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 Survey says: Players pick best of first half of 2010

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PostSubject: Survey says: Players pick best of first half of 2010   Wed Jul 14, 2010 10:35 pm


Miguel Cabrera, Brennan Boesch, Austin Jackson and Jose Valverde


Survey says: Players pick best of first half
Cabrera, Votto choices for MVP; Jimenez, Price for Cy Young

By Tom Singer / MLB.com

07/14/10 10:30 AM ET

Major League ballplayers have spoken. And in their opinions, baseball's star-driven future is bright -- especially in Detroit.

An MLB-wide clubhouse survey on the top performers of the first half of the 2010 season yielded something familiar -- 40-year-olds Mariano Rivera and Arthur Rhodes were named the top relief pitchers in the American and National League, respectively -- and plenty new.

The most intriguing aspect of the poll of 150 big league players is the varied list of opposing players chosen for future super-stardom.

The winners in the category may be the obvious choices: Detroit center fielder Austin Jackson in the AL and Washington right-hander Stephen Strasburg in the NL.

As the Mets' Jason Bay asked prior to casting his vote for the Nationals' high-profile pitcher, "Why not just call it the Strasburg question?"

However, both prevailed by slim margins as no fewer than 30 young players -- 14 in the AL and 16 in the NL, ironically perfectly reflecting the leagues' team memberships -- received support as future breakout stars.

Jackson won the AL poll with 22 votes. Finishing second was teammate Brennan Boesch with 14 -- meaning the neighbors in the Tigers outfield drew 36 of the 67 votes cast in the category.

Strasburg edged Atlanta All-Star outfielder Jason Heyward 26 1/2-22 of the total of 80 votes submitted.

Yet, Boesch and Heyward were runaway choices as top rookies -- which peers clearly evaluated on a sudden-impact basis, as opposed to the long-range interpretation of future stardom.

MLB.com reporters surveyed five players on each big league team, asking them to vote along league lines for Most Valuable Player, Cy Young Award, Rookie, Top Reliever and Future Superstar of the first half. Players were not allowed to vote for teammates.

Additionally, managers were asked their picks for Manager of the Half-Year: Texas' Ron Washington was an overwhelming choice in the AL, while Bud Black of the Padres won a tighter NL race with the Reds' Dusty Baker.


THE PLAYERS' CHOICES

MLB.com asked 150 players to name the top players of the first half of the season in six categories.

CATEGORY________ AL_________ NL
MVP.................... Miguel Cabrera..... Joey Votto
Cy Young David Price Ubaldo Jimenez
Rookie B. Boesch Jason Heyward
Reliever Mariano Rivera Arthur Rhodes
Future Star Austin Jackson S. Strasburg
Manager R. Washington Bud Black

Colorado ace Ubaldo Jimenez was the most overwhelming winner on the board, with 56 votes as the NL's top pitcher.

Tampa Bay left-hander David Price -- who started opposite Jimenez in Tuesday night's All-Star Game -- earned AL honors with 27 votes to edge new Texas Ranger Cliff Lee by seven-and-a-half votes.

The players' MVPs were Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (27 votes) in the AL and the Reds' Joey Votto (37) in the NL.

The Yankees' Rivera (27) was a comfortable winner over Detroit's Jose Valverde (nine) for top AL reliever, while Rhodes (18) edged San Diego closer Heath Bell (15) in the NL.

The stellar company Bell keeps may have cost him a chance for individual honors. Not only did fellow relievers Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams and Tim Stauffer all receive votes, but the San Diego bullpen drew two votes as a whole from players who simply could not isolate any part from the exceptional sum.

"They've got Adams, Gregerson, Heath Bell, and those guys have all been pretty much dominant," said Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee.

Echoed Mets third baseman David Wright, "There's no fun at-bats from that whole pitching staff."

The mound domination of Jimenez, who opens the second half with a 15-1 record and 2.20 ERA, carried over to the virtual ballot box, where he drew 39 more votes than runner-up Josh Johnson of the Marlins.

"I don't like anything about facing him," Arizona third baseman Mark Reynolds said of Jimenez. "He's got nasty stuff. He throws a 100-mph fastball with a curve, slider and split."

"He's throwing all of his pitches for strikes," said San Diego second baseman David Eckstein. "He throws four pitches, and he's pounding the strike zone and getting ahead. The biggest thing is that he's always had good stuff, [but] now he's harnessing it and pitching, rather than just going out and throwing."

Informed of voting rules, Colorado reliever Rafael Betancourt said with a squint, "You really want me to pick somebody other than Ubaldo? Who's making you do this?"

Betancourt then voted for Johnson. But the Florida flamethrower had ample convinced supporters, too.

"He's having a good year and has good stuff," said Houston reliever Matt Lindstrom, a former teammate. "He would have a couple of more victories, too, had the bullpen done what they were supposed to do. Everyone talks about Jimenez, but he has an equal amount of good stuff."

Johnson himself went with Jimenez, saying, "He's done a great job. I have a lot of respect for him."

Price got a lot of respect from opponents who think his ceiling is even higher -- the 24-year-old southpaw also received six votes for Future Superstar, finishing fourth.

"Not only does he throw hard, but he locates," said Toronto pitcher Shaun Marcum. "And all his pitches are plus-pitches. When you combine all of that, it makes things really hard on the hitter."

Former Indians mound-mate Jake Westbrook remained impressed by Lee's consistency even as he has been repeatedly dealt.

"He's been locked in for three years now," Westbrook said. "He's just unbelievable. He's been as consistent as you can be. And it's one thing to be consistent; it's another to be consistent at the level he's been. Something clicked for him in 2008, and he's been locked in ever since."

Johnson also got one vote for NL MVP. Jimenez received five. They were the only pitchers in either league to draw MVP support.

"He's amazing," Cubs lefty Ted Lilly said, explaining his MVP vote for Jimenez. "He's done more than any position player for me. You take everything into consideration in what he's doing in the first half and it sets him apart."

"Nobody jumps off the page," said Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo. "Albert [Pujols] has had a pretty good year. [The Rockies'] winning percentage without [Jimenez] on the mound is terrible compared to the rest of the times he's thrown. He's carried that team on his back."

St. Louis' Pujols (18) finished second in the NL MVP vote, making Votto the runaway choice of players assigning credit for Cincinnati's surprising leadership of the NL Central.

"He's completely underrated. You don't see many guys with that mix of power and average," said the Brewers' Corey Hart. "Some of those guys only hit home runs, but he can hit .300. He's just a really good big league hitter, and then he's a good defensive player. He does some of it all."

In contrast, Cabrera prevailed in a tight three-man race with Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau and Yankees second sacker Robinson Cano, who drew 16 1/2 and 15 1/2 votes, respectively.

Although Cabrera is contending for a Triple Crown, an extremely rare feat, especially for a right-handed batter, peers also valued his rebound from the off-the-field issues that shaded his 2009 season.

"It's an incredible year with the changes that he's made," said Twins pitcher Carl Pavano. "It shows the character and the poise and he went through some tribulations last year. Unfortunately he made some bad decisions. He righted the ship the right way and made the adjustments he needed to make. He's playing well and getting good press. It's a good story."

"I've got to go with Miguel Cabrera," said the Angels' Torii Hunter. "Look at all the damage he's done from the seventh inning on -- the guy's been clutch. He's just crushing balls, and he's doing it when it counts."

Royals outfielder Jose Guillen was swayed by Cano's impact earlier in the season, when some of the Yankees' bigger bats were cool: "He's taken that team when A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez] and [Mark] Teixeira are struggling a little bit and been able to hit for power, average and drive in runs. I've been keeping a close watch on him and he's been doing a pretty good job."

The nods toward Rivera and Rhodes refreshingly balanced the youth-orientation of the other selections.

Angels closer Brian Fuentes, who also cast his Cy Young vote for Rivera, called him "an amazing pitcher."

"Rivera will never get [Cy Young] consideration unless it's by default," Fuentes said, "but when you look at what he's doing -- he's just so consistently good. I know the pressures involved in closing, obviously."

Of the new wave, Strasburg is only the latest, most dramatic arrival in a youth corps that has been turning heads all season.

The Brewers' Ryan Braun flat-out claimed Strasburg as "my favorite player."

"He's must-see TV," Braun said. "I tune in every time he pitches. He really is fun to watch."

The one with the least fanfare -- Boesch -- has made the most noise. The 25-year-old left-handed hitter has batted .342 with 34 extra-base hits and 49 RBIs since his late-April debut.

"There's no other rookie close to him in any of the categories," argued Royals infielder Mike Aviles. "When you can come in and do what he's doing, and he's missed a month of the season, to have the numbers he has is pretty astounding. I think he's a pretty solid ballplayer. Big kid, too, with power, and he can swing it."


"And he never ever looks scared," added Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer.

By contrast, Heyward, a Spring Training sensation, has played up to his reputation. The Mets' Alex Cora said, "Besides the hype, he's putting up good numbers. There's a reason the Braves are where they're at, too."

Jamie Garcia, the Cardinals' poised left-hander, received a lot of rookie support.

"I'm surprised he's a rookie," conceded Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks. "I really didn't know that. He's one of those effectively wild pitchers. All of his pitches are pluses: sinker, curveball, change, cutter. He's got a little of everything."

Skippers of upstart division leaders, not surprisingly, dominated Manager of the Half-Year talk.

"He kind of brought his philosophy from the Angels over, about getting your bullpen lined up," Milwaukee's Ken Macha said of Black, the Angels' former pitching coach. "He also brought over some of what [Mike] Scioscia does about small ball, being aggressive on the bases. And they figured out what they needed; they needed good defense."

"He has a very talented team, but to bring them all together is impressive," Pittsburgh's John Russell said of Baker. "They had a lot of question marks at the beginning of the season -- they had big questions with their bullpen, they still had some young players. I didn't know if they were going to be able to jump that quick. Dusty has brought those guys together to where they believe they can win."

Washington was singled out not only for overcoming his own Spring Training admission of past cocaine use, but for keeping the Rangers focused under the cloud of the team's ownership uncertainty.

"He's doing a job nobody else thought he was going to do," said the White Sox Ozzie Guillen. "He has the team believing they can win. He's a guy who remember almost got fired in Spring Training, and all of a sudden the team is playing that well. There's no doubt in my mind he should be the Manager of the Year, at least for the first half of the season."

Kansas City's Ned Yost said Washington has "juggled it nicely over there. He's done a good job of keeping that club focused, playing hard and winning ballgames."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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PostSubject: Re: Survey says: Players pick best of first half of 2010   Wed Jul 14, 2010 10:55 pm



Tigers have learned season is a marathon
First-half standings aside, Detroit has work left to do

By Jason Beck / MLB.com

07/14/10 2:40 PM ET

DETROIT -- The Tigers have learned from last year, haven't they? By their lack of excitement in leading the American League Central last week through 81 games, it certainly seems they have.

Being in the hunt for the division at the All-Star break means little. Being on top at the end is where they're looking.

As Carlos Guillen has stated time and again all year, "It's how you finish."

They've played well to make this a race, through all the obstacles they've faced. They know they need to play better.

"Honestly, I feel like we can play better than we have," catcher Gerald Laird said.

They led the division at the All-Star break last season. They were just one-half game behind the surging White Sox this time. Could this be the season Detroit breaks through with its first AL Central title?

In 2007, the fade was gradual, passed up by the Indians in August. In '06, the Twins passed the Tigers on the final day of the regular season. Last year, of course, took a one-game tiebreaker and extra innings, only adding to the heartbreak.

Each second-place finish exposed weaknesses in Detroit teams that had taken a division lead in solid June performances. But the Tigers have also made it abundantly clear that every game matters, and the strongest team in April or June doesn't always make it to October.

"It probably will be like last year," manager Jim Leyland said last week. "We all will do pretty good, then flounder around a little bit, then do pretty good. Then at some point -- hopefully it will be us -- somebody will probably make a run, kind of like how Minnesota did [last season]. That will probably end up deciding it."

The Tigers haven't had that late-season surge in them. But they have some wisdom gained through watching the Twins' late-season runs. They also have the background of knowing that simply keeping up what they've done probably won't be enough.

Somehow, some way, they'll have to stabilize their pitching staff. While Detroit's bullpen has pieced together some order again after the loss of Joel Zumaya, the starting rotation's ERA ranks ahead of just the Royals and Orioles in the AL. Detroit's overall success in June masked a staff ERA that ranked 13th out of 14 AL teams, after ranking solidly in the top half last year.

"The key will be the pitching," Leyland said. "That's the key at the start, at the middle and at the end. Obviously, we have to look at our bullpen. It's a little different than it was. That was a real strong part of our team. Hopefully it still can be. But the starting pitching will be a big key."

It could be as simple as the youth infusion of Andy Oliver and Daniel Schlereth, or a tweak or two from Rick Porcello as he tries to iron out his game at Triple-A Toledo. It could require a trade, something Detroit hasn't really done at the non-waiver Trade Deadline since adding Sean Casey in 2006. It could also involve better infield defense behind Detroit's pitching, though rookie center fielder Austin Jackson has saved more runs than anyone could've expected with rangy catches.

It's a vast difference from Spring Training, when the Tigers were trying to piece together an everyday lineup. That part has actually been their strength. Though their scoring ranks in the middle of the pack, thanks mainly to struggles at the bottom of the batting order, their batting average, slugging and on-base percentages all rank close to the AL leaders.


First-half award winners


First-half MVP: Miguel Cabrera
No hitter in the American League produces as much fear at the plate right now.
First-half Cy Young: Jose Valverde
Detroit's late-winter acquisition has taken his place among the best closers in the game.
Top rookie: Brennan Boesch
Austin Jackson deserves strong consideration, but Boesch simply keeps on hitting.
Top reliever: Phil Coke
Without Coke, Detroit's bullpen doesn't survive Ryan Perry's early struggles and Joel Zumaya's injury.

Detroit's middle of the order has arguably shown as much firepower as any team in the league. Miguel Cabrera has shown no signs of letting up on a potential MVP season. Magglio Ordonez has already passed his home run and RBI totals from all of last year. The wait continues for speed bumps in rookie Brennan Boesch's path.

"He's been fantastic so far," Leyland said of Boesch. "Cabrera has been fantastic. Magglio has been very good. [Carlos] Guillen has some big hits getting back into the swing of things a little bit. [Brandon] Inge has some big hits. Jackson has held his own. We haven't got much production from short and catching. That will have to pick up a little bit. Overall, [Ramon] Santiago has played well. We are all right."

At home, the Tigers have been better than all right. Their mark at Comerica Park has given them one of the best home records (32-13) in baseball. But no other team with a winning record has fewer wins (16-25) on the road.

Considering the trips ahead of Detroit, that will have to change if it hopes to pull out this race. The Tigers head to St. Petersburg and Boston at the end of July, then Chicago and New York in mid-August. Their last visit to Minnesota comes at the end of August, with another clash with the White Sox in mid-September.

"You have to win some games on the road to contend," catcher Alex Avila said. "That's one thing to concentrate on going into the second half."

Play a little better, and the Tigers are hoping those series mean something. Give them a race in September, and they'll take a chance with their demons of races past.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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