Despite losing the All-Star game again and having lost 7 of the last 10 World Series, there are still great players in the National League. Here's a look at the best and brightest of the 1st half of the 2006 season.
Albert Pujols was on his way to a monster - okay more of a monster year than usual - prior to straining an oblique muscle. The wunderkind has still managed to put up .316-29-76 numbers despite missing 12 games. Pujols will probably win the award at the end of the season.
Ryan Howard has had a huge 1st half for a struggling Phillies ball club. Of course those struggles are primarily due to their woeful pitching. Howard has hit a number of tape measure shots on his way to a .278-28-71 first half. However, he has already struck out a staggering 97 times and is a horrible 1st baseman.
The Mets have a triumvirate of players that are MVP worthy. Lead off man Jose Reyes is the sparkplug that ignites the Mets engine. Reyes put up mediocre overall numbers in the first 2 months of the season, but has hit .384 since then to raise his average to .300. He's distributed his hits with 19 doubles, 12 triples, and 8 home runs. He's also showed tremendous range and a strong arm at shortstop.
David Wright is the biggest up and coming star in the competitive NY baseball market. Wright just finished as the runner-up in the All-Star game's home run derby and then added a home run in the game itself. The first half has seen him hit 20 home runs to go along with 74 RBI and a .316 average. Wright's been clutch as evidenced by his .361 average with RISP and .342 with RISP and 2 outs. The only real hole in his game right now is his inconsistency on defense.
Carlos Beltran was nearly booed out of NY last season after failing to live up to his contract. He started slowly again this year and heard the all too familiar boos. Since then Beltran has lived up to expectations. His .279-25-68 plus 12 steals has solidified him as the team's number 3 hitter. He's also one of the smoothest center fielders in the business.
The Mets have the best record in the NL and it has truly been a team effort. I would say Wright is the MVP of the team by a slight margin. But the NL 1st half MVP will go to the aforementioned Albert Pujols.
Runner Up - David Wright
NL CY YOUNG
Plenty of contenders here. Brandon Webb, Jason Schmidt, Brad Penny, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Zambrano, Chris Young and many more.
Carlos Zambrano was my pre-season pick for the season ending award. He was beyond miserable in April, going 0-2 with a 5.35 ERA and walked 25 batters in only 33 2-3 innings! Must have needed warmer weather - he posted a 1.92 ERA over his next 11 starts and was 6-1.
Brandon Webb got off to a phenomenal start - he won his first 8 decisions before losing 3 of his last 4. Webb stood at 8-0, 2.00 entering June and then had a clunker 5.08 for the month.
Tom Glavine has turned back the clock to the tune of an 11-2 mark and an All-Star selection. One wonders though if wear and tear is starting to show. Glavine had a sub 3.00 ERA for both April and May, but has barely been under 5 since. His innings pitched have also diminished.
Pedro Martinez started out well, but a hip injury led to some poor or mediocre outings before it landed him on the DL.
The award comes down to the Dodgers Brad Penny and the Giants Jason Schmidt. Penny was selected as the NL starter in the All-Star game but that was more by default than on merit. Penny has been a model of consistency all year and one of the big reasons the Dodgers are in contention in the NL West.
But this award is going to go to Jason Schmidt despite a bad April. That's because his overall performance, especially hits per inning allowed, has been tremendous. Schmidt will be one of the free agent prizes this off-season especially if he continues the way he's pitching right now. His record only stands at 6-5, but that's been due to the Giants lack of run production. The Giants have scored 5 runs total in Schmidt's 5 losses. The NL is hitting just .216 against him (he's given up only 98 hits in 126 1-3 innings) and he has a better than 2-1 strikeout to walk ratio. And his ERA since that poor 1st month is a nice 2.16.
Runner Up - Brad Penny
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
This is a tough one. There's so much mediocrity in the NL that it's hard to choose. Willie Randolph has done a fine job with the Mets, but they are a far better ball club than the rest of the NL. Tony LaRussa has the Cards on top of the NL Central once again, but that's more about the rest of the division's ineptitude.
The winner here quite easily is the guy that people thought should get his head examined before the season or at least find a loophole in his contract. Practically his entire team was dealt off or left as a free agent over the winter. The Florida Marlins stood at 11-31 after 7th straight loss on May 21. Since that time the NL manager of the year Joe Girardi to a 27-17 mark. Girardi has helped instill confidence in a team led by young veterans Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. The Marlins young starting staff has been a pleasant surprise as well as the rise of relative unknowns like All-Star 2nd baseman Dan Uggla.
Runner Up - Jerry Narron
NL COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
When Nomar Garciaparra landed on the disabled list at the start of the season, the phrase "hear we go again" was heard often. But now healthy Nomar has bounced back big time. His .358 average is less than 1 percentage point behind the NL's leader, Freddy Sanchez. Garciaparra leads the Dodgers in home runs (11) and RBI (53) as well as doubles, hits, and has a 1.004 OPS. Nomar definitely loves LA.