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Shepkowski: MLB's First Half Awards

By Nick Shepkowski-

(CBS) The All-Star Game isn't for another 12 days, but we've surpassed the 81-game mark of the season, which means the back nine of this baseball season has already begun.

Lately, Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta has threatened to throw no-hitters in his last few starts, as he's looked like a steal for Scott Feldman's services a year ago. Chris Sale is the same dominant guy he was a year ago as well for the White Sox. And how can you look past the city's great first basemen? Jose Abreu has had a historic home run pace to start his MLB career, and at just 24, Anthony Rizzo is having one of the best seasons of any first basemen in the league.

So there are some good things going on in Chicago baseball, but it's still been pretty ugly. The Cubs and White Sox are a combined 77-92 and a combined 22 games out of their division leads. With the trade deadline less than a month away, those winning percentages will almost assuredly drop as we get even more off a peak into the future.

But just because neither team is competitive here doesn't mean that the first half of the baseball season hasn't been plenty entertaining elsewhere. There seems to be as many young stars in the game as ever. We've seen one of the game's most dominating outings ever from Clayton Kershaw just a few weeks ago. And with the recent addition of the extra wild-card spot, 15 of the league's 30 teams sit within five games of a playoff spot.

If the season is anything like it was in the first half, we'll all be in for a treat even after the Cubs and White Sox make moves for the future.  Sowithout further ado, here are your first-half awards.

Biggest surprise: Milwaukee Brewers

Before 2014, most thought the Brewers would finish closer to the bottom of the NL Central than the top, but their 5 1/2-game lead is the biggest in the game. Kyle Lohse has been very good as the ace, Jonathan Lucroy has gotten on base more than 40 percent of the time and Carlos Gomez has solidified himself as one of the game's best. Time will tell if some of the Brewers veterans can hold up in the second half, but after three NL Central teams made the postseason a year ago, virtually nobody outside of Wisconsin saw this coming three months ago.
Runners-up: Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners

Biggest flop: Texas Rangers

Murphy's Law says that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. All-Star acquisition Prince Fielder had just 178 plate appearances before being shelved for the year while Texas can't seem to get any of its starting pitchers to stay healthy, having had 10 different pitchers make multiple starts this year. It was supposed to be different for the Rangers this year with the additions of Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, but at 37-47, they're just two games better than the tanking Houston Astros, despite investing roughly $92 million more in their payroll.
Runners-up:  Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays

AL MVP: Mike Trout

It feels like this is more than the third year that Trout has dominated the American League, but he's having perhaps his best season to date. His OPS is the highest of his career (1.014), he's on pace to set a career high in homers (19 now, 30 is career-high), and he will most likely tally 100 runs and 100 walks yet again. He's the best player in the game, a title he will hold until further notice.
Runners Up:  Edwin Encarnacian, Josh Donaldson

NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton

I'm sure someone will immediately ask – "Why not Tulo!?!?" Go look at Troy Tulowitzki's home/road splits. You'll notice his batting average it 182 points higher at home and his OPS is 479 points better at home. Don't get me wrong, Tulo has been great, but Stanton has been the best player in the National League, home and away. Just because nobody in Miami gives a darn about the Marlins, you can't punish Stanton, who leads the NL with 21 homers and 61 RBIs.
Runners-up: Troy Tulowitzki, Jonathan Lucroy

AL Cy Young: Masahiro Tanaka

Instant impact, anyone?  Tanaka leads the AL in ERA, wins and complete games while having the best pitcher's WAR of anyone in baseball this season. The Yankees are 12-4 in his starts. In the 67 games without him starting, they're just 29-38.
Runners-up: Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish, Mark Buehrle

NL Cy Young: Adam Wainwright

If I have one game to win, I'm putting Clayton Kershaw out there. But at this point of a season, 37 fewer innings thrown is a ton, and that's the difference between Wainwright and Kershaw. This one's plenty likely to change by the end of the season, but Wainwright's 1.89 ERA leads leads all of baseball. (Arrieta has compiled his 1.81 ERA in only 64 2/3 innings; Waingwight's thrown 116).
Runners-up: Johnny Cueto, Julio Therean

AL Manager of the Year: John Gibbons

This was a tough one. Sure, the AL East has been a dud this year, but Gibbons' Blue Jays have taken advantage despite being viewed as probably the fourth-best division team leaving spring training. Toronto currently has a one-game lead over Baltimore, but after the flop of last year, it's hard not to give it to Gibbons for having the Blue Jays in first place.  If Toronto or Baltimore ends up winning the East, that'll be your winner.
Runners-up: Buck Showalter, Bob Melvin

NL Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke

This is one of the most obvious answers to me on the list. The Brewers weren't expected to do much in what was supposed to be a stacked division, but everything Roenicke has done has seemed to work to date for Milwaukee, which holds the largest current lead of any division leader and seems headed for the postseason, something that seemed extremely unlikely three short months ago.
Runners-up: Bruce Bochy, Mike Redmond

AL Rookie of the Year: Masahiro Tanaka

White Sox fans won't be happy, but that's fine. Tanaka has been the best pitcher in the game this season, leading the league in a number of stats mentioned above.  And yes, Jose Abreu is an elite power bat, but compare his numbers besides home runs to the best hitters in the American League and they don't stack up the way Tanaka's do against the rest of the game's best pitchers.
Runners-up: Jose Abreu, George Springer

NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton

As strong as the American League was, the National League lacks that much in firepower. Anyone of the three I listed in the AL would run away with the NL award, but with Reds outfielder Hamilton coming of age the last month, he seems like the only obvious pick here.  I'd like to see his on-base percentage and stolen base percentage both rise considerably before I say he's the star in the making that some see.
Runners-up: Chris Owings, Gregory Polonco (that's how weak the field is -- he's only played 20 games)

Agree or disagree with some or all of these?  Let me know in the comments section or by tweeting me @shep670. Even though it won't bring a whole lot of wins in Chicago, I hope everyone enjoys the second half of what's been another solid season.

Nick Shepkowski is a weekend host at 670 The Score and produces The McNeil and Spiegel Show each weekday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m..  You can find all of his work here and follow him on Twitter @Shep670.  

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