First-half awards: Plenty of new faces earn honors

With the All-Star break approaching, baseball’s races for individual glory are as tight as the pennant races. About all that is certain is that 2009’s big winners — Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke — will need stronger showings in the second half to have a chance of repeating.

First-half award winners:

Adrian Gonzalez can do more than hit; he can also flash the leather at first.
Adrian Gonzalez can do more than hit; he can also flash the leather at first.

NL MVP

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres. Though his numbers aren’t the most impressive, Gonzalez rates an edge over a contingent that includes Pujols, David Wright and Joey Votto because of:

1. The success of his team. The NL West-leading Padres have been the majors’ most surprising team because of their pitching, but their offense has done enough. Gonzalez has done plenty: He is hitting .301/.396/.538 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs and has an MLB-best .528 OBP with runners in scoring position.
2. He shoulders a much larger offensive burden than anyone in the league. No other Padre has hit more than eight homers.
3. His defense. Gonzalez is in line to win his third consecutive Gold Glove, a valuable trait on a team that relies so much on holding down the opposition.

NL Cy Young

Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Rockies. He is 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA and .198 batting average allowed, and he has wowed the league since no-hitting the Braves in April. "He pitches 96-98 (mph) and can throw it 100 when he wants to," Diamondbacks third basemen Mark Reynolds says. "He has that the whole time he’s in there."

Jimenez, however, doesn’t have the stranglehold on this award that he did three weeks ago, thanks to the Marlins’ Josh Johnson and the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright. Johnson is working on an 11-start run during which he has allowed a total of seven runs and dropped his ERA to a major league-best 1.70. Wainwright, a 13-game winner, has a 2.11 ERA.

AL MVP

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers. The way he finished 2009, Cabrera also could be in line for comeback honors. He had to be hauled out of a police station by his general manager on the morning of one of the Tigers’ biggest games of the 2009 season. This season, the 27-year-old is contending for a Triple Crown. His 74 RBIs are one behind Vladimir Guerrero for the AL lead, his .346 average puts him three points behind Josh Hamilton, and his 20 homers trail Jose Bautista’s AL-leading total by two.

Cabrera might need to end baseball’s 43-year Triple Crown drought to hold off Hamilton for the MVP. Cabrera has an edge in consistency, as he has hit at least .323 with 20 RBIs in each of the season’s first three months. Hamilton, meanwhile, has heated up like the Texas summer after a slow start. For the season, he has one more homer than Cabrera but 10 fewer RBIs.

Last year’s winner, Mauer, hasn’t even been the MVP on his own team. Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who beat out Cabrera in fan voting for the All-Star start, is mounting his own Triple Crown threat (.345, 18 homers but only 56 RBIs).

AL Cy Young

Cliff Lee, SP, Rangers. There’s a reason Lee was coveted by so many teams before the Mariners moved him: He is the best pitcher in the league. The only reason a case can be made for Rays lefthander David Price (12-4, 2.42 ERA) is because Lee didn’t make his first start until April 30. Once he went to work, though, he dominated.

"What a tremendous competitor," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said at the news conference announcing Lee’s trade. "How he carried himself in a professional manner, the tone that he set and how he went about his business is phenomenal."

Lee went 8-3 for the last-place Mariners and leads the league with a 2.34 ERA and five complete games. The stat that most impresses: six walks. Total. Lee’s 89 strikeouts to six walks is good for a 14.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio that is far and away the majors’ best.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

With the All-Star break approaching, baseball’s races for individual glory are as tight as the pennant races. About all that is certain is that 2009’s big winners — Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke — will need stronger showings in the second half to have a chance of repeating.

First-half award winners:

Adrian Gonzalez can do more than hit; he can also flash the leather at first.
Adrian Gonzalez can do more than hit; he can also flash the leather at first.

NL MVP

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres. Though his numbers aren’t the most impressive, Gonzalez rates an edge over a contingent that includes Pujols, David Wright and Joey Votto because of:

1. The success of his team. The NL West-leading Padres have been the majors’ most surprising team because of their pitching, but their offense has done enough. Gonzalez has done plenty: He is hitting .301/.396/.538 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs and has an MLB-best .528 OBP with runners in scoring position.
2. He shoulders a much larger offensive burden than anyone in the league. No other Padre has hit more than eight homers.
3. His defense. Gonzalez is in line to win his third consecutive Gold Glove, a valuable trait on a team that relies so much on holding down the opposition.

NL Cy Young

Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Rockies. He is 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA and .198 batting average allowed, and he has wowed the league since no-hitting the Braves in April. "He pitches 96-98 (mph) and can throw it 100 when he wants to," Diamondbacks third basemen Mark Reynolds says. "He has that the whole time he’s in there."

Jimenez, however, doesn’t have the stranglehold on this award that he did three weeks ago, thanks to the Marlins’ Josh Johnson and the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright. Johnson is working on an 11-start run during which he has allowed a total of seven runs and dropped his ERA to a major league-best 1.70. Wainwright, a 13-game winner, has a 2.11 ERA.

AL MVP

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers. The way he finished 2009, Cabrera also could be in line for comeback honors. He had to be hauled out of a police station by his general manager on the morning of one of the Tigers’ biggest games of the 2009 season. This season, the 27-year-old is contending for a Triple Crown. His 74 RBIs are one behind Vladimir Guerrero for the AL lead, his .346 average puts him three points behind Josh Hamilton, and his 20 homers trail Jose Bautista’s AL-leading total by two.

Cabrera might need to end baseball’s 43-year Triple Crown drought to hold off Hamilton for the MVP. Cabrera has an edge in consistency, as he has hit at least .323 with 20 RBIs in each of the season’s first three months. Hamilton, meanwhile, has heated up like the Texas summer after a slow start. For the season, he has one more homer than Cabrera but 10 fewer RBIs.

Last year’s winner, Mauer, hasn’t even been the MVP on his own team. Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who beat out Cabrera in fan voting for the All-Star start, is mounting his own Triple Crown threat (.345, 18 homers but only 56 RBIs).

AL Cy Young

Cliff Lee, SP, Rangers. There’s a reason Lee was coveted by so many teams before the Mariners moved him: He is the best pitcher in the league. The only reason a case can be made for Rays lefthander David Price (12-4, 2.42 ERA) is because Lee didn’t make his first start until April 30. Once he went to work, though, he dominated.

"What a tremendous competitor," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said at the news conference announcing Lee’s trade. "How he carried himself in a professional manner, the tone that he set and how he went about his business is phenomenal."

Lee went 8-3 for the last-place Mariners and leads the league with a 2.34 ERA and five complete games. The stat that most impresses: six walks. Total. Lee’s 89 strikeouts to six walks is good for a 14.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio that is far and away the majors’ best.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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