OK then. Now that we've got that little All-Star Game extravaganza out of the way, where were we? Oh, that's right.
The Year of the Cubs was turning into the Can We Stop the Season in June, Please? The Ace of Diamonds rotation of those New York Mets was turning into a bone-spurs convention. And somehow or other, thanks to climate change or juiced baseballs or possibly even trick photography, more than 3,000 home runs had already fallen out of the sky, leaving a trail of souvenirs and wounded ERAs.
So we can't wait to see where all this is leading. But first, it's time to look back on what we've witnessed so far -- through the miracle of my annual midseason awards. They once again will not be presented by Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Whoopi Goldberg, Murray and Beverly Goldberg, Goldie Hawn, Paul Goldschmidt, Michael Jack Schmidt or David Hyde Pierce. In other words, I'll just have to hand the darned things out myself again. The envelopes, please!
NL MVP of the half-year
I have no idea how you define "valuable." Probably different from how I do -- especially if you're one of those folks who is sure the only reason I didn't pick Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant or Matt Carpenter is because (repeat after me) I'm biased, I hate your team, I have East Coast bias, I have West Coast bias, I know as much about baseball as a rhododendron, whatever. But you know how I define "valuable," really? By reminding myself what the Dodgers are with Clayton Kershaw and without him. And that about settles it. When Kershaw pitches, the Dodgers have roughly the same winning percentage (.875) as the Golden State Warriors. And when anyone else pitches, they have roughly the same winning percentage (.493) as the Buffalo Sabres. So -- any more questions? Now throw in Kershaw's 1.79 ERA, the greatest strikeout/walk ratio (145/9) in the history of the solar system and the lowest WHIP in the live ball era (0.73). Then factor in that his rotation's ERA without him (4.38) would be pretty much indistinguishable from Pittsburgh's. And cap it off with the 5.5 wins above replacement that Fangraphs says he has been worth already -- the most by any pitcher at the break since Randy Johnson (5.9) in 2000. And what does it all tell us? This man is one of the great, franchise-changing figures in any sport. That's what. And yes, that's how I define "valuable." I'm crazy like that.
AL MVP of the half-year
You think it's easy to make these picks? I could go with Mike Trout in every one of these columns and who could argue? I was also sure at various points I was going to hand this imaginary half-trophy to Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado, and they've both earned it. But every time I had this debate with myself, I kept coming back to Jose Altuve, baseball's most lovable 5-foot-6 energizer. Except that 5-foot-6 dudes aren't supposed to do the stuff Altuve does. Possibly because nobody of any size or shape has ever done all the stuff Altuve does. He's outslugging Chris Davis and Bryce Harper, and he's 5-foot-6? He's outhomering Jose Bautista, and he's 5-foot-6? That's just crazy. But here's what's even crazier: Altuve is on pace to hit .341/.413/.542, with 25 homers, 44 doubles, 42 steals, 217 hits and more walks (75) than strikeouts (67). So how many seasons like that have there been in history -- by guys 5-foot-6, 6-foot-6, or anywhere in between? I can't find any. The young A-Rod came close once. Hanley Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Jimmy Rollins made it into the outskirts of that neighborhood. But this, friends, is amazing -- as in MVP amazing. Jose Altuve. Gotta love this guy.
NL Least Valuable Player (LVP) of the half-year
Carl Crawford, Dodgers?
I always liked Carl Crawford: good dude. And I hate to hand out LVP awards to people I like. But wow. You know how hard it is to get released when your team owes you $35 million? Might be harder than stealing 50 bases, which this man did five times. Might just be harder than signing a seven-year, $142 million contract in Boston and then not even making it through the second year of the contract without getting asked to please relocate 3,000 miles away. It must be hard because only three players in history (Crawford, Vernon Wells and Alfonso Soriano) ever got released in the middle of a $100 million-plus contract, and Crawford had almost as many dollars left on his deal as the other two combined. But by last month, the Dodgers had seen enough. Crawford was hitting .185 with a .464 OPS and zero stolen bases. He had just been part of a bizarre play at Wrigley Field in which he struck out on a ball that skipped past catcher Miguel Montero with two outs and a runner on third, then mysteriously stood around and waited until Montero tagged him out. And as always, Crawford didn't mean to screw up. He always meant well. He had just become, basically, a disaster. The Dodgers had paid him more than 70 million bucks since August 2012 and gotten a total of 2.9 wins above replacement out of it. So they moved on. And the good news is, the guy got two lovely parting gifts out of it: (A) the $35 million worth of paychecks that were about to keep on coming and (B) this LVP award.
AL LVP of the half-year
Remember back in spring training, when A-Rod revealed, in a series of classic A-Rod-esque interviews, that he definitely planned to retire ... in two years ... unless he didn't? We should have known then that this was going to be one of those years. But hey, it's A-Rod. With this guy, you never know where anything is leading, do you? Now ordinarily, I would never present an LVP award to a fellow who is already on the other side of 40. But that's only because normally a team would never go into a season actually counting on a man his age. In this case, though, Rodriguez spent last year luring the Yankees into thinking he could be a real, live, middle-of-the-order presence. And then, well, this happened: A .260 on-base percentage and .642 OPS. The messy combination of 56 strikeouts and just 10 walks. A .198 batting average against right-handers. A .161 average when he hits third. A .159/.194/.175 slash line against the portion of the population known as "relief pitchers." A .200 average against pitches 95 mph and faster, with no walks. An .099 average once the count reaches two strikes, with 56 strikeouts and 10 hits. A messy 65 in the modern metric known as weighted runs created plus, which indicates he has been tied for the eighth-least-productive hitter in the American League with at least 200 plate appearances (but one of just two in that group who isn't permitted to redeem some of that nonproduction with his glove -- Prince Fielder is a 65 as well). So if he could roll back the clock to March, you'd think he'd say he definitely plans to retire ... in two weeks?
NL Cy Young of the half-year
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
I don't know how superhuman Bumgarner, Jose Fernandez, Johnny Cueto and Noah Syndergaard would have had to be for me to pick somebody else besides Kershaw for this prestigious half-honor, which he has no idea even exists (possibly because it doesn't). But great as all those men have been, they weren't this great. I don't have the time or space to fully document all of Kershaw's first-half awesomeness. But I'll give you a taste. His first-half WHIP (0.73) is the lowest over the first half of any season since at least 1913, according to Baseball-Reference.com's indispensable Play Index. (And the previous standard, Grover Cleveland Alexander's 0.75, had held up a while -- like since 1915.) Kershaw's absurd strikeout/walk ratio (145-to-9, which comes to 16.1-to-1) also happens to rank No. 1 in all the first halves in the Play Index era. Imagine that. You know how many pitchers before him had ever reached the All-Star break with an ERA under 1.80, this many strikeouts, a strikeout rate this good and 11 wins or more? Yeah, that would be zero. And how about this: He has already ripped off six double-digit strikeout games in which he forgot to walk a single hitter. No one had ever done that before the All-Star break, either -- possibly because the record for a whole season is six (shared by Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling). And have I mentioned this man might have had the greatest month in baseball history (5-0, 0.91 ERA in May, with 65 strikeouts, 2 walks)? I could pile on more of these superlatives for the next week or so. But you're probably catching on. Can't we just change the name to the Cy Kershaw Award? It would be so much fairer to the rest of the species.
Apologies to: Bumgarner, Cueto, Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg, Syndergaard.
AL Cy Young of the half-year
You should know something. If I were trying to use this pick to make myself look all intelligent and incisive (always a challenge, I might add), I would have presented this half-honor to Chris Sale. Why? Because he was my preseason choice to win the Cy Young. And for my own dopey selfish reasons, I enjoy being right. But Sale's 14 wins aside, it's just not possible to argue that he -- or anyone else -- has been more dominant in this first half than Danny Salazar. Once upon a time, a guy like Sale, who was 14-3 and averaging about a strikeout an inning at the break, would have been everyone's Cy Young choice. But we don't live in that world anymore. So while we're well-aware that Sale has more wins, Steven Wright has a slightly tinier ERA and Marco Estrada has allowed a lower opponent batting average (with massive assistance from an off-the-charts .193 BABIP), none of them can match Salazar's total body of work. He's the only pitcher in the league who ranks in the top three in ERA, strikeout rate, ERA-plus, WAR and fielding independent pitching. And as David Schoenfield so eloquently noted the other day, Sale has almost pitched himself out of this conversation, with a 4.46 ERA since May 12, while Salazar exudes the look of a true dominator who has learned how to mix his killer changeup with a 95 mph heater. And how devastating is that changeup? The league is hitting .114 against it -- with 76 swings and misses but only 14 hits. So it's always fun to pick a guy who churns out cool stats like that one, not to mention the fact that he could sit at a barstool next to about 97 percent of all living Americans, and they wouldn't know him from Alberto Salazar.
NL Cy Yuk of the half-year
I believe it was either Bruce Springsteen or Heathcliff Slocumb who once said: "You can't walk away from the price you pay." And I'm pretty sure Shelby Miller could tell you all about that -- probably for like the next 3½ hours. It isn't his fault the Diamondbacks decided to trade the No. 1 pick in the draft (Dansby Swanson), one of their best pitching prospects (Aaron Blair) and one of baseball's best defensive outfielders (Ender Inciarte) for him last winter. But holy schmoly. From the moment Miller somehow hurt himself by scraping his hand on the mound throwing a pitch in April, it's been hard to remember a trade this big that turned into this huge a mess this fast. Hasn't it? Fasten your seat belt securely around your waist. Then take a look at Miller's first-half numbers: 2-9, 7.14 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, just two quality starts and a .312/.386/.523/.909 opponent slash line, which mean he has basically turned every hitter he has faced into Brandon Belt. So that's not real encouraging. And nobody has a good explanation, though the usual explanations apply (velocity down, command worse, delivery a mess, confidence shot). As America's only licensed Cy Yuk voter, I've come to learn that some of these picks are easier than others. If you're guessing this was one of them, hey, good guess!
AL Cy Yuk of the half-year
Looking for one quick lowlight that sums up what made Clay Buchholz such a compelling candidate for this much-uncoveted award? It happened back on June 21. That was the night he made his triumphant return to the Boston rotation after 25 days of bullpen purgatory and promptly allowed the first two hitters to go homer/double -- on his first two pitches. Yikes. But that night and this disappointing season just make you reflect on exactly how long the Red Sox have been dreaming on this guy. Which would be practically a decade, if you're not Googling along at home. But this is the year those dreams have turned to pure Cy Yukkery -- and in a season in which it feels as if his team has never needed him more, too. Did you know the Red Sox are 3-10 when Buchholz starts (a .231 winning percentage that ranks last in baseball among men who have started that many games), but they're 18 games over .500 (46-28) when anyone else starts? Did you know that, according to Baseball Reference, this fellow has subtracted more win probability than any starting pitcher in baseball? That's hard to do, right? Did you know his 5.91 ERA would rank as the worst in the history of his esteemed franchise if he keeps this up? True story. Now toss in his 6.05 fielding independent pitching, which is the worst in the league among pitchers with 80-plus innings, and his three quality starts in 13 starts and what do you have? You have the stuff that Cy Yuks are made of. What else?
Special bi-leagual mention to: James Shields.
NL rookie of the half-year
Corey Seager, Dodgers
Remember way back in, oh, April, when it looked as if Corey Seager might not even be the best rookie shortstop in the National League (because we were so hypnotized by the prodigious starts by Aledmys Diaz and Trevor Story)? Um, never mind. Even in a rarified time for young shortstops, one thing we've learned over the past couple of months is that the guy who handles that gig at Chavez Ravine is special. But he also happens to be headed for possibly the greatest season by a rookie shortstop in the history of rookie shortstops. If he keeps mashing at his current rate, we would be looking at a fellow with an .879 OPS, 31 homers and 76 extra-base hits, which would be the most home runs ever by a rookie shortstop (topping Nomar Garciaparra's 30). And the most extra-base hits ever by an NL rookie shortstop (topping Hanley Ramirez's 74). And the highest OPS by any rookie shortstop who ever lived (beating out Nomar's .875). So that kind of caught my attention. Then there was Seager's just-halted 19-game hitting streak. You know who never had a streak that long while playing short? Oh, only Cal Ripken and Ernie Banks -- whoever they are. But the most impressive part of Seager's first half is that he goes about it all with such a been-there, done-that look, you could easily forget he's 22. He has become the best player on a team with a $235 million payroll. And he ranks sixth in the National League in wins above replacement. Now all he has to do is take over the lead in WAR in his own family -- over brother Kyle -- and he'll really have something to brag about.
AL rookie of the half-year
Took me a long time to figure this one out. In Texas, the Rangers' dazzling 20-year-old right fielder, Nomar Mazara, is going to be a star. And this was his award to lose for a long time. But then Michael Fulmer (aka the guy the Mets traded to get Yoenis Cespedes) decided it was about time he turned himself into Bob Gibson. Starting with his May 21 start against Tampa Bay, Fulmer has made nine starts. He has given up a total of four earned runs in those nine starts. Four. Just to put that in perspective, over the same period of time, ESPN Stats & Information counts 261 instances in which a pitcher has allowed four earned runs in an inning. And Fulmer has allowed four in seven weeks. Meanwhile, never, in any of those nine starts, has he given up more than one earned run. So how many starting pitchers in the past century have ever had a streak of nine straight starts with one or nada earned runs allowed in their first season in the big leagues? That would be none, of course. And how would you like to guess the only nonrookie pitcher ever to have a longer streak than that in any single season in the live ball era? That would be -- right you are -- Bob Gibson himself, with 11 in a row in that 1968 season that made him a legend. I don't know if we're watching the birth of a legend when we watch Fulmer do his thing. But with his mix of mid-90s fastball, power slider and disappearing changeup, we might at least be watching the birth of a young Josh Beckett.
NL manager of the half-year
Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals
It's pretty crazy to look in the rear-view mirror now and remember that Dusty Baker wasn't even the Nationals' first choice for this job. But Bud Black's negotiation malfunction turned into Baker's ultimate opportunity. And these days, it almost feels as if it were meant to turn out this way. Sometimes all a man needs is the right situation at the right moment in time. And for Baker, that's precisely what this was. What his team needed was exactly what Baker does best: a manager who connects with people, vacuums all the tension out of the room and lets his best players do what they do. But if you've watched closely, you've also noticed something else. This man has evolved with the times. He'll never write a book on modern metrics. But if you've been waiting for a nightly parade of left-on-left, right-on-right bullpen matchups -- whether the data merits it or not -- we haven't seen that. If you've been waiting for Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to throw 138 pitches every time out, we haven't seen that, either. (Only Tanner Roark has crossed his 120-pitch threshold all year, as a matter of fact.) So as always, there are a bunch of compelling choices for this award. But none has been a better fit than the star of Mr. Baker Goes to Washington.
Apologies to: Bruce Bochy, Joe Maddon, Pete Mackanin.
AL manager of the half-year
Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles
A mere three months ago, 31 of us ESPN baseball geniuses made our always-astute predictions for this season. And looking back on those picks, it's actually shocking how many teams we were right about. (Who knew!) But how many of us believed back then, in the core of our souls, that the Orioles were getting ready to win the AL East? Oops. That would be none of us. So when I make my manager of the year picks in a season like this -- in which Terry Francona and Jeff Banister are just as deserving -- I don't know how else I'm supposed to separate one man from a great pack. But here's to Buck Showalter, a human being who always seems to be operating a step ahead of the rest of us -- not just in baseball but in thinking through life on this planet. I'm not sure what other manager would have looked at Adam Jones, a man with the second-lowest walk rate of any active hitter with 5,000 plate appearances (and 27th-lowest since 1900!), and said: "Let's make him the leadoff hitter. That'll get him going." But, of course, that worked. And you sure don't see a whole lot of managers who can conduct the bullpen orchestra as artistically as Showalter does, every day of every year. Never overworking anyone, no matter how tempting. Working around his almost total lack of left-handed setup help. And still finding a way to win with one of baseball's shakiest rotations. You just don't meet many managers with such a complete feel for every player on his roster and every moment that confronts him. So it's hard to imagine finding this team in first place without him.
Apologies to: Francona, Banister, A.J. Hinch.