John McGrath

Halfway home: Major League Baseball midseason report

Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon rubs his eyes after a run by Kansas City during a June 24 game in Seattle. The Mariners have stumbled through the season’s first half, struggling in every facet of the game.
Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon rubs his eyes after a run by Kansas City during a June 24 game in Seattle. The Mariners have stumbled through the season’s first half, struggling in every facet of the game. AP

The St. Louis Cardinals, whose on-base percentage ranks among the top three in the National League, were targets of an FBI investigation involving their hacking.

The Los Angeles Angels, whose front-office dysfunction makes the Sterling Cooper advertising agency look like a mom-and-pop store in Hooterville, climbed back into the American League West race after general manager Jerry Dipoto realized he was destined to finish second in a power struggle with manager Mike Scioscia.

A few thousand miles away, Miami Marlins GM Dan Jennings fired manager Mike Redmond and replaced him with somebody who’d never coached beyond high school: Dan Jennings.

Meanwhile, ESPN obtained some shocking evidence that Pete Rose bet on baseball as a baseball player. Who knew?

Although the first half of the 2015 MLB season might be recalled more for the soap-opera subplots off the field than anything that happened on it, the game is in good hands thanks a generational changing of the guard best described this way: Bryce Harper, 22, has replaced the retired Derek Jeter, 41, as the face of baseball.

A first-half review seems in order, no?

Most Surprising Team, NL: The Arizona Diamondbacks weren’t supposed to contend in the West, and there’s a chance they won’t be contending when push comes to shove and summer turns to fall. But keep an eye on what Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart — old pals reunited as a formidable front-office duo — have put together in Phoenix.

Aside from Harper, there isn’t a more productive player in the league than first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Center fielder A.J. Pollock has developed into a All-Star. Cuban rookie right fielder Yasmany Tomas, signed to a $68.5 million deal some criticized as excessive, looks like the real deal.

And former University of Washington infielder Jake Lamb, a sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft, wasted no time establishing himself as an everyday third baseman.

Most Surprising Team, AL: Because the Houston Astros are the no-duh choice, it’s easy to overlook how first-year manager Paul Molitor has resuscitated the Minnesota Twins.

Despite a 1-6 start and an early June slump that found them losing nine of 11, the Twins are in the thick of the wild-card race.

But is anybody noticing? The team’s only All-Star selection was lefty reliever Glen Perkins.

(Second baseman Brian Dozier has hit 19 home runs, and went into the weekend leading the league in runs scored, putouts, assists, range factor and double plays turned. Yet it took another player getting hurt for him to be named to the All-Star team Saturday.)

Most Disappointing Team, NL: Miami was expected to win between 85 and 90 games, a premise predicated on the midseason return of ace pitcher Jose Fernandez from Tommy John surgery. By the time Fernandez got back, the Marlins were on pace to lose 90.

Most Disappointing Team, AL: Between Robinson Cano’s mysteriously accelerated descent into mediocrity and the cratering of a bullpen regarded as one of baseball’s best last year, it’s no wonder Seattle has yet to put together a winning streak longer than four games.

We can only hope the Mariners savored the 30 hours they spent owning a plus .500 record after beating the Angels in the season opener, because their next flirtation with .500 won’t be until 2016.

Comeback Player of the Year, NL: Pirates veteran pitcher A.J. Burnett was planning to retire after the season, having led the league last year in defeats (18), earned runs (109) and walks (96). His 7-3 record and 1.99 ERA over the first half suggests he’s achieved enough success at retiring others to reconsider retirement. He also was named to his first All-Star team.

Comeback Player of the Year, AL: It’s not as if the Angels’ Albert Pujols was a bust in 2014 — he hit 28 homers with 105 RBIs and finished 17th among MVP candidates — but only an extended stay on the disabled list will prevent him from returning to his 45-homer prime.

Best Obscure Player With An Ideal Safeco Field Skill Set: The slash line of Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier doesn’t drop any jaws — he’s hitting .251, with an on-base percentage of .286 and slugging percentage of .415 — and yet his Wins Above Replacement value is an impressive 3.7, thanks to nine triples and peerless defense at an important defensive position.

(Memo to M’s general manager Jack Zduriencik: Guys capable of connecting for triples, and tracking down liners hit between the power alleys, are a better fit for Seattle than anybody on your roster.)

Rookie of the Year, NL: Potential superstar Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant has fulfilled the almost-impossible expectations put on every potential superstar Cubs third baseman since the late Ron Santo, a 1958 graduate of Seattle’s Franklin High School. (Here’s thinking of you, Gary Scott and Kevin Orie.)

Rookie of the Year, AL: A’s center fielder Billy Burns has the chops to be batting champion someday, and he’s a human-highlight video whenever he leaves his feet to lunge for a catch. Burns is the pick, but the best rookie of a strong rookie class is Houston shortstop Carlos Correa, who has the chops to be a Hall of Famer someday.

Cy Young Award, NL: Nationals ace Max Scherzer, recipient of the AL Cy Young Award as a Tigers starter in 2013, was born with heterochromia iridium. Translation: His right eye is blue and his left eye is brown. His arm is gold.

Cy Young Award, AL: Houston’s Dallas Keuchel. Shrugged off last season by Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon as an “average pitcher” with “average stuff,” the left-hander’s earned-run average over the first half of 2015 was 2.23.

Most Valuable Player, NL: Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper. His brash self-confidence tends to turn off old school mopes who don’t understand that baseball needs young stars with an edge, but — this just in — baseball needs young stars with an edge.

Most Valuable Player, AL: The Angels’ Mike Trout, another young star whose personality fits into the “Bryce Harper Lite” file. It would be a blast to watch these two crazy talents match up in the World Series.

Regret of the Year: Being resolved to watch two crazy talents match up in another World Series not involving the Seattle Mariners.

AND THE WINNERS ARE...

Category

John McGrath

columnist

Darrin Beene

sports editor

Bob Dutton

Mariners writer

AL MVP

Mike Trout,

Angels

Josh Donaldson,

Blue Jays

Mike Trout,

Angels

NL MVP

Bryce Harper,

Nationals

Bryce Harper,

Nationals

Bryce Harper,

Nationals

AL Cy Young

Dallas Keuchel, Astros

Chris Sale,

White Sox

Dallas Keuchel

Astros

NL Cy Young

Max Scherzer, Nationals

Zack Greinke,

Dodgers

Zack Greinke

Dodgers

AL Rookie

of the Year

Billy Burns, A’s

Billy Burns, A’s

Carlos Correa

Astros

NL Rookie

of the Year

Kris Bryant,

Cubs

Kris Bryant,

Cubs

Kris Bryant

Cubs

AL Most

Disappointing Team

Seattle

Mariners

Chicago

White Sox

Seattle

Mariners

NL Most

Disappointing Team

Miami

Marlins

San Diego

Padres

Milwaukee

Brewers

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