 34. It just happens to be the final year of his four-year contract in Atlanta. He’s an All-Star too but his comeback pales in comparison to Kemp’s.

Matt Kemp, a bust with the Braves last year, has found the fountain of youth in Los Angeles

Manager of the Year

American League – Nobody can pronounce his name and nobody expected him to win. That’s why Scott Servais of the playoff-bound Seattle Mariners is the midseason choice for best manager, just ahead of the over-achieving Kevin Cash of the Tampa Bay Rays. That low-budget ballclub keeps axing its best-paid players but the team keeps winning anyway.

National League – At the 2017 winter meetings in Orlando, Braves manager Brian Snitker revealed that new GM Alex Anthopoulos was a big analytics guy who relied heavily on computer input. Snitker, decidedly old-school, bought the concept and promised to provide each Atlanta player with information sheets designed to help. Since the team’s personnel hardly changed, what else could be responsible for the dramatic turnaround in Dixie? Gabe Kapler, the rookie manager who goaded the moribund Phillies into contention, is a solid runner-up.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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