An All-Star break that seems as if it lasted 13 years is just about over and the Pittsburgh Pirates will be beginning the unofficial second half of their storybook season. It's even more fitting that they will start it in Miller Park which has been a house of horrors up until this year. And every writer and blogger on the face of the planet does a form of midseason awards for their team of choice so why not follow suit?
MVP: Nate McLouth. Gotcha! Is this even really a debate? If your answer to this question isn't Andrew McCutchen then there is no hope for your soul. Not only is he the MVP of the team, he is quite possibly the MVP of the National League at this point. He has the highest batting average in all of Major League Baseball, and it's not just by one or two points. Throw on the fact that he's hit 18 home runs and it's just not fair. It would be really difficult to find another player that is more important to his team.
Best Pitcher: There are a lot of candidates for this. A.J. Burnett has come to Pittsburgh since being traded from the New York Yankees and has been infinitely better than even the biggest optimist could have projected. James McDonald has one of the lowest ERA's in the National League. Jason Grilli has been a shutdown setup guy. And none of those three guys were the pitcher that the Pirates sent to the All-Star game. If I had to pick one, I'd say it's Burnett. The reason why is because I don't think that McDonald is what he is today without Burnett. He's been a role model, a leader, and a producer. He has been just as important to the success of the pitching staff as McCutchen has been to the lineup.
Biggest Surprise: There are also a lot of ways that you can go with this as well. Burnett and McDonald are solid candidates for this award as well. Michael McKenry is another solid candidate. He stepped in when Rod Barajas was hurt and got red hot. He's also been solid behind the plate having to play more than your typical backup catcher because of Barajas' age. All that being said, I say the biggest surprise is Pedro Alvarez. I wrote a post before the season started saying that Alvarez should have started in AAA and for a large part of the beginning of the season, he was proving me right. But he is maturing before our very eyes. He's seeing more pitches. He's not looking only to pull the ball. His batting average is climbing and he's on pace for 30 home runs. I never thought he had a chance for that earlier this year.
Biggest Disappointment: It's pretty easy to say that the biggest disappointment has been Jose Tabata who is now playing center field for the Indianapolis Indians in AAA. The Pirates rewarded Tabata with a long term contract late last season expecting him to be a staple in the outfield next to McCutchen and eventually Starling Marte. It's still way too early to give up on him. He's only 23 and has a metric ton of talent but he has problems that need to be figured out.
Rookie of the Year: ROSENBAGGER! Sorry. I love that movie. Anyways, not too many options for this award so it goes to Jared Hughes. If it weren't for Brad Lincoln's dominance in the bullpen, Hughes would likely be the go to seventh inning guy. His mouthbreathing and borderline psychotic behavior makes him an interesting guy to watch but more importantly, he gets guys out.
Comeback Player: He was a former first round pick that has spent a long time in the minor leagues. He has been tried as a starting pitcher in the past, including this season, and failed miserably. He was thought to be nothing but another failed first round pick of the previous regime. However, Lincoln has turned into a dominant force in the back end of the bullpen for the Pirates. He started the year off as a long reliever and has pitched his way into the back end. The bullpen has revitalized his career which many thought was dead.
Predictions: Is this sustainable? This team is 11 games over .500 and in first place in the NL Central but it is impossible to tell which team is going to show up for the second half of the year. Is it going to be the dominant pitching team that has to win one run games every night like they did in April? Or is it going to be the team that scores 10 runs a game and blows everyone away like they did in June? Most people seem to think that it will be something in the middle but nothing about this team seems traditional to me. Call me a prisoner of the moment. Say whatever you want. I think this team will win the division. Of course, something could happen at the trade deadline that could change my mind. But for now, get ready to see some playoff baseball at PNC Park.