MLB Insider: Injury to Masahiro Tanaka changes awards landscape

Posted Saturday, Jul. 12, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Top five

1. A’s: The team to beat after great first half, big trade.

2. Tigers: Up and down first half, but still leading AL Central.

3. Angels: Bullpen makeover in progress. More work needed.

4. Dodgers: Erased big deficit to Giants, now expected to pull away.

5. Orioles: Will win AL East if they get enough pitching.

Bottom five

1. Rangers: The final 68 games will feel like 108.

2. Rockies: Great first month gives way to landslide of losses.

3. D-backs: Consistent. Have been a bad team all season.

4. Astros: Despite sweep of Rangers, still among MLB’s worst.

5. Cubs: Headed toward yet another big prospect in 2015 draft.

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Parity has attempted to bully its way into Major League Baseball this season, with division races that are tight and wild-card races that are multiple teams deep.

More than half of the teams are still within reach of a division title, and nearly two-thirds can sniff the second wild-card spot.

Similarly, five of the six major awards were headed toward a tight finish, with the American League MVP the only one headed toward lock status. But then came news that Yankees rookie right-hander Masahiro Tanaka has a partial tear of the elbow ligament that leads to Tommy John surgery.

Yikes. Even though the procedure wasn’t recommended for at least six weeks, yikes.

With Tanaka out until mid- to late August, the AL awards appear to be locked up. At least there could be some drama in the National League. But for the first half, most of the races are tough to call.

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels

The multi-talented outfielder, still not yet 23, is well on his way to ending Miguel Cabrera’s two-year MVP reign and Trout’s personal two-year reign as runner-up.

Despite a slower-than-expected start, which at one time included being the league leader in strikeouts, Trout once again is doing things that no one else can and few before him have.

Take, for instance, that he just became the seventh player since 1933 to have 20 homers, 20 double and five triples before the All-Star break. Lou Gehrig is in that group.

Meanwhile, he leads the league in Wins Above Replacement, on-base-plus-slugging percentage and runs created, and is also first in scaring the bejeezus out of opposing managers and pitchers.

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Mariners

The right-hander is having the type of season that should please those who live by traditional pitching stats and those who live by advanced metrics. (Remember, some hands were wringing in 2010 when he won with only 13 wins.)

Traditional: a 2.12 ERA, 20 games started, 11 wins, five homers allowed in 144 1/3 innings.

Advanced: a 177 ERA-plus, 2.02 Fielding Independent Pitching and 0.901 Walks/hits per inning pitched.

Tanaka isn’t far behind Hernandez in this first-half race, especially when considering park factors, but Hernandez is halfway home to the best season of his terrific career.

AL Rookie of the Year: Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees

This is another close race, with White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu. Tanaka gets the nod because he appears to have no pitching weaknesses, with the possibility of home runs (18) and his elbow. He walked only 19 in 18 starts.

Abreu’s power has come as a surprise. Scouts thought he would hit for power, but not a league-leading 29 homers, including Saturday’s, and a .631 slugging percentage in a first half that included a stint on the 15-day disabled list.

But with Tanaka down, Abreu is now the clear-cut favorite for the year-end award.

NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

Yeah, yeah, he does all of his damage at Coors Field, where players such as Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette have been transformed into hitting machines. Tulowitzki, though, has posted respectable road numbers and has played a terrific shortstop.

That adds up to the top WAR value in the majors. Yes, higher than Trout.

The Rockies, though, have gone down the drain, and there are MVP voters who believe MVPs should play for contenders. That’s how Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen could pull off an MVP repeat or Brewers catcher Jonathon Lucroy and Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig could enter the picture at year end.

NL Cy Young: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals

The only thing keeping Clayton Kershaw from this first-half honor is the month he spent on the disabled list at the start of the season. But it’s not like Wainwright has been anything less than dominating himself.

St. Louis’ staff ace leads the league with a 1.79 ERA and has allowed only four homers. He’s been durable, though he was skipped last month to cool down some elbow tendinitis.

It will be tough for him to hold off Kershaw if he continues his current pace (11-2, 1.78 ERA). For the first half, though, Wainwright was the best pitcher in the league.

NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton, Reds

Here’s a third award that could go another way at the end of the season, if Gregory Polanco continues to amaze in Pittsburgh.

Hamilton, though, has been in Cincinnati’s outfield since the season opener, using his speed to survive offensively when there was concern he would flop. He’s not among the league leaders in hitting (.285 entering Thursday) or on-base percentage (.318), but, man, can he fly.

Despite having wheels that have led to 37 steals, he had been caught a league-high 14 times.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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