1st half is almost over; time for invisible hardware

Pretty unreal that the first half of this 2011 baseball season will ceremoniously end in three days.

It has been yet another busy one.

The Pirates, Indians and Diamondbacks are well-positioned in their respective divisions. The Phillies and Red Sox are on top as expected. The White Sox and Twins have struggled. Matt Kemp, Lance Berkman, J.J. Putz, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes have experienced their own respective revivals. Manny Ramirez has retired. Bartolo Colon has turned back the clock. Derek Jeter hasn’t. Jose Bautista has gotten even better. Bob Geren, Edwin Rodriguez and Jim Riggleman have departed. Davey Johnson and Jack McKeon are back. The Mets’ and Dodgers’ stability have come into question. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds have taken the stand. Eric Hosmer, Jemile Weeks, Lonnie Chisenhall, Dustin AckleyMike Trout and a host of others have come up. Buster Posey has been lost for the year. Joe Mauer has become somewhat of a first baseman. Bryce Harper has dominated. Dan Uggla, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Adam Dunn have all struggled with new teams. Justin Verlander and Francisco Liriano have thrown no-hitters. And pitching in general has continued to dominate.

One more weekend series remains before the All-Star break, and soon after that, we’ll reveal our cumulative first-half awards. But before I depart to Phoenix on Saturday morning, I figured I’d give you my own.

Here goes …

AL MVP

Jose Bautista (.333 BA, 1.158 OPS, 29 HR, 61 RBI)

* Simply the best player in baseball right now. He’s getting very little to hit and taking advantage of every mistake. 

AL Cy Young

Justin Verlander (11-4, 2.26 ERA, 138 SO, 143 1/3 IP)

* A no-hitter in progress every time he takes the mound. 

AL Rookie of the Year

Michael Pineda (8-5, 2.58 ERA, 106 SO, 108 IP)

* A physical specimen with great stuff who stays within the strike zone. 

AL Manager of the Year 

Manny Acta (Indians 47-39, 1 1/2 games up in the AL Central)

* Easy choice with the way the Indians have performed. Everyone expected them to eventually fall off, but they’re still in first place.

NL MVP 

Jose Reyes (.354 BA, .398 OBP, 32 RBI, 30 SB, 15 3B)

* The most electrifying player in baseball right now. Let’s hope he doesn’t miss too much time on the DL. 

NL Cy Young

Jair Jurrjens (12-3, 1.87 ERA, 1.066 WHIP, 110 2/3 IP)

* In a league with names like Halladay, Lee, Lincecum, Johnson and Greinke, Jurrjens has put up the best numbers. 

NL Rookie of the Year 

Danny Espinosa (.249 BA, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 11 SB)

* Not a great crop right now. Espinosa has put up the power numbers and provided Gold Glove-caliber defense. 

NL Manager of the Year 

Tony La Russa (Cardinals 47-42, tied for first place in the NL Central)

* No Adam Wainwright, a mediocre Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols (by their standards), plus bullpen issues, and still TLR has them on top.

— Alden

** Filed this week: The NL has the pitching to win the All-Star Game; Werth, Uggla, Dunn and Crawford have all struggled with new contracts and new teams; MLB, New Orleans agree on new Urban Youth Academy; MLB, MiLB deal perhaps a sign of labor peace throughout industry. 

*** I haven’t watched the replay of the Rangers fan who died while trying to retrieve a baseball on Thursday night. I can’t. It would sadden me too much, and would make me think of how devastated I would be to lose my father. My heart goes out to that little boy and his family. 

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