The All-Star game has always been the unofficial halfway mark of the Major League Baseball season and a time to reflect on the first three months of action.
Following the four-day break, teams will begin the dog days of summer Friday and will look to remain in the hunt for a spot in the expanded playoffs. There are the usual suspects battling for division titles, but a handful of surprise teams are looking to crash the party when the weather and the trees begin to turn.
The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Nationals are sitting atop the National League Central and East, respectively. The Nationals are in front of the rest of their division by four games. With talent like Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, Washington should grab its first postseason berth since moving from Montreal.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, are in a tough battle with Cincinnati and St. Louis. The Pirates’ front office has said it will do whatever it takes to keep the team in front, but the Cardinals and Reds may prove too tough to stop from overtaking them in the final weeks of the season.
Looking at some of the names in the headlines day-in and day-out, there are definitely a handful of players which have separated themselves from the rest of the field in the chase for individual honors.
Most Valuable Player
Andrew McCutchen - Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s been 20 years since a member of the Pirates (Barry Bonds) has been named MVP and McCutchen is definitely in the discussion this season. While the Pirates may not hang on and win the NL Central title with the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals breathing down their neck, McCutchen is having an MVP-type season. McCutchen is hitting a MLB-leading .362, with 18 home runs, 60 runs batted in and has stolen 14 bases. He deserves to win whether the Pirates win the Central or not. Also in the discussion — David Wright, New York Mets; Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds; and Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers.
Miguel Cabrera - Detroit Tigers
In his 10th season in the majors, it is hard to believe Cabrera has not won an MVP award yet. This year could be the one when he breaks through and earns his first. After hitting .344 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs, Cabrera watched his teammate Justin Verlander sweep the Cy Young and MVP honors last season. Cabrera continues to post numbers which should eventually get him an MVP award. Heading into the second half, Cabrera has a .324 batting average with 18 home runs and 71 RBIs. Also in the discussion — Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels; Robinson Cano, New York Yankees; and Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers.
R.A. Dickey - New York Mets
The problem with knuckleball pitchers is that you have to roll with the bad times and wait for the good days. Right now, very few pitchers are throwing any better than Dickey. After bouncing around the AL for a few years, Dickey has found a home in the Big Apple. The All-Star tossed back-to-back one-hitters this season against Tampa Bay and Baltimore and is 12-1 with a 2.40 ERA. While most knuckleballer aren’t known for getting a lot of strikeouts, Dickey is second in the NL with 123. Also in the discussion — Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals; Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals; and Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants.
Jered Weaver - Los Angeles Angels
Weaver is simply having one of those years as a pitcher. There are times when batters look overmatched against someone on the mound and right now Weaver is in that zone. Weaver tossed a no-hitter against Minnesota on May 2 and has allowed 65 hits in 96 2/3 innings this year. In his last 10 starts, Weaver has allowed more than two runs only once. For the season, Weaver is 10-2 with a MLB-best 1.96 ERA and the opposition is hitting a meager .188 against him. Also in the discussion — David Price, Tampa Bay Rays; CC Sabathia, New York Yankees; and Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org