SAN DIEGO — Now that we’ve arrived at the official, if not mathematically accurate, midpoint of the Major League Baseball season, it’s as good a time as any to revisit our pre-Opening Day picks for the sport’s top four awards. And in the process, maybe make a few corrections, where applicable.
Did we figure David Ortiz to be on pace for 40 home runs this season, at age 40, in the bell lap before retirement? Um, no. Daniel Murphy to rival Bryce Harper for slugger-in-chief down in D. C.? Nope. Jose Reyes to wind up back in Flushing — as the Mets’ starting third baseman? Not in April, we didn’t.
Or how about Johnny Cueto at 13-1 with a 2.47 ERA and Matt Harvey at 4-10 with a 4.86? A Reds rookie, Adam Duvall, out-homering (22) Joey Votto (14)? A knuckleballer named Steven Wright (10-5, 2.68 ERA) outpitching $217-million man David Price (8-6, 4.64) to be the Red Sox’s ace? All impossible to forecast.
As the playoff races go, seeing the Orioles, Indians and Rangers atop their respective divisions isn’t necessarily a shocking development, but it’s certainly a changeup from last year’s trends, other than Texas two-stepping past the Astros in 2015 for the AL West title. The NL, however, is lining up in familiar fashion, with the Nationals and Cubs leading, and in an even-numbered year, the Giants apparently are right where they’re supposed to be.
Anyway, on to the adjusted picks:
Preseason pick: Manny Machado
First half: Josh Donaldson
Really struggled with this one, and have the feeling this vote will go right down to the wire, perhaps hinging on whether the Orioles or Blue Jays make the playoffs. Donaldson, the reigning AL MVP, is doing everything to keep the crown and being asked to do even more for the Blue Jays, with Jose Bautista not his usual Joey Bats self because of injury. Machado remains one of the two main engines for the Orioles’ powerful offense, along with Chris Davis (21 homers), and supplies elite defense as well. Others to watch: Jose Altuve, Ian Desmond, Mike Trout, Robinson Cano.
Preseason pick: Sonny Gray
First half: Chris Sale
Definitely need a do-over on this one. Gray, who seemed to be building Cy Young momentum the past two years, has slipped backward this season with a 5.16 ERA and a surprising 1.47 WHIP, well above his career 1.19 mark. On the opposite end of that spectrum is Sale, who at 14-2 is responsible for more than 30 percent of the White Sox’s wins. Sale ranks third with a 2.93 ERA, but his 0.98 WHIP and total of 120 innings, an average of more than seven per start, lead the AL. Others to watch: Danny Salazar, Cole Hamels, Steven Wright, Aaron Sanchez.
MANAGER OF YEAR
Preseason pick: John Gibbons
First half: Buck Showalter
Figured Gibbons was due with what we projected for the Blue Jays this season, even though losing an ace like David Price tends to hurt a manager where it usually matters most on these ballots: in the W column. So we’re switching course with a perennial favorite, one who deserves consideration just about every year in Showalter. He’s already won it three times, most recently in 2014, due to his attention to detail, in-game acumen and baseball IQ. The fact that he’s a charismatic, old-school leader helps, too, in having the Os on top in the AL East. Others to watch: Terry Francona, Jeff Banister.
ROOKIE OF YEAR
Preseason pick: Byung Ho Park
First half: Michael Fulmer
Selecting an older, more established player from another professional league like the NPB or KBO always creates a bit of a philosophical argument for some when it comes to the MLB’s ROY. But not for me, and Park still isn’t a bad candidate with 12 homers through his first 62 games. Another first-year Korean player, Dae-Ho Lee, is even better, with a .291/.333/.517 slash line and 12 homers himself. Even so, former Mets prospect Fulmer already is a shooting star at age 23 with a 9-2 record, a 2.11 ERA and a scoreless streak of 33 1⁄3 innings on his resume from this season. Others to watch: Tyler Naquin, Nomar Mazara.
Preseason pick: Paul Goldschmidt
First half: Corey Seager
Goldschmidt is usually a chalk pick every year, and for good reason. He’s finished runner-up twice in the past four seasons and seemed due this time. But there’s no overlooking what Seager, a rookie, has done to keep the Dodgers on the Giants’ heels. He not only plays a premium defensive position as a shortstop but slugs, too, with 17 homers and a slash line of .299/.359/.531 through his first 87 games. Unlike the Cubs’ candidates, Seager is relatively alone in the L.A. lineup, enhancing his appeal. Others to watch: Matt Carpenter, Yoenis Cespedes, Jake Lamb, Wil Myers.
Preseason pick: Zack Greinke
First half: Clayton Kershaw
Not much suspense here. Coming off his new deal and playing in the more low-key desert, Greinke seemed ready to improve on his second-place finish a year ago. But a terrible start has made it a climb back to respectability for Greinke, who still is 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA. That’s light years away from Kershaw, however, as the Dodgers’ ace has continued his dominance (11-2) with a league-best 1.79 ERA, a 0.73 WHIP and a ridiculous 0.67 BB/9 rate. The only thing that might prevent Kershaw from claiming his fourth Cy Young Award (and third in four seasons) is the herniated disc that landed him on the disabled list before the break. Others to watch: Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner, Noah Sydnergaard, Johnny Cueto.
MANAGER OF YEAR
Preseason pick: Chip Hale
First half: Dusty Baker
So far, and we’re not holding our breath, it hasn’t been the breakout year the Diamondbacks anticipated after luring Zack Greinke away from the rival Dodgers. Losing A.J. Pollock early on didn’t help, and former Mets third-base coach Hale is now the custodian of a team taking a step backward from last year’s modest gains. Baker, on the other hand, is having the opposite effect in D.C., where Matt Williams had been adept at getting the least possible from whatever healthy bodies the talented Nationals could muster. The effusive Baker has lightened the mood around the Nats, and his experienced connection with players has helped turn them into a World Series threat again.
ROOKIE OF YEAR
Preseason pick: Corey Seager
First half: Corey Seager
So far, so good, with Seager. If this one holds, and we suspect it might, that’s a 1-for-8 (. 125) on the prediction front for us. GIven that we already have him for down for the first-half MVP, Seager could become the first player since Ichiro Suzuki (2001) to win the MVP and ROY in the same season. He’s got some decent competition, though. The Cardinals’ Aledmys Diaz is right on his heels, along with the Rockies’ Trevor Story. Others to watch: Steven Matz, Kenta Maeda, Seung Oh.