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MLB Award Predictions

The MLB regular season is less than a week from its conclusion and the races for the various awards are even closer than than that of the final playoff spots. With such a close competition between these top players, a strong last few games from any of them could put them ahead in the final stretch. Here’s a look at how the awards might pan out.

Nice shirt Miguel. Sadly, you’d probably be the best player on the Pistons. But Mike Trout is still better than you.

AL MVP: Mike Trout

The decision between Trout and Miguel Cabrera is the toughest one on this list. Cabrera is a currently a home run away from the Triple Crown and has bigger numbers in the power categories. Yet Trout’s all-around impact on the game, from his hitting to his base stealing to his incredible robbed home runs give him the edge here. And for a leadoff hitter, 29 homers and 78 RBI are pretty darn impressive power numbers.

NL MVP: Buster Posey

This race was close for a while, with Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen in the mix, but Posey has pulled away over the last month. Braun still has had an impressive season, leading the NL in home runs and RBI, yet the Brewers are unlikely to make the playoffs, which hurts Braun’s chances. Posey, meanwhile, is leading the majors in batting average (excluding Melky Cabrera of course) and on base percentage, and is also in the top three in slugging percentage and on base percentage. And he’s done all this while playing the most grueling position in the game.

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander

As boring as it is to have a repeat winner, there’s no way around the fact that Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball right now. He had another great season, leading the league in strikeouts and being among the leaders in WHIP and ERA while also pitching the most innings.

NL Cy Young: R.A. Dickey

At age 37, Dickey’s success this season is fairly amazing. He’s pitched the best year of his career, mastering the art of the knuckleball while leading the league in strikeouts (as of now) and amongst the leaders in ERA, WHIP, and wins. Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Cain could all give Dickey some competition in this award.

Trout’s rookie campaign has been nothing short of spectacular.

AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout

This is far and away the easiest decision of the bunch. Mike Trout’s rookie season has been one of the best in history. His arrival in the league was overshadowed by that of Bryce Harper, but all that attention has shifted to him since then. Yoenis Cespedes also had a nice year, but for a player touted for his power, Trout out-homered him.

NL Rookie of the Year: Todd Frazier

Frazier played in 41 games last year, but in his first full season this year he was a major reason for Cincinnati’s success. While Harper had more hype and attention throughout the season, Frazier simply did more, putting up bigger numbers than Harper and doing so in less at bats.

AL Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter

Looking at Baltimore’s lineup, it comes as a bit of a shock how successful they have been. After finishing with the fourth worst record in the MLB a year ago, the Orioles now hold the seventh best. Despite their shortcomings as a team, Showalter has shown them how to win and they’ve learned well.

NL Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen

Just kidding. Dusty Baker gets the nod here. Baker did another great job with the Reds this year. Cincinnati clinched an NL Central division with two worthy competitors in the Brewers and Cardinals and currently have a 10 game lead in the division. And to do this while missing key players Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and Ryan Ludwick missing significant time with injuries.

Buster Posey has shown that if you strike him down, he will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Adam Dunn

Dunn was arguably the worst player in the league last year, hitting an abysmal .159 and just 11 home runs. He’s marginally better in batting average this year (up to .207), but his power numbers are back. He’s blasted 41 home runs, driven in 94 runs and his ability to take walks (he leads the AL with 104) has given him a respectable OBP which is pretty impressive given how terrible his batting average is.

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey

Another obvious choice. Posey’s injury last season looked like it could be career threatening, or at the very least put his ability to play catcher in jeopardy. Instead, Posey returned better than ever, catching one of the league’s best pitching staffs while also handling the brunt of the offensive workload for the Giants. An incredible season for Posey.

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Giants Take Round 1 of Pivotal Series with Dodgers

There’s still over a month left in the season, but the fate of the NL West may very well be decided these next few days as the Giants face off against the Dodgers, a heated rivalry given more fuel as the two teams jockey for positioning atop the division.

For two teams seemingly heading in opposite directions, they met Monday at a fairly even place, with the Dodgers leading the NL West by half a game. LA has resurrected their season in this second half, thanks to Matt Kemp’s return to health, as well as the acquisition of several high profile players. Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino have boosted the Dodgers’ offense and made the lineup for threatening.

Bumgarner lead the way with 10 strikeouts to give SF a .5 game lead.

Meanwhile, Hunter Pence, who the Giants traded for at the deadline, has fizzled in his time in San Francisco, only recently coming out of a slump in which he hit below .200. Add to that a 50 game suspension doled out to the Giants’ best* hitter Melky Cabrera, a DL stint for Pablo Sandoval, and the sudden loss of consistency from Ryan Vogelsong (combined 5.2 innings, 17 hits allowed, and 11 earned runs his past two starts after pitching at least 6 innings in every start prior this season) and it’s a miracle the Giants haven’t collapsed. The stellar second half of Buster Posey (.424, 11 Hrs, 34 RBI) is all that’s keeping them afloat.

But Monday, Posey’s production was nowhere to be found, as he went 0-4 with three strikeouts. Instead the Giants were supported by their favorite crutch – their pitching. Madison Bumgarner, facing off against reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, out dueled his opponent, tossing 8 scoreless innings, allowing just 4 hits, and striking out 10 to lead the Giants to a 2-1 victory.

For a team whose season appeared over after the Cabrera news, the Giants have shown a lot of heart and fight in their play. Since the suspension, San Francisco has won 3 out of 4 (if you discount their loss on the day of the news, which I will, since they only found out an hour before the game). Of course three of those games were against the lowly Padres and it’s also a tiny sample size, but regardless, the Giants have shown they aren’t going to roll over.

Hanley Ramirez has his sights set on knocking the Giants off their spot atop the division.

With Sandoval now off the DL and returning to his past form (2 RBI in Monday’s win over the Dodgers), the emerging contributions from the Brandons – Belt and Crawford – at the bottom of the lineup, Pence recovering from his month-long slump, and the continued excellence of Posey, the Giants may not be a team on the decline. At this point, Los Angeles seems to have a more talented roster, but if San Francisco can keep up this level of play while continuing to use their anger at the Melky situation as fuel, things could get interesting in this NL West race. And with such a small gap between the two teams, this series gains even more importance. If one team can gain a multi-game lead over the other, it could be difficult to overcome.

Now with a half game lead, the Giants will throw Tim Lincecum into the ring against Joe Blanton, hoping to expand hold their spot atop the division. If Monday’s game was a pitcher’s duel, Tuesday’s game should be anything but, as both starters are still trying to shake off their season-long struggles.

But with the hunt for the playoffs in full steam, now would be the perfect time for both of them to stop sucking.

 

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A Resurgent Tim Lincecum Toes the Rubber

For the entire first half of the 2012 MLB season, Tim Lincecum has been hearing about how he just isn’t good enough.

He’s been told that his speed has gone down, that his workout regimen is insufficient, that his pitching windup has too many moveable parts to be diagnosed properly after a few bad starts.

That if he screws up one more time, his season as a starter for the San Francisco Giants will be effectively over.

Clearly, this past week’s All-Star break allowed Lincecum to escape the speculation and criticism and he responded in a big way in his first start of the second half, blanking the Houston Astros over eight innings of brilliant work on Saturday night.

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Lincecum showed signs of his former self on Saturday night, fanning 11 Astros in a dominating performance.

Lincecum entered the game with an NL-worst 6.42 ERA (among qualifying pitchers) and 10 losses and the expectation was that he would undergo yet another one of his early-game meltdowns.  On this night, that nightmare inning never came.

The Freak’s performance came as a pleasant surprise to the more than 40,000 Giants fans who witnessed his season high in innings pitched (8), strikeouts (11) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (11:1).

After an eighth inning in which he completed his own strikeout against the last batter he faced, flipping a dropped third strike that had dribbled up the first base line to Brandon Belt to retire the side, Lincecum received a standing ovation from a Giants crowd that was as appreciative as it was excited.

As Lincecum’s fate would have it, the crowd’s elation was short-lived.  Giants interim closer Santiago Casilla couldn’t hold the 2-0 he had been handed, blowing his fifth save of the season in one of the most bizarre turn of events imaginable.

With the Giants ahead by one and with two outs already recorded in the top of the ninth inning, Casilla got Astros catcher Chris Snyder to chase a curveball in the dirt to earn his third strikeout of the inning.

The ball then bounced off the shin guards of Giants catcher Hector Sanchez, who tracked down the ball and threw wildly to first base, allowing centerfielder Justin Maxwell, who had not stopped running, to score from second base and tie the game.

The miscue handed Lincecum a no-decision on the night, but the Giants were able to overcome.

Sanchez would later redeem himself by driving in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th and Lincecum remained encouraged by his performance following the win.

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Replacing an injured Brian Wilson at the start of the season, Casilla has struggled to shut the door as of late.

“I’m going to take the small steps as they come,” Lincecum said. “Even though we won I’m going to go home and reflect on this and think about the things I did well and try to duplicate them in my next start.”

After his ability to respond to the widespread doubt on Saturday, all signs point to a resurgent Lincecum.  Sure, his speed might not be what it once was, but “The Freak” appears to once again have confidence in his ability—often times all it takes for a struggling pitcher to turn a disappointing season around.

His ERA now sits at 5.93, which is still not good enough in the eyes of many, but certainly a good enough improvement in one night of baseball.

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The Identity Crisis of the MLB All-Star Game

The MLB All-Star Game has become such a jumbled mess, I doubt anyone – players, league officials, or fans – truly understands what it has become. The main issue with the game is pretty simple: it has no identity.

The MLB All-Star Game, hosted this year in Kansas City, has a number of flaws that the league needs to address.

Bud Selig and the players union decided to add some weight to the game starting in 2003, by awarding the winning league with home field advantage in the World Series. The reasoning behind this decision was to get players to take the game more seriously, since their title hopes depended on it.

Why then, would the league trust the decision making of the majority of the teams’ rosters and starters to the fans, most of whom will vote solely for their favorite teams’ players? The MLB advertises the game as being for the fans; why then is this game more than a lighthearted affair for players and fans alike to celebrate the first half of a season?

The MLB needs to decide which identity it wants its All-Star Game to take because it certainly can’t be both. If the fans are the main say in who is on the team, then get rid of the game’s impact on the postseason and let home field advantage be determined by which team had the better regular season record.

But if Selig wants to keep the All-Star game as a competitive affair, give the fans less power in determining the rosters. If I were a team in contention for the World Series, I would much rather have David Wright at third base than Pablo Sandoval, who is hitting nearly 50 points lower and missed a month due to injury (and this is coming from a Giants fan).

The San Francisco Giants provide a perfect example of why fan voting shouldn’t be the main determinate for the All-Star roster, which was announced Sunday. Their aggressive voting campaign landed them three starters for the NL squad: C Buster Posey, 3B Sandoval, and OF Melky Cabrera. Of those three, only Cabrera is truly deserving of a starting spot, as he has lead or been amongst the leaders in hits and batting averaging for the league for most of the year.

Fan voting goes the other way too, keeping qualified players off the team. Some notable snubs this year include 1B Albert Pujols, OF Andre Ethier, SP Johnny Cueto, 2B Brandon Phillips, SP Yu Darvish, and 1B Edwin Encarnacion, among others.

Even David Wright is facepalming from the ridiculousness of the All-Star Game.

While it’s fun for fans to see their favorite players in the Midsummer Classic, the honor for a player of being selected is almost like an award, and it doesn’t seem fair for fans, many of them not experts beyond their own team, to decide who to honor as baseball’s best. This line of thought doesn’t hold as true to baseball as it does to other sports such as basketball, where small rosters mean making the team is more prestigious. The MLB features at least 1 player from each team at it’s All-Star Game. Which brings us back to the point: if the game affects the World Series, why are unqualified players being chosen to play for it?

Texas Rangers’ manager Ron Washington, who will manage this year’s AL team, has decided to take the fan friendly approach, announcing each player elected to his team will play in the game. Now it’s up to the MLB to decide which of its All-Star Game’s dueling identities to embrace.

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