All-star break honors
Barry Svrluga picks MLB’s first-half awards.
The all-star break ended Friday, when all 30 major league teams returned to action. Before the first pitch, though, let’s review who owned the first half of the season — while wondering whether they can keep it up. Here are the pace-setters for MLB’s year-end awards (all stats entering Friday): National League MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals Do we have to explain this one? Harper leads baseball in on-base percentage at .464 (the highest since Chipper Jones’s .470 in 2008), slugging percentage at .704 (highest since Barry Bonds’s .812 in 2004) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage at 1.168 (highest since Bonds’s ridiculous 1.422 in 2004). The Nationals, who have occasionally fielded a lineup with Clint Robinson (previous major league plate appearances: 14) hitting fourth, are fifth in the league in runs scored only because Harper has kept them afloat. His at-bats are events, and he’s quietly a contender for the Triple Crown. He’s hitting .339 to the .340 of Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, has 26 home runs (behind only the injured Giancarlo Stanton’s 27) and 61 RBI, trailing Goldschmidt and Colorado’s Nolan Arenado (both with 70) and Stanton (67). What other choice is there? Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Nationals This is where it gets tougher. Zack Greinke of the Dodgers is working on a five-start stint without allowing a run — 352/ innings, interrupted only by Mike Trout’s leadoff home run in the All-Star Game. That gives him a 1.39 ERA at the break, which, if it held, would be the lowest ERA since — get this — Bob Gibson’s 1.12 in 1968, the Year of the Pitcher. But by the slimmest of margins, Scherzer (whose ERA is 2.11) leads the league and beats Greinke in walks and hits per inning pitched (0.780 to 0.843, the top two in baseball), fielding independent pitching (2.20 to 2.66), innings pitched (132 to 1231/ 3) and batting average against (.183 to .190, the top two in baseball). Throw in Scherzer’s 16-strikeout, onehit performance in Milwaukee that he backed up with a no-hitter that was one pitch away from being a perfect game against Pittsburgh and the fact the banged-up Nationals would hardly be in first place without him, and Scherzer has to be the choice. Rookie of the year: Kris Bryant, Cubs Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson showed his power in pushing Todd Frazier in the Home Run Derby, and he has 20 homers and an .851 OPS . But Bryant has been far more consistent, hitting .269 (to Pederson’s .230), reaching base at a .376 clip (to Pederson’s .364) and posting an .848 OPS that barely trails Pederson while driving in 51 runs— 10 more than any other rookie.
American League MVP: Mike Trout, Angels So many good candidates, but the 2014 MVP — who also has won the last two all-star game MVPs — keeps tripping into these awards. Trout trails Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in OPS (1.034 to 1.019), but he leads the league in slugging percentage (.614) and runs scored (68) and is tied with teammate Albert Pujols in homers (26). Plus, Trout has helped push the Angels past the hotstarting Astros, something fellow MVP candidates Cabrera (on the disabled list), Josh Donaldson of Toronto and Jason Kipnis of Cleveland can’t say. Cy Young: Sonny Gray, Athletics Chris Sale of the White Sox may have the sexiest numbers, what with his 157 strikeouts, leagueleading 0.947 WHIP, .204 average against and historic string of eight straight starts with at least 10 strikeouts. Houston’s Dallas Keuchel, who started the All-Star Game, leads the league in innings pitched, has a 1.005 WHIP and a 2.23 ERA (that beats Sale’s 2.72) and has anchored the staff of the surprising Astros. But Gray has been the most consistently spectacular. He trails only Sale in WHIP (0.962), leads the league with a 2.04 ERA and is allowing hitters a .198 average, best in the league as well. Moreover, he has allowed more than three earned runs just twice, and in 10 of his 18 starts he has given up either zero or one earned run. A great race to watch the rest of the way. Rookie of the year: Devon Travis, Blue Jays This one seems the most likely to change by year’s end because Houston shortstop Carlos Correa is coming — and coming hard. Correa has the same number of homers as Travis (seven), five fewer doubles and 13 fewer RBI— even though he has had 67 fewer plate appearances because he wasn’t called up until June. But let’s not discount what Travis has done in becoming a cog in baseball’s best lineup. He’s hitting .304 (to Correa’s .276), and his .845 OPS is the best among AL rookies, 25 points higher than Correa.
Clockwise from top left: Kris Bryant, Max Scherzer, Sonny Gray, Devon Travis, BryceHarper andMike Trout all project to win postseason awards.