|R.A Dickey's amazing first half for the Mets was highlighted by his consecutive one-hitters. (Getty Images)|
The Weekend All-Star Buzz while you were instructing your postman, in this heat, to deliver the mail straight to your swimming pool. ...
The Angels' Mike Trout is closing the gap quickly, and the Yankees' Robinson Cano is right there, too ... with the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera and Paul Konerko of the White Sox and David Ortiz of the Red Sox in the conversation. So let's see where we are three months from now.
But right now, Hamilton is the guy. Even though he has gone quiet lately, there's still no looking past those numbers. He leads the AL in OPS (1.016) and RBI (75), he's tied for first with 27 homers. He powered the first-place Rangers in May, helping them pad a lead large enough to keep them in first at the All-Star break despite a recent five-game losing streak.
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"He's a freak," said one admiring scout, and that scout isn't alone in his assessment. On his good days, Hamilton is the biggest game-changer in the majors. The Rangers' task in the second half, especially if they maintain their division lead, will be keeping Hamilton healthy. He has been less than 100 percent in each of the past two postseasons.
McCutchen? Call it a dark horse pick if you want. Reds first baseman Joey Votto leads the majors in OPS (1.088). But McCutchen is second (1.039) to him in the NL, leads the majors in hitting (.359) and pretty much has accounted for roughly 33 percent of the Pirates' offense by himself: He has scored 55 runs and knocked in 56 for a total of 111 of Pittsburgh's 332 runs.
"He's carried us," says one Buccos front-office man, and where McCutchen has taken the Pirates at the break is straight to first place in the NL Central. We'll see where the second half leads. But, for now, after a North American-sports record 19 consecutive losing seasons, if the Pirates win and McCutchen keeps doing his thing, the question isn't, "Is McCutchen really the MVP?" The question is: "How can he NOT be the MVP?"
Love what Chris Sale and Jake Peavy of the White Sox and Jered Weaver of the Angels have done. But Weaver missed two weeks with a sore back and Sale just hasn't carried the workload of Verlander, who has pitched 30 more innings. Verlander tops the majors with 132 2/3 innings pitched, he's tied with Washington's Stephen Strasburg for the major-league lead with 128 strikeouts, he's holding opponents to a .200 batting average (third in the AL). Verlander remains the answer to the question: If you had to win one game in the AL, who's your pitcher?
Dickey has baffled and dominated in nearly every start. The back-to-back one-hitters were a thing of beauty. Wins, ERA, innings pitched, opponents batting average ... Dickey has it going on. His 0.93 WHIP is second in the majors to Weaver's 0.90. The Giants' Matt Cain, the Pirates' James McDonald (and maybe even A.J. Burnett), the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, the Nationals' Gio Gonzalez and the Reds' Johnny Cueto are in the race.
3. Managers of the Mid-Year: Buck Showalter, Orioles, and Clint Hurdle, Pirates
Last time the Orioles were a winner, Brooks Robinson was in diapers (sometimes it feels that way, doesn't it?). And Hurdle edges the Dodgers' Don Mattingly by a narrow margin the size of, say, Dee Gordon. No way should Mattingly's Dodgers be leading the NL West at the break ... but Hurdle, ahoy, mate. The Pirates, as you may have heard, haven't had a winning season in two decades.
Fifteen years from now, we'll look back on this season as the launching pad for Trout and Harper.
5. All-Star Fun: Words of wisdom from Royals Hall of Famer George Brett as we're gathered here in Kansas City: "I played like my dad was in the stands. I know in high school, I know in Little League, if I hit a ground ball and didn't run it out, I got my ass kicked."
6. Zack Greinke, Marathon Man: Well, sort of. He started Saturday's game for the Brewers against the Astros but was ejected after only four pitches. So he started again Sunday and went three innings. And the Brewers plan to start him for a third consecutive game Friday when they open the second half against the Pirates, which will make him the first pitcher since Red Faber of the 1917 White Sox to start three consecutive games in the same season.
7. Shane Victorino and Cole Hamels, trade bait: Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. vows he will not trade the present for the future, but as the sun sets on Philadelphia's great run, he's going to have to make some hard decisions between now and July 31. The Phillies, who rank with the Marlins and the Tigers as the majors' most disappointing clubs, are sub-.500 at the All-Star break for the first time since 2006. They lost their 50th game on Sunday. Last year, they didn't lose their 50th game until Sept. 12.
Diamondbacks fans are booing as Upton struggles with an OPS down some 160 points from last year, when he hit .289 with 31 homers and 88 RBI. This season, he's at .267 with seven homers and 36 RBI. Arizona is in position to make a second-half run, but Kirk Gibson's club has shown no signs of putting one together so far. Meantime, neither the Dodgers nor the Giants look capable of running away from the division. The difference at this point between the Diamondbacks contending or fading? An Upton hot streak. Justin, the clock is ticking. ...
9. Giancarlo Stanton and Andrelton Simmons, ouch: Game-changing injuries in the NL East as the first half closes. Stanton, the Marlins' slugger, is out four to six weeks following knee surgery. If the Marlins' season isn't torpedoed already, this could do it. Simmons, the Braves' slick shortstop who replaced Tyler Pastornicky, broke a finger on his throwing hand against the Phillies on Sunday and is expected to open the season's second half on the disabled list. If the Braves can keep the left side of their infield on the field when he gets back -- Simmons and Chipper Jones -- they've got a shot.
10. The Franchise: The Marlins may make for awful baseball, but they're going to make for riveting television once The Franchise is up and running. After all that has gone wrong so far, you ask, how could they finish the first half with an even louder thud? Heath Bell blew another save by surrendering three runs in the bottom of the ninth in St. Louis, and Hanley Ramirez reverted to form by punching a dugout fan and taking two stitches to a finger.
"Very stupid injury. Very immature," manager Ozzie Guillen told reporters. "You're going to hurt yourself because you can't hit? Good hitters don't do that. Good hitters battle back and try to get better."
The second half will be all about battling back for a number of teams and players. The Marlins? Grab a pile of newspapers, because we're going to need some fish wrap.