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Extra innings: Checking in on preseason award picks

Gleyber Torres of the Yankees bats during the

Gleyber Torres of the Yankees bats during the second inning against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium on June 20. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Now that the season has reached its traditional midpoint, despite most teams already playing nearly 100 games (that’s 62 percent done, for those keeping score), this is the appropriate time to revisit our pre-Opening Day award show.

Regrets? We have a few.

But let’s wait a minute on that. Before we get to the do-overs, there’s been plenty of eyebrow-raising developments, with Matt Harvey’s resurgence (4-1, 2.38 ERA in his last six starts) since being shipped to the Reds, the buzzkill of Shohei Otani’s disappointing elbow issues and the meteoric rise of A’s castoff Max Muncy, who had 22 homers through his first 72 games to make the Dodgers look very smart.

Overall, we didn’t see the Phillies and Braves in a dogfight for the top spot in the NL East, the Mariners challenging the Astros for AL West supremacy or the Mets trying to fend off the Marlins for the basement.

And have we mentioned the strikeouts? For the first time in history, MLB is on pace to finish with more Ks than hits, fueling concerns about the game’s future. Anyway, before the countdown to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline rearranges the baseball landscape, here’s a look back to go with a fresh perspective on the BBWAA awards.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

MVP

Preseason pick: Francisco

Lindor, Indians

Tough to go wrong with Lindor, a lethal, multi-threat offensive player who excels at shortstop for a perennial contender. Picking him back in March seemed like a solid bet, and he’s definitely in the mix, with 25 homers and 62 RBIs. Trouble is, teammate Jose Ramirez has been even better, and that hurts his case, obviously.

First half: J.D. Martinez, Red Sox

Normally, I would suggest that the presence of Mookie Betts — another top MVP candidate — cancels out Martinez, based on the diffusion of such a title between two teammates. But this historic season by the Red Sox is not possible without the late-February signing of Martinez, whose run-producing powers have changed the whole dynamic of their lineup. Through Friday, Martinez already was at 79 RBIs, thanks to hitting .340 with runners in scoring position. He also had 28 home runs with a slash line of .330/.392/.644.

CY YOUNG

Preseason pick: Justin

Verlander, Astros

Verlander figured to be the chalk heading into 2018, so I wasn’t out on a limb here, and he’s been true to form, with an AL-leading 2.05 ERA, a 10.94 K/9 ratio and 131 2⁄3 innings in his first 20 starts. For what it’s worth, he’s 9-4, which is a little light for those of you who value victories.

First half: Chris Sale, Red Sox

I was almost ready to declare this too close to call, and part of me says make Sale the co-Cy with Verlander. But we’ll give the midseason award to Sale, despite a slightly higher 2.23 ERA, due to a more dominant 13.12 K/9 and averaging a fraction fewer home runs. Look for Luis Severino, Corey Kluber and Blake Snell to make this race interesting in the second half.

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Preseason pick: Alex Cora,

Red Sox

Red Sox Nation is a harsh place for managers — New York has two teams to divide the attention, remember — and can wear down the best of them. But with Cora at the helm, life has been peachy in the Fens, as he’s navigated the David Price minefield in having the first-place Red Sox win at a historic pace.

First half: Scott Servais, Mariners

As much as I’d like to stick with Cora, I can’t in good conscience overlook Servais, who somehow has the Mariners on a wild-card track after losing Robinson Cano to an 80-game PED suspension. Through Friday, the Mariners had the most wins in the majors in one-run games (26-11), so Servais evidently has been making the right calls in high-leverage spots.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Preseason pick: Dustin

Fowler, A’s

The highly touted Fowler was the feel-good candidate coming off the terrible knee injury he suffered in his Yankees debut before being sent to the Bay Area in the package for Sonny Gray. So far, his numbers aren’t award-worthy, hitting .241 with six homers and a .652 OPS in 51 games.

First half: Gleyber Torres,

Yankees

As long as Torres recovers from a hip strain, he should finish with this award in his back pocket, based on the reputation he’s established in the first half. Miguel Andujar is making a good argument for himself, but Torres had 15 homers and 42 RBIs in just 63 games, with a slash of .294/.350/.555.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

MVP

Preseason pick: Bryce Harper, Nationals

Going into his walk year, Harper felt like a slam dunk for MVP. The carrot of a record-breaking contract figured to loom large. Instead, it seems to be distracting, as Harper has 23 homers, but is hitting .214 for the underachieving Nationals. Rather than being most valuable, Harper’s contract situation hangs like a dark cloud over D.C.

First half: Nolan Arenado, Rockies

The obvious knock on Arenado is playing in the thin air of Coors Field, and his splits certainly back that up, as he’s hitting 108 points (.361) higher at home with a 1.165 OPS that’s 312 points higher than the road. But it’s not Arenado’s fault he resides a mile above sea level, plus he plays a Gold Glove third base while batting .307 overall with 23 homers and 66 RBIs.

CY YOUNG

Preseason pick:

Noah Syndergaard, Mets

New winter regimen, smarter on the mound, same 100-mph fastball. This was supposed to be Noah’s return to prominence after making only seven starts in ’17. But Syndergaard was derailed by injury again — this time missing nearly seven weeks with a strained finger ligament — so he gets an incomplete grade

First half: Jacob deGrom, Mets

Turns out, I just picked the wrong Met, as deGrom’s 1.68 ERA leads the majors. No. 2 NL pitcher Max Scherzer (2.41) edges him in a few categories, such as K/9 (12.16 to 10.87) and innings (134 2⁄3 to 123 1⁄3), but deGrom has allowed half as many homers (15 to 7). But with only five wins so far, can deGrom earn the award with fewer than Felix Hernandez’s 13-12 mark in 2010?

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Preseason pick:

Mickey Callaway, Mets

Not sure what to say in my defense here. Callaway seemed to be a good fit as an accomplished pitching coach for a pitching-rich team and he had been mentored by the Indians’ Terry Francona, one of the top managers in the game. But Callaway has struggled in every aspect since the season began, from in-game strategy to dealing with the media.

First half: Gabe Kapler, Phillies

Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. Not only was Kapler supposed to be a sketchy hire, but his job security was being questioned during his very first week on the job, and getting booed at the home opener made for a rough start. But he’s clearly righted the ship, and to have the young Phillies in first place is a notable accomplishment — especially for a manager who had to learn how to warm up relievers.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Preseason pick:

Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves

Just 20 years old, the precocious Acuña already is a big part of the Braves’ rise in the NL East. He’s just being overshadowed leaguewide by a few bats with some gaudier numbers. Acuña has seven homers and 19 RBIs in 41 games, with a .778 OPS, and his second half will no doubt improve with more experience.

First half: Juan Soto, Nationals

Soto hasn’t been up much longer than Acuña (49 games) but he already has 28 RBIs and he’s hitting .306 with nine homers. He also leads the rookie class overall with a .942 OPS, and as D.C.’s next charismatic slugger, Soto is probably making it easier for the Nats to let Harper go if his price skyrockets beyond their liking.

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