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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Then & now: Looking back at preseason awards picks and where they stand today

Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees

Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees runs out his fifth inning home run against the Milwaukee Brewers at Yankee Stadium on Friday, July 7, 2017 in the Bronx Borough of New York City. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

MIAMI — Now that we’ve arrived at the official halfway point of the season, if not the mathematical, it’s time for two of baseball’s annual rituals, at least in this particular space.

The All-Star Game is Tuesday, so as a tuneup, let’s once again take a look at my pre-Opening Day awards picks (published April 2) and see how I’m doing midway through the year. And in those cases where I whiffed badly, I’ve supplied an updated selection, adjusted to first-half performance.

With baseballs flying out of ballparks at a record pace, and the growing suspicion that it’s all because of some nefarious plot hatched by the Commissioner’s Office, we already have some idea what the central theme will be to 2017. As for surprises, there’s been more than a few.

The NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers is high on that list, along with the Diamondbacks and Rockies trying to nail down the two wild-card berths before August. The young Astros figured to be good, but a 15 1⁄2-game lead in the first week of July? And are we looking at one-and-done, with another 100-year wait, for the Cubs?

About those home runs. No one figured that the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, even at 6-7, would be big enough to break Joe DiMaggio’s rookie record for home runs (30) — and require just half the season to do so. Over on the other coast, Cody Bellinger flicked on a power switch that the Dodgers probably never imagined. Unfortunately, both are in the same bracket for Monday’s Home Run Derby at Marlins Park, so that score will be settled before the final round.

Anyway, on to the picks.



Preseason pick: Mookie Betts, Red Sox

First half: Aaron Judge, Yankees

Seeking an alternative to the reigning MVP Mike Trout, the odds-on favorite every year, who better to choose back in April than the 2016 runner-up for the award, the 24-year-old Betts. And if you told us Trout was going to miss nearly two months with a torn ligament in his thumb, that made it even a clearer path for Betts. But while Betts again is emerging as a solid candidate — 15 HRs, 15 SB, .841 OPS — the AL hasn’t seen anything like Aaron Judge in a long time, if ever. Entering Saturday, Judge was leading the league in two Triple Crown categories, with 30 homers and 66 RBIs, but his .330 batting average ranked third. Barring a Judge collapse, he’s got the inside track to this award.


Preseason pick: Chris Sale, Red Sox

First half: Chris Sale, Red Sox

As things are looking now, Sale was a safe bet at the jump, even though he was switching to a more high-pressure market in Boston. Sale is 11-4 with the AL’s second-best ERA (2.75) and the top K/9 ratio (12.55). He also doesn’t like to give up the baseball, leading the AL with 127 2/3 innings. This won’t be a layup the rest of the way, however. The Royals’ Jason Vargas is 12-3 with a slightly better ERA (2.62), the Indians’ Corey Kluber (2.85 ERA) is right behind Sale in K/9 (11.72), with the Twins’ Ervin Santana and the Astros’ Lance McCullers capable of a late push as well.


Preseason pick: Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox

First half: Aaron Judge, Yankees

Sorry, Andrew. While a number of other players potentially could gain ground on Judge in the MVP chase, we’d be fine handing him the trophy right now. Benintendi certainly is off to a solid start, with 12 homers and a slash line of .287/.365/.461, but Judge is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the rookies, in every measure. Aside from the 30 homers, Judge already has compiled a 5.6 WAR. The next closest? The Mariners’ Ben Gamel at 1.9.


Preseason pick: Terry Francona, Indians

First half: Paul Molitor, Twins

The AL seems to have plenty of worthy candidates, and Francona, who has Cleveland back atop the Central, should present an excellent case for himself by season’s end. That’s especially the case as he rallies from a recent heart issue that needed surgery to correct. But all of the impressive jobs to date, no one saw Molitor, the Hall-of-Famer, getting the rebuilding Twins into contention this early. They’re still in a dogfight with the Indians and resurgent Royals, but remember — the Twins were 59-103 last season.



Preseason pick: Yoenis Cespedes, Mets

First half: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

Well, Cespedes sounded good at the time. Fresh off signing his $110-million contract, best shape of his life, yada, yada, yada. But Cespedes’ ongoing leg issues have limited him to 39 games, and it’s impossible to win the MVP if you’re not on the field. With Yo out of the running, it’s a tight race nonetheless, with Goldschmidt (1.009 OPS, 72 runs, 66 RBIs) getting the nod so far over the Nats’ Bryce Harper (1.027 OPS) and the Reds’ Joey Votto (1.050). Given the rise of the Rockies, it’s also worth keeping an eye on Charlie Blackmon, whose value as a centerfielder complements his 18 homers and slash line of .314/.366/.571.


Preseason pick: Madison Bumgarner, Giants

First half: Max Scherzer, Nationals

Of all the freakish injuries, Bumgarner’s shocking dirt-bike accident, which occurred during an off-day in Colorado, has to be near the top of that list, both for its stunning lack of common sense and severity — he’s still not back yet from the sprained AC joint in his left shoulder suffered in late April. But even if Bumgarner stayed healthy, how could anyone pitch better than Scherzer this season? He leads the NL in ERA (1.94) and K/9 ratio (12.16) and the only reason his 120 2/3 innings ranks second is because Scherzer has pitched one less start than Clayton Kerhsaw (123 1/3 IP). This should be a two-man race down to the wire.


Preseason pick: Dansby Swanson, Braves

First half: Cody Bellinger, Dodgers

Swanson has lost some of his phenom momentum from ’16 as he’s slid to .227/.301/.337 so far this season, and at that rate, he’s not going to catch Bellinger, who is turning in a Judge-like performance in the NL. Bellinger wasn’t with the Dodgers on Opening Day, and in 67 games, he already has 24 home runs with 56 RBIs and a .949 OPS. Just 21, Bellinger has helped out the Dodgers both at first base and the corner outfield spots.


Preseason pick: Terry Collins, Mets

First half: Craig Counsell, Brewers

Collins seemed like a sensible choice, with the Mets among the World Series favorites, and him entering the final year of his contract in Flushing. But with the team again ripped apart by injuries, Collins never really had a shot, and that leaves the door open to a number of underdog candidates, including Counsell, who has the Brewers atop the NL Central. Milwaukee also was eight games over .500 for the first time since September 2014, a decent accomplishment in itself for the third-year manager. The Rockies’ Bud Black belongs in this conversation as well, as well as the Diamondbacks’ Torey Lovullo.

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