The list of players who were the most valuable on their team through the first half of the 2014 baseball season includes usual suspects such as Andrew McCutchen, Troy Tulowitzki, Paul Goldschmidt, Felix Hernandez and David Price.
As with every season, though, a crop of players emerged as though out of the corn stalks in "Field of Dreams" to rise to prominence.
Utility man Brock Holt bounced up and down between the Boston Red Sox and Triple-A Pawtucket throughout April, getting sent down the second time even though he was batting .348. When he finally returned in mid-May, he became a lineup mainstay (albeit at multiple positions) and a reliable leadoff man.
The fact that Holt is the Red Sox's midseason MVP says nearly as much about him as it does about the defending World Series champions, who are tied for last place in the American League East.
Who foresaw right-hander Alfredo Simon making the Cincinnati Reds' rotation — let alone emerging as a top performer'
San Diego Padres right-hander Tyson Ross began the year with a career 9-26 record. He reaches midseason as a first-time All-Star.
Here are the first-half MVPs of all 30 teams as determined by The Sports Xchange's correspondents in every city:
1B Paul Goldschmidt posted the best offensive numbers in the National League in 2013 -- you could look it up -- and he had an even better first half this year. He leads the majors with 36 doubles and is the only player with at least 25 doubles and 15 homers at the break. He is doing that despite constant interference from opposing managers -- he walked 26 times in his past 23 games, continuing a trend that began in the second half of what easily could have been an MVP season in 2013.
SS Troy Tulowitzki is one of the best players in the game this season, one who can impact a game on both offense and defense. He stayed healthy, unlike some past seasons, thanks to a very disciplined diet and exercise routine, and he is putting together what could turn out to be his best year. He is hitting .345 with 21 home runs and 52 RBIs along with a .435 on-base percentage and a .613 slugging percentage and nearly as many walks (48) as strikeouts (55). At Coors Field, Tulowitzki is batting an otherworldly .417/.497/.748 with 14 home runs in 163 at-bats compared to a more pedestrian .265/.367/.463 on the road with seven homers in 147 at-bats. Tulowitzki also is routinely brilliant in the field.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
When LHP Clayton Kershaw had a very uncharacteristic start in Arizona on May 17 (allowing seven runs in just 12/3 innings), the Dodgers were just two games over .500 and trailed the San Francisco Giants in the NL West by four games. Since then, Kershaw has had one of the most dominant runs of any pitcher in years -- 9-1, 0.97 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 74 innings with a no-hitter and a 41-inning scoreless streak. Pitching will be key for the Dodgers in the second half, and Kershaw is critical to that.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
There is a reason why 6-foot-5 RHP Tyson Ross made the National League All-Star team. He allowed one or fewer earned runs in 10 of his 20 starts and two or fewer earned runs in 14 starts. However, the Padres scored two or fewer runs (including zero four times) in 11 of his starts. That explains the 7-10 record despite a 2.85 ERA. And he's getting better. Ross has a 1.75 ERA over his last five starts -- and a 1-4 record.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
CF Angel Pagan scored about half as many runs as RF Hunter Pence and drove in less than half as many as LF Michael Morse. However, only two numbers matter when you seek to determine Pagan's value to the Giants: .667 and .455. The former was the Giants' best-in-baseball winning percentage on the day Pagan's back began bothering him. The latter is the Giants' winning percentage since then. Pagan, who is hitting .307 with 11 steals in 63 games, hopes to return immediately after the All-Star break.
SS Starlin Castro bounced back from a miserable 2013, a year in which he hit a career-low .245 with just 44 RBIs. So far this season, the 24-year-old shortstop is batting .276 with 103 hits, 11 home runs and 52 RBIs in 93 games. His average and hits rank second among major league shortstops. Castro was named to his third All-Star Game this month, just the third Cubs shortstop so honored. Honorable mention goes to 1B Anthony Rizzo, an All-Star who is batting .276 with 20 home runs — third in the National League — and 49 RBIs.
CF Billy Hamilton, 3B Todd Frazier and RHP Johnny Cueto had strong first halves, but it is hard to fathom where the Reds would be without RHP Alfredo Simon, who moved into the rotation out of spring training while RHP Mat Latos recovered from offseason knee and elbow surgery. Simon is tied for the National League lead with 12 victories and has amassed career highs in starts and innings. Six of Simon's victories followed Cincinnati losses. Simon remained in the rotation even after Latos returned in mid-June.
CF Carlos Gomez deserves plenty of consideration, but the nod has to go to C Jonathan Lucroy, who hit .315 with nine home runs, 32 doubles and 44 RBIs in the first half. After winning his first spot on the NL All-Star team via the players' vote, he will start now that Cardinals C Yadier Molina is out with an injury. Lucroy not only is Milwaukee's most consistent hitter but is one of the best receivers in the game, even though his caught-stealing numbers were tainted by some poor infield play.
Andrew McCutchen was the National League most valuable player a year ago when he helped the Pirates break their streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons, the longest run in major North American professional team sports history. The center fielder is playing even better this season and has a chance to repeat as MVP. He is hitting .323 with 17 home runs and 61 RBIs while going 15-for-15 in stolen-base attempts in 93 games.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
RHP Adam Wainwright is having the best season of his career. In a year when the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto will it a crowded NL Cy Young Award ballot, Wainwright is off to a 12-4 start with a 1.83 ERA. Mixing his pitches better than before and introducing tactics like a hesitation windup and increased use of the cutter, Wainwright continually stays a step ahead of batters. He is averaging more than seven innings a start, allowing manager Mike Matheny to use his bullpen more on days when Wainwright isn't pitching, knowing the relief corps largely will get a breather when it is Wainwright's turn.
Although he experienced a few dry spells, 1B Freddie Freeman continues to be the team's most consistent regular. Freeman, an All-Star for the second season, hit .295 with 28 doubles and 13 home runs in the first half. He finished strong, collecting multiple hits in five of the 10 last games before the break. Freeman is an iron man, too, starting every game for Atlanta. He also is proving to be an exceptional fielder.
RF Giancarlo Stanton is tied for the National League lead in homers (21) and atop the NL chart in RBIs (63) — and doing so while playing in a pitchers' park. Stanton is the lone Marlins batter whom opponents consistently pitch around. Stanton, who can become a free agent after the 2016 season, is the Miami player most general managers around the league would most want to acquire. Besides having enormous power and strength, Stanton is tremendously improved on defense, and his batting average is up nearly 50 points from last season. In addition, he has very good speed and baserunning instincts for a power hitter as well as a solid arm.
NEW YORK METS
Defensive flaws and a rising price tag mean 2B Daniel Murphy may not be a long-term building block, but an All-Star first-half proved why the Mets need to find more players like Murphy. In addition to bringing intensity, durability and an unyielding work ethic, Murphy is a pure hitter who is unfazed by homer-unfriendly Citi Field. He is on pace to hit at least .285 with 35-plus doubles for a third straight year, and he is likely to rank among the NL's top three in hits for a second consecutive season.
2B Chase Utley gets the nod after being named to his sixth National League All-Star team. It is also the first time he was selected for the squad since 2010. The 35-year-old got off to a sizzling start, hitting .321 through the end of May. Though he slipped to .240 in June, he bounced back to hit .292 with two homers and nine RBIs so far in July. He remains a model of professionalism, preparing himself meticulously and playing hard every night.
2B Anthony Rendon could make a case for being the team's MVP based just on his hitting. However, the fact he began the season at second base, then played third base when Ryan Zimmerman was injured, speaks to his value. Rendon made some fabulous plays at third base before slipping back to second — the position he manned most of last season — once Zimmerman came off the disabled list. Rendon also was flexible in the lineup. He settled into the No. 2 spot in the order but also batted in every spot but ninth (including four times at leadoff). He is hitting .287 with 24 doubles, 13 homers and 55 RBIs.
2B Jose Altuve, the Astros' lone All-Star, is the first player in major league history to reach the break with 130-plus hits and 40-plus steals. He leads the American League in hits (130) and steals (41), and he ranks second in batting average (.335). Altuve is on pace to eclipse the club records for hits (210, Craig Biggio, 1998) and steals (65, Gerald Young, 1988). Astoundingly, Altuve was caught stealing only three times in the season's first half.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
OF Mike Trout's sustained excellence in hitting, fielding and running make him a generation-defining talent. However, RHP Garrett Richards — who had a career record of 11-13 entering this season — emerged as the staff's ace in his second full major league season, and he edges his All-Star teammate for midseason MVP. Richards is 11-2 with a 2.55 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 1231/3 innings. Opponents are hitting just .196 against him. Making Richards' contribution more valuable are RHP Jered Weaver's rapidly declining velocity, LHP C.J. Wilson's midseason funk, LHP Tyler Skaggs' inconsistency and LHP Hector Santiago's ineffectiveness. Also, Richards is the only member of the rotation who has not experienced physical problems this season.
Derek Norris, John Jaso and Stephen Vogt, Oakland's three catchers, share the award. The Athletics' catching situation was so shaky last season that GM Billy Beane had to go out and reacquire old pal Kurt Suzuki for the stretch run. Now, the club features such a potent trio, manager Bob Melvin has nights when he pencils Jaso and Vogt atop the batting order … and neither is catching. Jaso sometimes serves as the designated hitter with Vogt at first base. Norris, Jaso and Vogt combined to hit a Johnny Bench-like .299 with 19 home runs and 82 RBIs in the first half of the season. Who needs Suzuki'
RHP Felix Hernandez is having one of his best seasons, and a rejuvenated offense rewarded him with victories — something that didn't always happen in the past. Hernandez (11-2, 2.12 ERA) possesses Cy Young-type numbers is showing the kind of consistency that could put him into the conversation as being one of the top two or three pitchers in baseball. 2B Robinson Cano was a huge addition, and he gave a needed boost to the offense, but Hernandez is the most valuable Mariner.
It is difficult to imagine where the Rangers would be without All-Star 3B Adrian Beltre. After a slow April in which he missed 14 games, Beltre performed as well as any hitter in the American League. He went 90-for-254 (.364) since the beginning of May to raise his average from .255 to .337. Beltre closed the first half on a 23-for-59 (.390) in his last 16 games. He is doing it by going to every part of the field. "Through all of this turmoil, Beltre continues to be a pro," manager Ron Washington said. "It's very easy to let down mentally. Big-time pros never let down mentally. He's here every day mentally, regardless."
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Rookie 1B Jose Abreu leads the major leagues in home runs (29), is tied for third in RBIs (73) and is 14th in the American League with a .297 average with 94 hits. Even a 14-game stint on the disabled list earlier this season with a sore ankle didn't slow down the Cuban phenom. Since returning June 2, Abreu is batting .313 with 14 homers and 31 RBIs in 38 games. His 50 extra base hits came in the second-fewest games ever. Honorable mention goes to All-Star LHP Chris Sale, the only other White Sox untouchable. He is 8-1 with a 2.08 ERA over 14 starts and 95 innings.
Michael Brantley was not just the Indians' first-half MVP, but he also emerged as one of the top all-around outfielders in the American League. Brantley, Cleveland's lone All-Star selection, is hitting .322 with a .382 on-base percentage, a .519 slugging percentage, 15 home runs and 63 RBIs. He ranks in the top 10 in the league in numerous offensive categories. Brantley also is second in the league with 10 outfield assists, and he is 10-for-10 on stolen base attempts.
DH Victor Martinez edges two-time league MVP Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez for most valuable Tiger. Martinez hit a consistent .330, blasted 17 home runs and drove in 45 runs through the Tigers' 27-12 start to the season and the 9-20 sag that followed. Overall, he is batting .328-21-55 with a .391 on-base percentage and a .599 slugging percentage. His hot bat allowed Cabrera to remain among the league RBI leaders through the first half, and Martinez did it largely without protection himself — until the emergence of J.D. Martinez. Manager Brad Ausmus calls Victor Martinez the best he has seen at grinding out at-bats on a pitch-by-pitch basis.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
C Salvador Perez, who does a great job calling the game, threw out 15 out of the 43 runners who attempted steals against him and picked off three other runners. Perez has the highest defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of any catcher in the majors, not a huge surprise given his reputation as a defensive specialist. The surprise is that he leads the team with 11 home runs, and he is hitting .283, the second-best average among Royals who played at least 70 games. The fact that he played in 85 of the team's 94 games is a cause for both celebration and concern. Perez, bothered by nagging injuries throughout his career, probably is being overworked.
2B Brian Dozier followed up his breakout 2013 campaign with a stellar first half. He leads the American League with 69 runs and tops all second basemen with 18 home runs. He also leads the Twins with 45 RBIs, most of which came from the leadoff spot, and 16 stolen bases, and he also is playing sparkling defense. A glut of talent at second base in the American League is the main reason he won't also represent the Twins in his first All-Star Game, but Dozier is one of the premier players at the position in all of baseball.
DH Nelson Cruz proved to be a lifesaver for the Orioles this season, especially with 1B Chris Davis cursed by a long slump and C Matt Wieters out following season-ending Tommy John surgery. Cruz filled a big hole in the middle of the lineup, performing as one of the American League's top sluggers and finishing the first half with 28 homers and 74 RBIs (second in the majors in both categories). He earned a trip to the All-Star Game. The Orioles likely wouldn't be near first place without him.
BOSTON RED SOX
INF/OF Brock Holt started the season in Triple-A, and he even went back there after an early recall and major success. He finished the first half by going 10-for-16 in front of family and friends in Houston — capped by a five-hit game. A natural second baseman, Holt started games at first and third base, shortstop and all three outfield positions — though none at second base. He is the second Red Sox player ever to start at all those spots in the same season. All he did was bat .327 overall, hit safely in 15 of the last 18 games at a .350 clip and play 49 consecutive games at the leadoff hitter.
NEW YORK YANKEES
RHP Masahiro Tanaka was mislabeled as a No. 3 starter in the offseason, and that claim sounds ridiculous now. Even when the rotation was in place, Tanaka was the best pitcher. Before going earlier this month with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament that will cost him at least six weeks, he was a dominant figure, posting a 12-4 record, a 2.51 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 129 innings. The Yankees went 13-5 in his 18 starts and scored a total of nine runs in the five games they lost with Tanaka on the mound.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
LHP David Price, the club's only All-Star, is also the team's top performer. While the focus since last year was if and when the Rays would trade the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner, he actually believes he is pitching better than ever. Price is 9-7 with a 3.23 ERA, but the real mark of his newfound dominance is his 7.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio, as he leads the AL with 164 strikeouts and has only walked 22. His 3.11 fielding independent pitching score indicates that he is pitching even better than his record and ERA. Price was on a roll of late, posting a 1.92 ERA over his past nine starts heading into the All-Star break. The only question is how much longer after the break he will be wearing a Rays uniform.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
1B Edwin Encarnacion had a lot to do with the club's 21-9 surge in May, leading the majors for the month with 16 homers and a .763 slugging average. His 33 RBIs were second in the majors for May. He plays first base and designated hitter but volunteered to play left field, a position he had played only three times previously, all in 2012 when the team was short of players early in July. He was going to the All-Star Game before a right quadriceps strain, from running hard to first base, put him on the disabled list in early July. Encarnacion is batting .277 with 26 homers, 70 RBIs and a .959 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun