After a half season of surprising starts, walk-off wins and fresh faces, it’s time to acknowledge the 2015 MLB midseason awards before the second half gets underway later today. Let’s get right to it …
Best AL Team: Kansas City Royals
After a heartbreaking loss in last season’s World Series, the Royals entered the offseason looking to defend their title and reclaim a playoff spot, despite many detractors saying 2014 was a fluke. Not only are they on track to make it back to the playoffs, if things continue to go their way, the Royals could end up with the best record in the AL. In addition to boasting an AL-best 52-34 record at the break, the Royals possess a +63 run differential, third best in the majors and second best in the AL behind Toronto. If the Royals maintain this pace, they will be a shoo-in as division champs in one of the more competitive divisions in MLB.
Best NL Team: St. Louis Cardinals
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With an MLB-best 56-33 record, including an MLB-best 31-11 home record, can anything stop the Cardinals? This team has become one of the most successful franchises in baseball over the past decade. They have allowed only 264 runs and boast the best run differential in the NL at +91. If they played in any other division, they would be running away. But the hottest team in baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates, are fresh off taking three of four from St. Louis last weekend, closing the Cardinals division lead to 2.5 games. And while the Cubs don’t have the seasoning of the Bucs and Cards, they are fighting to make the plot of Back to the Future II come true by winning the World Series in 2015. Will the Cardinals hold on to the division lead come September or will Pittsburgh surge past them? This should be one of the more exciting races to watch.
Worst AL Team: Chicago White Sox
Talk about parity: The AL’s worst record belongs to Oakland at 41-50, and no team is more than 11 games behind a division leader. In fact, the A’s are only nine games behind the Twins for the second-best record in the AL, and the only team with more than 50 wins is the Royals. So picking a worst team seems unfair, but I have to pick one, and it’s the Chicago White Sox. With a 41-45 record, and a 7-3 record heading into the break, that might seem unfair to Southsiders, but the A’s have been on the unfortunate end of a 6-22 record in one-run games. For some perspective, if Oakland was .500 in one-run games, they would have the second-best record in the AL. However, the Sox are 11 games back (opposed to the A’s 8.5), and Chicago has an MLB-worst 292 runs scored and a run differential of -73 (only the Phillies are worse in all of baseball) compared to Oakland’s +44, which is fourth-best in the AL. While the A’s are flirting with being a postseason contender, the White Sox may wind up at the bottom of the AL at season’s end.
Worst NL Team: Philidelphia Phillies
No-brainer: The Phillies are in full implode mode. At 29-62, they are the only team with less than 30 wins and the only team with more than 52 losses, putting them 9.5 games behind MLB’s second-worst team in Milwaukee. The Phillies have an atrocious 11-37 road record, and they’ve scored an NL-worst 308 runs. But it gets worse. Phillies pitchers have yielded 468 runs for a -160 run differential, the worst in baseball by far. The offense isn’t good, the pitching isn’t good and the front office isn’t good. The Phillies have the unfortunate tag of being the worst MLB team by a mile.
AL Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout
This one is easy. Mike Trout. In a runaway. A doff of the cap to Jason Kipnis, Miguel Cabrera and Josh Donaldson, but Trout has established himself as baseball’s elite all-around player. After back-to-back All-Star MVPs, he’s well on his way to a second consecutive AL MVP as he leads the league in WAR (at 5.9, he’s more than a win above second placers Manny Machado and Kipnis), runs, home runs, slugging, total bases, runs created and isolated power. Not to mention he’s a pretty decent defender in center. Mike Trout is all-world.
NL Most Valuable Player: Paul Goldschmidt
Before Bryce Harper fans pounce, no player has carried his team like Paul Goldschmidt in the first half. The D-backs were at the bottom of most NL West preseason prediction lists, but at the halfway mark, they’re the top-scoring team in the NL with 392 runs, and they’re only five games out of a wild card berth at 42-45. And Goldschmidt is a major reason Arizona has hovered around .500 all season. He leads the NL in batting average, runs, RBI, walks and runs created — and he’s second to Harper in six other categories, including WAR — 5.5 to Harper’s 6.2. While Harper is having a season for the ages, Goldy is more valuable to his team, and therefore, he gets the slightest nod over Harper. By the way, who knew that Goldschmidt has been successful on 16 of 20 stolen base attempts?
AL Cy Young: Dallas Keuchel
A breakout star on a team of fresh and exciting faces, Houston’s Dallas Keuchel now sits among the AL’s elite pitchers. Felix Hernandez, Cory Kluber, Sonny Gray, Chris Archer and Chris Sale are a tick behind the Astros’ 27-year-old bearded lefty so far. His 11 wins are tied for best in the AL with King Felix, and he leads the league in innings pitched, shutouts, quality starts and WAR. He has a 2.14 ERA, an 11-3 record, a 1.00 WHIP and 110 strikeouts. Keuchel has emerged over the past two seasons as an elite pitcher, and there’s a great chance he’ll be at the top of the Cy Young voting at the end of the season.
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer
There hasn’t been a more powerful pitcher in the NL than Max Scherzer. And while many will argue that Mr. ERA, Zack Greinke, deserves the first-half award, Scherzer has been dominant. The stat that puts him over the top? He has the third best all-time strikeout-to-walk ratio at 10.714 (150 strikeouts and only 14 walks in a league-leading 132.0 innings pitched). He could finish the season with less walks than games started. Crazy. As a result, he leads the league with a 0.78 WHIP, and he’s tied with A.J. Burnett for second with a 2.11 ERA, light years behind Greinke’s never-been-done 1.39 ERA at the halfway point. Scherzer also leads the league in complete games, shutouts, average game score and batting average against. It’s a close race, but Scherzer’s power and near-perfect no-hitter puts him over the top.
AL Rookie of the Year: Carlos Correa
There might be a handful of rookies with bigger sample sizes than Carlos Correa, but in the short time the 20-year-old has been with the Astros, he has delivered as advertised. And Correa may very well be the next big impact player, a la Mike Trout. In 32 games, the 20-year-old shortstop has racked up seven homers, 10 doubles and 19 RBI along with an astonishing 1.6 WAR.
NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant
Appears to be a race between Chicago’s Kris Bryant and L.A.’s Joc Pederson for year-end honors, but at the midway point, let’s give a slight edge to Bryant due to the immense expectations and pressure he was under heading into the season. Despite all the hoopla surrounding his delayed jump to the bigs, Bryant has delivered with a .269 average, 12 homers, 51 RBI and an NL 14th-best .848 OPS.
Biggest surprise: The wild, wild AL West
Much like Game of Thrones, no one is safe in the AL West. In 2014, the Angels and A’s finished one-two, followed by the Mariners, Astros and Rangers. This year, the Astros claimed the title for most of the first half thanks to winning 14 of 15 games from mid April to early May. This is two years after the Astros had the worst record in baseball and a -238 run differential. The A’s have free-fallen from the best team in baseball at last year’s break, to the worst record in the AL so far this year. The Mariners were picked by many to win the AL pennant, but offensive woes continue despite the productive addition of All-Star Nelson Cruz and the stalwart bullpen has been a disappointment, along with $24 million-a-year Robinson Cano. The Rangers finished last in the West last year and lost ace Yu Darvish to an arm injury this year, but they’ve managed to stay relevant with a 42-46 record and 5.5 games from a wild card berth. The only consistent performance has come from the Angels, who have benefited from a healthy and strong Albert Pujols, who snuck past the Astros for first on the final game of the first half.