July 16, 2014 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning's MLB midseason awards

(Editor’s note: Check out each of Lynn’s nominees and winners in the gallery above or by clicking here.)

It is past midseason in the big leagues. But tradition triumphs, as the All-Star Game for nearly 80 years has been regarded as the halfway mark. So with the game concluded at Target Field in Minneapolis on Tuesday night, we take a look at the 2014 schedule’s top performers to date.

Three months from now, ballots will have been forwarded for each league’s most valuable player, Cy Young Award winner, rookie of the year, and manager of the year. And while some of these races could shape up much differently as October dawns, this is one person’s view for how each category stacks up thus far:

American League

Most Valuable Player

1. Mike Trout, Angels

2. Jose Bautista, Jays

3. Jose Altuve, Astros

This was tough, not because Trout isn’t the overwhelming winner through 90 games but more because the contenders for second and third place are so many. The Orioles’ Nelson Cruz deserves to be there. So, too, does the Tigers’ Ian Kinsler, or even Victor Martinez, if you’re arguing the case locally. From the American League West, there are the Athletics’ Josh Donaldson and the Mariners’ Robinson Cano.

Trout’s all-around grandeur — his hitting numbers, speed, defense, etc. — are all Superman-grade stuff. Without him, the Angels, who could win the AL West, are as forgettable as the Mets. With him, they’re a dangerous bunch that could be trouble for anyone in October.

Cruz has 28 home runs and a slightly higher OPS than Bautista. But with Cruz having cooled slightly, and with Bautista leading the league with a .409 on-base percentage, his bat and presence are too fearsome to ignore. Altuve makes the top three for the simple fact that if he were playing for a better team, Trout might have his most serious competition for this year’s trophy.

Cy Young Award

1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners

2. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees

3. Chris Sale, White Sox

Tigers followers will argue, credibly, that Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello deserve a mention here. And they do. So here’s the mention.

But for the level of domination and consistency you expect from a Cy Young trophy-taker, Hernandez wins. He leads the league in starts and FIP (fielding independent pitching) earned-run average and has a WHIP (0.90) you can see only with a microscope.

Tanaka has been a heavenly starter for the Yankees. Or, at least he was ahead of last week’s somber news that the rookie right-hander might need Tommy John surgery. But even his numbers don’t match those of King Felix.

Sale is about as tough of a left-hander this side of the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. Sale also leads the league’s starters in ERA (2.08) and WHIP (0.84), but he has pitched nearly 50 fewer innings than Hernandez and almost 35 fewer than Tanaka.

Rookie of the Year

1. Jose Abreu, White Sox

2. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees

3. Nick Castellanos, Tigers

So, where’s George Springer, the immensely talented Astros outfielder whom some will see as no lower than No. 2 on a ROY ballot?

He’s batting .233, with 112 strikeouts in 76 games, which offset bigger and better numbers, such as his .804 OPS. Springer will soon be an All-Star, but he is no match for Abreu, who might be the White Sox’s shrewdest investment since they signed Carlton Fisk ahead of the 1981 season. Abreu is a monstrously muscled man and fine hitter who wins his first-half blue ribbon easily.

Tanaka is a close runner-up, while Castellanos, who has played third base and has been a steady and important hitter in a first-place team’s lineup, is an easy pick over Springer for the third slot.

Manager of the Year

1. Bob Melvin, A’s

2. Lloyd McClendon, Mariners

3. Mike Scioscia, Angels

It’s reasonable to nominate others here: Buck Showalter has the Orioles — or rather, the Orioles have Showalter — in first place. And the same can be said for a rookie skipper in Detroit named Brad Ausmus.

But increasingly, it appears as if the best chase for a playoff spot, and perhaps the league’s best team, will emerge from a West Division that features three clubs probably overachieving.

Melvin wins because his team is in first place, which isn’t easy when you’re dealing with a light payroll, pitching injuries, and bullpen flameouts (Jim Johnson) that might have made this team’s championship pursuit more of a conflagration.

McClendon’s team got some pep from offseason shopping (begin with Cano), but give credit to the former Tigers coach for putting together an assortment of pieces and making the Mariners more than competitive.

Scioscia has a couple of people named Trout, and Albert Pujols, alongside Garrett Richards and a number of other helpers. But, again, to compete so well in this year’s best American League division suggests the guys in the dugout are doing a particularly nice job.

National League

Most Valuable Player

1. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

3. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

This picture might be clearer 10 weeks from now. For now, it’s a pick-‘em-in-any-order race, with Tulowitzki winning because of his position — shortstop — and because his numbers are so bloody frightening.

Tulo leads the league in batting average (.345), on-base percentage (.435), and slugging percentage (.613), which is why he naturally has a National League-best OPS of 1.048.

Yes, he plays in Colorado where crazy things happen to baseballs because of the atmosphere 5,000 feet above sea level. Big-league baseball should have thought twice about expanding to Colorado if those issues are going to be prejudicial on an MVP vote.

McCutchen is perhaps the best all-around player in the league, while Stanton is king of a hill unto himself. Each of these gents could find himself in first place once 70 more games are history.

Cy Young Award

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals

3. Johnny Cueto, Reds

This isn’t a particularly difficult assignment, at least in this cubicle. Kershaw is the Starting Pitcher You Least Want To Face if you are a garden-variety big-league hitter who fears having his bat turned into ash by a man whose pitches are more like missiles fired from a drone.

Kershaw’s statistics are relatively airtight: 1.78 ERA, 1.60 FIP, 0.83 WHIP, and a per-nine-innings strikeout ratio of 11.8, all of which lead the National League. He also walks a league-low 1.8 batters per nine, which speaks to the grandiose pitching package he has assembled.

Wainwright could end up toppling Kershaw, because you can argue he is the more commanding first-half Cy Young champ. He has pitched 42 more innings than Kershaw and has 1.83 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. So, choose Wainwright with no serious rebuttals on this end.

Cueto, too, might beat both of the above by the time September’s wars have been waged. He has pitched 47 innings more than Kershaw. He allows a meager 5.8 hits per nine innings, the best of any National League starter.

But at this point, Kershaw’s pitches have been near-nuclear in their violence and in their ability to exterminate batters. And that kind of domination will generally win for you a Cy Young Award.

Rookie of the Year

1. Billy Hamilton, Reds

2. Chris Owings, Diamondbacks

3. Tommy La Stella, Braves

No need to over-think this. Hamilton was supposed to arrive this season and scare the bejabbers out of every opposing team that had no answer for a man who is faster than that yellow stoplight you just missed beating.

It turns out Hamilton is much more than a basepath blur. He’s a good hitter (.285), which is helpful when it’s the All-Star break and already you have stolen 38 bases.

Owings (shortstop) and La Stella (second base) have done slick jobs in their first full big-league seasons. But no one is beating Hamilton. Not on the basepaths. And not in ROY balloting, not even 2½ months from now.

Manager of the Year

1. Ron Roenicke, Brewers

2. Mike Redmond, Marlins

3. Terry Collins, Mets

There is one winner here, and a lot of, “Well, I guess we could make a case for this guy.”

Roenicke is not difficult, by any means, because his Brewers find themselves in first place within a division inhabited by the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates.

The Brewers are not a heavyweight contender. But they play good baseball against a regular diet of mean teams. And that, to some extent, must redound to the work of a manager who has done what most managers have failed to do with Milwaukee since the Brewers last played in a World Series in 1982.

He has them in first place. Skipper, at least for a moment, you’re free to splash in some limelight.


Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, left, and Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos made Lynn Henning's shortlist for NL Cy Young and AL Rookie of the Year, respectively. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News