Guide to Post-season Cheering: NL Edition

So the Giants are on the doorstep of shattering all of our hopes and dreams for a repeat. Die hard baseball fans will still watch baseball, but it’s always better when you have a team or a couple of teams to root for. There are some important protocols and criteria for choosing your “adopted” baseball squad.  Choose carefully.  If you pull for a wrong team, you could be guilty of baseball blasphemy.

First lets discuss the rules.  They are very simple rules.

  1. They can’t be the Dodgers.  (That is easy.  LA sucks and won’t make the playoffs ever again).
  2. They can’t be the Braves.  I’ll explain a little more later, but seriously, does anyone question this rule?
  3. The team must possess minimal former Dodgers. (Former Giants are a bonus but not essential).
  4. The team must not have beat us (Giants) in any critical postseason events.

Arizona:

We will start here because this one is easy. On the surface, the novice fan may want to root for the D-backs because if they win it all, we automatically get second. That is a faulty amateur theory. Let’s dive in. Look at the manager of the team. Kirk Gibson is the skipper and that immediately eliminates the team from our rooting choices. Nobody wants a postseason filled with highlights of a gimpy, former Dodger Kirk rounding the bases, rockin’ a pathetic mustache and Jack Buck complaining how he can’t believe what he just saw. Get some glasses Jack. It’s a home run. I believed it, I just hated it granted I was 8). Rule 4 is safe and in addition, Arizona isn’t a great rival of ours even though if they play in our division. They only have 2 former Dodgers, but they are eliminated by their manager. They could be in the running if they would fire Gibby and hire third base coach Matt Williams. Oh yes, I said Matt Williams. Breathe in the nostalgia.

Arizona Out!!!

Atlanta Braves:

Another easy decision. Ok seriously, in the National League, the Braves fall a very close second to the Dodgers in the hate category. Do you really want to watch a postseason with that stupid tomahawk chant? Nope. But let’s talk about the rules.Obviously, they violate rule 2. Amazingly enough, the Braves have never knocked the Giants out of the post-season. That is, in part, because the Giants didn’t make the postseason a whole lot in the 90’s. In addition, in 2002 and 2010, the Giants had to go through the Braves to get to the World Series and the Braves rolled over like well-trained poodles (and we are grateful). So why the hate? Did I mention the chant?  Or the fans. Second worst fans in all of baseball. (Seriously who would willingly DO that chant?) I guess the rest of us got sick of them in the 90’s and the rest is just a bad hangover.  The only thing the Braves have going for them is that they aren’t the Dodgers. The Braves have a decent Dodger ratio with 3 players being former Dodgers. Not bad, but rule 2 is in effect. It’s the rules… it’s science.

Atlanta Out!!!

Milwaukee Brewers:

Ok this is another tricky one. The Brewers are always terrible and who doesn’t love a good underdog story. Next year, they will probably break apart the team so this is pretty much their shot. Let’s break it down by the rules. Rule 1 and 2 are off to a tremendous start. They aren’t the Dodgers and they aren’t the Braves. Fab! They have 3 former Dodgers on the team which isn’t bad. But they have K-Rod. Ok, so this is a tricky part to rule 4. Technically the Brewers never beat the Giants….But K-Rod did….In the freakin World Series. Ask yourself this: if he were to play in a game you were watching, how would you deal with the emotional trauma you are bound to encounter. Are you ready to deal with that? I’m not. Especially with the way this season is ending, I need happy thoughts. K-Rod brings back angry thoughts… sad thoughts.  It wouldn’t be baseball blasphemy to pick the Brewers, but I just can’t do it.

Brewers Out!!!

Philadelphia Phillies:

Philly is my pick for the National League. They satisfy all of the rules. I am not usually a Philly fan. In fact, I have never pulled for them in a post-season. However, they satisfy rule 1 and 2. They have 2 players that are former Dodgers which is better than all the other teams that are in. Yes, Charlie Manuel played for the Dodgers but he wasn’t that great. He definitely never made it to the infamous status of Kirk Gibson. Therefore, they are a much better pick than Arizona when it comes down to rule 3. Rule 4 should be a tie because no team has really kicked us out of too many playoff games. However, I prefer the Phillies for this rule because last year we beat them to win the NL. This year, we will be sitting in our libraries that smell of rich mahogany, drinking our finest scotch, smoking our best pipes, and we can confidently say “They aren’t that good, we owned those guys last year.”

Go Philly!

(-JS)

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What Really Happened at the Game Monday Night

My lovely wife and I were able to attend the Braves/Giants game on the 16th, and I decided to record the events of the evening and post them here in a live journal format. Enjoy!

5:15 PM: My wife and I arrive at Turner Field. If you’ve never been it’s a lovely stadium and some really cool things in it. Like a gluten-free food stand for my celiac affected wife. Big points Turner Field. Big points.

6:15: After watching the Giants batting practice and being unable to get any autographs, photographs or promises of a first-born child named after me, Kristen and I head up to get some grub and enjoy our seats.

6:45: While we watched the grounds crew water the infield I couldn’t help but think that they would be touching more infield territory than the Giants hitters would be.

6:50: The Tomahawk Girls shoot t-shirts into the stands. I wonder how many grown men will fall over themselves to get one. I put the over/under at 12 and I’m picking over.

6:57: Ceremonial first pitch. How do I get to do one of these?

7:04: My wife claps for the Braves players as they take the field. I remind her she’s decked out in Giants gear. I move 3 seats away.

7:07: The Braves PA guy keeps referring to this as the epic rematch from last year’s NLDS. Frankly I’ll be ok losing the rematch since, you know, we won the World Series. I mean seriously dude, are these 2 series even comparable?

7:11: First pitch. Aaron Rowand already struck out twice.

7:12: Cody Ross grounds out. This bodes well. Or not.

7:14: Jeff Keppinger breaks up Tim Hudsons no-hitter. Go Giants!

7:22: Bases are loaded with Brandon Belt coming up. My hopes are beyond high.

7:23: Belt flys out. Hopes crushed.

7:25: Pablo goes down after fouling a ball off of his foot. He’s replaced by Mike Fotenot. I can smell the runs!!!!

7:28: Madison Bumgarner loses his no hitter. To a Home Run. To Brian McCann on his first at bat back from injury. Goodie.

7:46: Orlando Cabrera is way too short. There should be 2 outs right now if this dude even was just wearing heels.

7:52: Saw a “Your beard is weird” sign. These people are so uneducated. How can they not appreciate its awesomeness? Side note: My wife is wearing a Fear the Beard shirt. She looks more beautiful than the day I married her.

8:10: Looks like another Giants inning of futility until Michael Bourn channels his inner Jose Canseco and bounces a ball off of his head.

8:34: Jeff Keppinger decides he’s had enough guff and makes Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman pay for standing in front of First Base as he legs out a base hit. Gamer.

8:36: Note: Mike Fontenot does not bat like Pablo.

8:51: Big Nate shows us what scoring looks like! GO GIANTS!

8:59: My good friend Devin texts me to go streaking on the field. I consider it.

9:03: Orlando Cabrera decides he prefers the ball to not stay in his glove, and would rather see Braves on the bases as opposed to getting out of the inning. Interesting strategy.

9:09: Dan Uggla makes one of the best plays I’ve ever seen a Second Baseman make. He was practically parallel to the ground throwing a ball to first. Even I have to applaud that play.

9:12: Cody Ross is out. Again. But the bigger news this time is Michael Bourn remembered this was baseball, not soccer, and he used his hands instead of his head to catch the ball.

9:22: Correction! Mike Fontenot DOES hit like Pablo! HR baby!

9:37: Top of the 9th, Giants up by 2, so why am I having panic attacks rather than trust the defending World Champions to hold a lead?

9:45: The Legendary Brian Wilson takes the mound. Children around the world rejoice, yet not the fans in Atlanta curiously enough. This is confusing to me, are there actually people who dislike Brian Wilson? How do you dislike the guy? He reeks of awesomeness. Then I realize this is not hate-booing. That is, not booing because you despise a player, like what I do when Shane Victorino comes to bat. He’s not ARod, or Barry Bonds or any other player that fans genuinely HATE. He’s probably the most charismatic and awesome character baseball has seen in decades. So he isn’t booed out of hate, but because it’s fun for the opposing team to boo him because of who he is. This makes me feel better, but still hoping he shuts down the Braves, just for giggles.

9:46: Why does Cabrera suck so much? Did he have his fielding ability genetically removed before this game? Holy cow.

10:02 PM: Giants lose on a full count, 2 out, bases loaded base hit. You’ve GOT to be kidding me. Even when we have an offense, it doesn’t matter. Honestly the blame rests with Cabrera, if he realizes the ball is in his glove with that first batter, then you have the pitchers spot coming up with 1 out, and that changes the ball game. Either that or it was a fake Brian Wilson on the mound tonight. Imposter! Still a highly enjoyable experience, and we’re still the World Champions, so I’ll take that.

(-NW)

The Curious Case of Brandon Belt

This offseason I figured the Giants would formulate a Buster Posey-type plan for Brandon Belt: spend two months mashing in AAA, build some confidence after a rocket ascent through the organization in 2010, then come up to the club in early summer, provide a jolt to the offense, and get himself in the conversation for Rookie of the Year.

Belt, I thought, would provide another great contrast with a young Braves star (first baseman Freddie Freeman). Just as Posey and Jason Heyward chased the hardware together last year, Belt and Freeman seemed destined to be intertwined in 2011 . While Freeman has had a great season (after a slow start), no such luck for Belt.

Grant Bisbee wrote an excellent article contrasting the players and the organizational philosophies that have driven the fates of their 2011 seasons. I don’t want to replicate that so I’ll offer another counterpoint to the Giants approach with Belt.

In 2007 the Boston Red Sox made an all-out organizational commitment to Dustin Pedroia, the likes of which I have never seen the Giants make with a position player. Pedroia got his first call up in late August 2006 and finished his six-week stint with 2 home runs, a .191 average, .258 on base percentage, while slugging .303. Not great at all.

Good enough, though, for Theo Epstein and the Sox to name him their starting 2B for 2007. They elected not to resign Mark Loretta, and really only had Alex Cora as a back up. He rewarded them with an April line of .182/.308/.236 with 0 HR and only 2 RBI. Red Sox nation was up in arms. “Get rid of the kid, he’s not ready, he’s too small, etc!” After going 0 for 3 on May 1st, his average dipped to .172. After that there was no looking back. By the end of May he was up to .308/.394/.433. He finished the year .317/.380/.442 wining the ROY and then helped the Red Sox win the World Series. The next year he was voted the AL MVP. NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE, in Boston has any question about Dustin Pedroia at this point. He is the most loved player on the team and it’s not really close.

Now, the Belt situation is a little different. Pedroia was a high draft pick. He was one of Theo’s pets from one of his first drafts. The 2006 Red Sox missed the playoffs. There was no pressure to bring back a veteran that had just helped them win (ala Aubrey Huff). The team had a lot invested in “the laser show” and they had the patience and commitment to ride out his early struggles.

The problem, for me, is that the Giants have never done this with anyone, not even with Posey. Not everyone should get the long leash the Red Sox gave Pedroia or that the Braves have given Freeman. But I’d love to see the Giants do it with someone at least once. For now, we can only hope Belt stays hot, not just for the sake of the team, but also for his personal development. The dude needs to play!

(-SB)

Evaluations and Ruminations Part II

Yesterday we looked at teams that added pitching (which has a strong correlation to postseason success), and today we will look at teams that added hitting (no correlation to postseason success but very helpful in getting to the postseason).

  1. The Giants: The Giants got the big fish in Carlos Beltran but also added middle infielders Jeff Keppinger and Orlando Cabrera. Considering the Giants have had black holes at 4-5 positions this season and have had to deal with several injuries including two season enders, it made to sense to acquire all that they did. And they did it by surrendering only one legitimate, top of the line, prospect. Still, it feels like ultimate success for this team will only come when parts they’ve had all season (Cody Ross, Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, etc) start producing. B+
  2. The Braves: Atlanta added excellent center fielder and leadoff man Michael Bourn. They fixed the only real problem they had (other than injuries) without giving up any of their “untouchable four”. There is really no way to say this move was not worth it. Well done Braves. A
  3. The Phillies: Hunter Pence is a nice player. He hits some and he fields some and he does it in a very unorthodox fashion. The Phils get bonus points for the fact that Pence will be around for a while (and is a lot cheaper and younger than Jason Werth who he is essentially replacing). That said, and I know this is a crude evaluation tool, I never have Pence on any of my fantasy teams. Bourn I would take, Beltran I have, but Pence I generally avoid. Doesn’t mean he’s a bad player, nor should that have any bearing on real baseball, but it does say something about a player that I actively avoid having him on a fantasy team. There just always seem to be too many other better players. C+
  4. The Red Sox: The Sox added Mike Aviles and I only put him on here to say that he is the guy I wanted the Giants to get. All indications seem to be that the Red Sox overpaid to get him so that makes me feel better. However, I’d take this guy over O-Cab every time. C+
  5. The Pirates: Pittsburg acquired two vets who are in decline but hopefully have something left in the tank. This team could have really used a Bedard-type strikeout pitcher, but they needed some offense too. I don’t know how much Derek Lee and Ryan Ludwick help, but the real story here is Pittsburgh bought and did not sell at the end of July. That’s a win all by itself. C-
  6. The Cardinals: The Red Birds gave up Colby Rasmus and acquired Rafael Furcal. I know that’s not the actual deal, but as their line up goes that’s what happened. Hopefully Edwin Jackson pitches like a monster and Rasmus is never allowed back in the US. I have no idea what this team is thinking. F
Still a lot of baseball left and much will happen with these teams in terms of slumps, hot streaks, waiver claims, minor league call ups, and injuries. Given that, I like the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, and Rangers in the AL with the Rangers making it back to the World Series. In the NL I have the Phillies, Braves, Brewers, and Giants, and I think the Braves might get it done. However, the NL playoffs are going to be epic if those 4 teams make it. It’ll be some amazing October baseball, and anyone could walk away with the pennant and probably be World Champions.
(-SB)

Contenders vs. Pretenders

Earlier in the year I wrote a series of articles that attempted to show the best indicator that a team would win the World Series was a spike in a pitching proficiency. (You can read those articles here, here, and here). My point was, and is (especially in Part 2), a good team sees a measurable jump in the quality of their pitching, leading to a championship. This jump can come from importing talent, seeing its own pitchers improve, or from the emergence of a young arm or two over the course of the season. Due to injuries, fatigue, or simply the inability to add more quality arms no team has been able to produce back-to-back championships in a decade marked by parity, the eradication of PEDs, and the rise of young talented players (especially pitchers).

According to BaseballReference.Com here are the top 10 pitching teams in MLB as measured by ERA+

  1. Phillies
  2. Oakland A’s
  3. Braves
  4. Yankees
  5. Giants
  6. Angels
  7. Seattle
  8. San Diego
  9. Colorado
  10. Pittsburg

Interesting. Oakland is surprising (that they are that high, not that they are good), as are the Yankees and Colorado. Texas is 12th, the White Sox 13th, Boston 14th, Tampa Bay 16th, after Tampa everyone is considered below league average. That includes such contenders as Arizona (17), Cleveland (18), Milwaukee (20), the Reds (22), St. Louis (25), and, very surprisingly, Detroit at 26th.

Keep in mind though, that the goal is have a big jump not to necessarily be the best pitching team in the league. So, who has made the jump? Let’s have a look:

  • 2010 Phillies: 7.3 K/9, 3.67 ERA, 110 ERA+, 1.25 WHIP
  • 2011 Phillies:  7.6 K/9, 3.02 ERA, 128 ERA+, 1.16 WHIP
That certainly profiles like a team on the Championship march. We’ll skip the A’s since they are quite out of it at this point (demonstrating that you do need offense to win games in MLB).
  • 2010 Braves: 7.8 K/9, 3.56 ERA, 112 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP
  • 2011 Braves: 7.9, 3.12, 123, 1.19
Again, all excellent improvements for the Braves making them a serious contender. Not that we didn’t know that all ready but both these NL East teams fit the profile to a T.
  • 2010 Yankees: 7.2 K/9, 4.06 ERA, 106 ERA+, 1.31 WHIP
  • 2011 Yankees: 7.0, 3.54 , 117, 1.30
The Yankees are interesting. They certainly have seen improvement, but how lucky has it been? How long can Colon and Garcia and the rest keep this up? Their BABIP is right in line with the league average, but something tells me they are in for a correction (see last night vs. the Blue Jays).
  • 2010 Giants 8.2 K/9, 3.36 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP
  • 2011 Giants: 8.1, 3.18, 116, 1.22
Bottom line: the Giants are still nasty. One thing that is interesting to me is that it appears they’ve cut down a bit on the walks/baserunners. Anecdotally that doesn’t seem true (thank you Jonathan Sanchez) but there you go. It’s not a dramatic improvement, but they didn’t need one (and keep in mind they didn’t actually improve dramatically last year either…this is a three-year run of greatness).
  • 2010 Angels: 7.0 K/9, 4.04 ERA, 99 ERA+, 1.37 WHIP
  • 2011 Angels: 6.8, 3.26, 115, 1.24
Another team that fits the profile well. Interesting that their team strikeout rate is down (their best pitcher, Jered Weaver, is up). The Angels are going to be tough the rest of the way. I’m going to skip Seattle, San Diego, and Colorado since none of those teams are in serious contention right now (although I might regret that decision later in the month).
  • 2010 Pirates: 6.5 K/9, 5.00 ERA, 80 ERA+, 1.49 WHIP
  • 2011 Pirates: 6.2, 3.46, 109, 1.32
How about that for a dramatic improvement…from well below average to nicely above. There are a few things to worry about here: they still don’t strikeout a ton of guys and they give up too many baserunners. They have solid defense and guys that keep the ball on the ground (less than one HR per 9 innings). But, I wonder how this will hold up over the last two and a half months.
That’s it for now. Next post I’ll look at some of the other division leaders/contenders to see who else has improved, but for now it seems like everyone is chasing the Phils and the Braves.
(-SB)

Forecasting the Future (or something like that)

The All-Star game helped to highlight the one truth that we know from 2011. The National League has some good pitchers. Sure, the AL had 4-5 great arms unavailable for various reasons, but so did the NL. Pitching has been the story of the season all around, but I am still amazed at how deep the NL is with pitchers. Soon I’ll have a post up regarding how my pitching ideas factor in the pennant races, but for now here is my gut level feel about the rest of the season:

AL EAST

I’ve been touting the Rays all year and by all appearances they are done but shouldn’t have what it takes to finish in the top 2 in a strong division. Disagree. Still think the Rays have a better shot than the Yankees over the full schedule. Red Sox and Rays as division winner and wild carder, respectively.

AL CENTRAL

So, I picked the Twins at the beginning of the season, then the White Sox, and it makes a ton of sense to choose the Tigers at this point (all the while the Indians remain very much in the hunt and they are the team I’d love to see win it, but I still don’t believe). I might be back in on the Twins, though. 6.5 out. The next two weeks are super important for them. If they tank, they’ll trade some guys and regroup for next year. If they get close to .500 look out, it may be another Minnesota Miracle. I’m going to go out on a very precarious limb and say I’m on the Twins bandwagon. They just might get healthy and hot and take this thing after all.

AL WEST

A minor subplot here is a bet I’ve had since opening day with my friend Kevin. If the Angels win more games than the A’s he gets to write a guest post telling the world what an idiot I am. Right now he’s got to be feeling pretty comfortable. He might even be on his third or fourth draft. The Angels aren’t terrible and I need to look at the pitching numbers to confirm some suspicions I have that they may end up winning this division. Today, though, I’m predicting a slide by Weaver and Haren and the Rangers hold on to win the west again.

NL EAST

Told you the Braves were pretty good right! A lot has gone wrong with the offense and a ton has gone right with the pitching. (This might be blasphemy on a Giants blog, but pitcher for pitcher is there a better staff top to bottom than the Braves? The Phillies have a slight advantage in a couple of statistical areas but that’s a top-heavy staff…I think it’s a good debate: Giants vs. Braves for deepest/strongest staff in all of baseball). Nice work by the Mets and Nationals to be at .500 and the Marlins are coming back a bit after being punished for the sins of Scott Cousins. Best division in baseball? Yes. Phillies win, Braves take the Wild Card easily and have the second best record in the NL.

NL CENTRAL

Here’s a good one. The fourth place Reds are only 4 games out. Anything can happen here and this is the division that might be the most affected by a trade. (Nice job by the Brewers getting K-Rod. He’s a nut job but I think he’ll behave himself, prove he can be a good citizen, and pitch great as a set up man in order to get a big contract this offseason). I don’t think the Brew Crew can pull off much more in the trade market, so we’ll have to see what the other teams do in response. None of these teams have three starters like Grienke, Marcum, and Gallardo and so I still believe Milwaukee is the team to beat in this four horse race. 

NL WEST

Giants win the west, simple as that. More importantly, despite all the rumoring and posturing over the last few days, I don’t think the Giants get Beltran and if they do make a move it will be a minor move (or moves). Even if I’m wrong and they do get Beltran, the fact remains: the Giants need improved production up and down the lineup, especially out of the leadoff spot and at SS, 2B, and C. Carlos Beltran solves none of those problems, so ultimately, big trade or not, the G-men must look internally to get some kind of sustainable offense going.

More to come in the near future as I examine which teams fit the pitching model for a run at the World Series.

(-SB)

Mid Season Evaluation

Well this has certainly been an interesting first half hasn’t it? Between Pittsburg, Arizona, Cleveland and Seattle I don’t know anything about baseball anymore.

AL East: Yes, the Rays are still in this thing, but I think as the season goes along you’ll see that this is going to become a two-horse race between the Red Sox and the Yankees. Boston’s pitching scares me, but not in the good way. Lester is good, Beckett is great, and you got nothing else. But New York doesn’t exactly have the Big 5 either, honestly they are hoping and praying that Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon don’t fall apart and that CC Sabathia can pitch with 1 days rest, because that is what they’ll need to win the Division or the World Series this year. As far as offense goes, New York looks good with Texiera, Granderson and Cano while Boston has a VERY good Adrian Gonzalez. Boston is my pick still to win the division, but I think I’m putting the Yanks as my new Wild Card winners.

AL Central: This division makes less than no sense. Seriously. The only thing I know about this division is that the Royals won’t win it. But the Twins? The White Sox? Both are possible now! What the world. My pick remains Detroit though, but I have a feeling this division will cause me to change my picks about 15 times in the last two weeks of the season. Why Detroit? As much as I love the resurgence of the Indians, they don’t have Justin Verlander. Verlander has been RIDICULOUS this season, and that reason is why Detroit can hold off anyone else to win.

AL West: I don’t even want to write about this terrible division. The Rangers are my pick still. That is all.

NL East: Until yesterday I was 100% confident that the Phillies would win this decision, and while they are still my pick, my doubt is starting to rise. This has nothing to do with the Phillies, and everything to do with the Atlanta Braves, who are still my NL Wild Card pick. The Braves are being led by amazing pitching and some really good hitting, especially from Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman. With how good Atlanta is playing, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this division get very competitive by the end of the season, especially if the Phillies keep playing hurt.

NL Central: This is also a wacky division this season. The Cardinals are good, despite having gone over a month without either Matt Holliday or Albert Pujols on their roster, Lance Berkman suddenly decided to hit home runs this year, and they have no closer (literally no closer. It’s rotated between like, 3 guys), yet are in first place as of this writing. The Brewers are somehow being completely ignored, even though they have amazing hitting and some really good starting pitching. To add to the wackiness, the Reds are still hanging around and the Pirates are playing above .500 baseball for the first time since the 1890’s. (Not a real fact). Brewers still win this because of Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks , Prince Fielder and Shaun Marcum.

NL West: Someone explain to me how the Giants are in first place still? The hitting is atrocious, but thankfully we have one of, if not the best, rotation in the Majors and probably the best bullpen in baseball also. Giants still win this division, but the D-Backs and Rockies will give me heart attacks all the way until October.

First Half AL MVP: Wow. My pick of Adam Dunn was a little off wasn’t it? First half MVP has to be Adrian Gonzalez. Sure you can make a case for Paul Konerko and Jose Bautista, but Gonzalez is putting up some crazy wild offensive numbers and is probably the biggest reason the Red Sox are so good right now.

First Half AL Cy Young: You can make a great case for CC Sabathia, Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Jon Lester and David Price, among others. I’m voting Verlander. He has a 2.86 ERA, .88 WHIP, 138 K’s, 31 walks (!!!!) and an opponent batting average of .187. ONE EIGHTY SEVEN. Craziness! Weaver is putting up numbers that are just as good, but Verlander also has a no-hitter this season, either way there has been some GREAT pitching in the AL in 2011.

First Half NL MVP: Prince Fielder, no question. You can make a good case for Matt Kemp, and an excellent case for Jose Reyes, but I’m in the unique position of having in-laws who are Brewers fans and have the MLB Extra innings package, so I’ve gotten to see Prince play, and there really is nobody as valuable to his team as him. The Mets aren’t going anywhere this season and neither are the Dodgers (yay!) but the Brewers hitting is anchored by Fielder. Yes, Ryan Braun is a huge asset and Rickie Weeks is going nuts, but without Prince and his NL leading 72 RBI, they aren’t tied for first in the Central.

First Half NL Cy Young: Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Jair Jurrjens are your top NL pitchers, but I think Halladay takes this award. This only reason I’m holding out on Jurrjens is his total K’s are lower (due to injury) and a higher ERA than Roy. Roy is nutty. Just plain nutty on the mound. Crazy good stats, crazy good strikeout rate and is just crazy good. Like have you actually seen him pitch a game? Ridiculous.

(-NW)