There are many dog days of summer ahead, so a lot can change, but here’s a look at some of the top players and story lines from the season so far.
MAJOR AWARDS, THE NOMINEES
Most valuable player
National League: Veteran Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (.345, 21 home runs, 52 runs batted in) is a contender not only for MVP but also for the triple crown. He leads the league in batting average, is tied for the lead in home runs and is 11 back in runs batted in. But what if the Rockies finish last or near the last in the NL West? That would surely hurt Tulowitzki’s MVP chances.
Also in the hunt: Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, who leads the league in RBIs with 63 and shares the lead in home runs with Tulowitzki, and Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates (.324, 17 home runs, 61 RBIs). And don’t forget about the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig (.309, 12 home runs, 52 RBIs).
American League: The Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout (.310, 22 home runs, 73 RBIs) is, for the third time in his three full seasons, again a front-runner. But the outfielder has plenty of competition. Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista (.292, 17 home runs, 54 RBIs) also combines average with power and was the top vote getter for the All-Star game with 5.9 million votes.
Another candidate is Nelson Cruz of the Baltimore Orioles, who is second in the AL with 28 home runs and 74 RBIs.
NL: Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (11-2, league-leading 1.78 earned-run average) has a no-hitter to go with his two previous Cy Young awards, and has reeled off eight consecutive victories. He’s probably the front-runner.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright is second to Kershaw in ERA (1.83) and is tied for most victories (12) with Cincinnati’s Alfredo Simon. Simon’s teammate Johnny Cueto also is in the mix with a 10-6 record, 2.13 ERA and 141 strikeouts, which is second in the league.
AL: The New York Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka (12-4, 2.51 ERA) was a favorite not only for a Cy Young Award but also for rookie of the year. He was an All-Star game selection, but the right-hander sat out the game after going on the disabled list because of a partially torn ligament in his right elbow.
The Detroit Tigers’ Max Scherzer is threatening to win consecutive Cy Young awards. He’s tied for second in victories (11) in the league and is third in strikeouts (146).
Toronto’s Mark Buehrle is in the AL’s top five in ERA (2.64) and victories (10).
Rookie of the year
NL: If the award was based on stolen bases, it likely would go to Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton, whose 38 stolen bases are second in the league to the 43 by the Dodgers’ Dee Gordon. Hamilton is batting .285 with 19 doubles and 38 RBIs.
Another contender is shortstop Chris Owings of the Arizona Diamondbacks (.277, six home runs, 21 RBIs).
AL: Tanaka was a favorite but the pitcher’s sore right elbow might derail what otherwise could have been a sensational rookie season.
Other contenders are Houston Astros outfielder George Springer (.233, 19 home runs, 50 RBIs) and Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, who leads the AL in home runs with 29 and is tied for third in RBIs with 73.
FUN IS ENOUGH
You can debate which players should be the major award winners. You can also debate which players are the most fun to watch. Who do you consider the most exciting players in the game? Our list starts with:
Trout, Angels: It’s hard to believe he’s still only 22. He’s electric whether as a hitter, baserunner or outfielder.
Puig, Dodgers: He always seems to do something worth talking about, even when he check-swings on a lobbed pitch to start off his round in the Home Run Derby. And then gets blanked. Looks like a linebacker, cannon arm and a great bat flipper.
Gordon, Dodgers: He’s the major league leader in stolen bases and triples, two of the most exciting plays in the game.
McCutchen, Pirates: Can do it all. Hits for average and power and has 15 stolen bases.
Jose Altuve, Astros: The 5-foot-6 second baseman puts up big numbers. He is second in the AL in batting average (.335) and leads in steals (41).
Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics: The two-time Home Run Derby champion turned in the most spectacular play of the season’s first half, launching an ICBM — that’s a missile, youngsters — from left field to nail the Angels’ Howie Kendrick at the plate.
LETS MAKE A DEAL
The July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline looms, and you can expect more contenders and bottom feeders will do what the Athletics and Chicago Cubs have already done. The A’s bulked up, the Cubs dumped salary. Here’s a look at some other players who might change places:
Trade speculation swirled around Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford after he recently returned from an injury and was relegated to a bench role. The Dodgers are paying Crawford $20.25 million this season and owe him another $62.25 million through 2017, so it’ll cost them to trade him.
Two relievers also are hot topics ahead of the trade deadline: Jonathan Papelbon of the Philadelphia Phillies, who has 22 saves and a 1.21 ERA, and Huston Street of the San Diego Padres, who has 24 saves and a 1.09 ERA.
The Padres might shop veteran third baseman Chase Headley and the Miami Marlins might be willing to trade third baseman Casey McGehee, who is batting .319 with 53 RBIs.
Two left-handed starting pitchers could be moved: David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays, who leads the league in strikeouts with 164, and John Danks of the Chicago White Sox, who is 8-6 with a 3.99 ERA.
But a question looms regarding Price: After a terrible start, Tampa Bay has played better of late despite still being 9½ games out of first place. If the Rays gain on the leaders, would they want to part with Price?
Shortstop Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers (.265, two home runs, 22 RBIs) is another candidate to be traded with last-place Texas looking to rebuild. But Andrus’ eight-year, $118 million contract extension that starts next year could be an impediment.
And with Oakland recently bolstering its starting rotation by trading for Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija and right-hander Jason Hammel, some wonder whether the Angels will acquire more pitching to keep pace.
Although the Angels recently acquired relievers Jason Grilli from Pittsburgh and Joe Thatcher from Arizona, there’s speculation the club might pursue Street, or starters such as Price or Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels.
GRADING THE FREE-AGENT CLASS
How are some of this year’s top free agents faring with their new clubs? As usual, it’s a mixed bag:
Robinson Cano, the Seattle Mariners’ $240 million man, made the AL All-Star team and is batting .334 with 57 RBIs. But his seven home runs are down sharply from the 21 he hit in the first half of 2013 with the Yankees.
Starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, a former Angel who signed with the Athletics, is 11-3 and his 2.38 ERA is second in the AL.
After signing a seven-year, $130 million deal with the Rangers, Shin-Soo Choo is failing to keep pace with his 2013 performance with the Reds. He is batting .242 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs.
Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who came aboard on a seven-year, $153 million deal, has had ups and downs. His six home runs and 42 RBIs indicate he doesn’t have the power shown in his 2011 All-Star season (32 home runs, 105 RBIs) but is tied for second in AL stolen bases with 24.
Speaking of the Yankees, 37-year-old Carlos Beltran is batting only .216 with nine home runs and 28 RBIs. The outfielder was hampered by a bone spur in his right elbow, sat out 22 games, and mainly has been New York’s designated hitter since returning.
RACE FOR THE FLAG
There is little doubt which are the toughest divisions in each league. Who will win those divisions is the question:
The NL Central is the only division with four teams playing above .500 — Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The Brewers lead the way, but they have lost eight of their last 10 games and all four clubs are separated by only 3½ games.
The AL West features the teams with the two best records, Oakland and the Angels, who trail the A’s by 1½ games. Third-place Seattle is playing at a very respectable .537 clip but is eight games out of first place.
The most surprising division race is in the AL East, where Baltimore and Toronto lead the pack. The Orioles last year finished 12 games out of first place and Toronto finished last, 23 games out.
The Blue Jays this year are getting solid results from Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, who is among the AL leaders with 26 home runs and 70 RBIs. But Encarnacion is on the disabled list because of a quadriceps injury and Toronto lost eight of 10 games before the All-Star break.