Every major league season has a life of its own, filled with amazing feats, confounding disappointments and all manner of strange and unusual events — enough to make you wonder if this is the most unusual season ever.
And sometimes during those seasons you decide that it is. Sometimes you don't.
At the ceremonial halfway point of the 2013 season, it's a good time to catch our breath, get our bearings and remember all the things that have come to pass so far.
There's the incomparable hitting brilliance of Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (above) and the steady pitching excellence of the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. And while Cabrera is on an extremely short list for most valuable player in the American League, you can make a case for maybe 10 to win that honor in the National League.
We'll examine other deeper questions, too. Like how can a team with the wealth and resources of the Yankees be forced to continue making waiver claims on the likes of Reid Brignac and Alberto Gonzalez? And why don't umpires know the rules? And the rain — and cold and even snow — has there ever been more?
Then there's Yasiel Puig. Is he Joe DiMaggio or Roy Weatherly? Bo Jackson or Joe Charboneau? We could fill a special section on Puig, but we'll try to keep it to just a few sentences.
Most unusual season ever?
Maybe it is. Maybe it's not.
It happens every year.
Local boys making good
It's been quite a season for local boys in the major leagues. Kansas City's Alex Gordon (Nebraska, Lincoln Southeast) made it to the All-Star Game for the first time, capping what looks like it will be a third straight strong season.
Third baseman Conor Gillaspie, from Millard North, is finally getting a shot at close to everyday playing time with the White Sox and is holding his own.
Five left-handed relievers with local connections are currently on big league rosters. Former Nebraska pitcher Tony Watson is again a viable relief option for the Pirates. Ex-Millard South and Nebraska pitcher Brian Duensing has transitioned back to that same role for the Twins. Dan Jennings is establishing himself in the Miami bullpen while Jake Diekman (Wymore, Neb.) overcame early-season wildness in Class AAA and has pitched better with the Phillies, where he more or less filled in for injured former Iowa Western pitcher Jeremy Horst.
Joba Chamberlain (Nebraska, Lincoln Northeast) has been OK in limited duty with the Yankees and is the subject of trade rumors, which could potentially rejuvenate his career. Another former Nebraska player, outfielder Andrew Brown, has gotten a look with the Mets after tearing up Class AAA the past few seasons.
And Darin Ruf, after his monster home run feats of 2012, just got recalled by the Phillies and has two homers in 28 at-bats.
Right-handed starters Tyler Cloyd (UNO, Bellevue East) and Thad Weber (Nebraska, Friend) have also spent time in the majors this season, as has lefty reliever Mike Zagurski (Millard North). Not too far away are Class AAA All-Star Cody Asche (Nebraska) of the Phillies and some veterans, sluggers Dan Johnson (Nebraska) and Randy Ruiz (Bellevue U.) of the Phillies and pitcher Buddy Carlyle (Bellevue East) of Toronto.
What more is there to say about Yasiel Puig? He hit .521 in spring training, only to be sent to Class AA. He became the first rookie to be named player of the month in his first month in the majors. His 55 hits in his first 34 games are the third most since 1920, trailing only the 59 hits by Joe DiMaggio and Roy Weatherly. He got an All-Star Game snub, finishing second in fan voting for the final spot on the National League roster. He hung out at the Playboy Mansion with Snoop Lion instead. All the attention has come so fast, and his reaction to it — as well as some of his on-field antics — have begun to produce some detractors to go along with his fans. It could go either way with Puig. He could be the Bo Jackson of this generation, or with his relative disregard for the strike zone he could swing his way back to the minor leagues. More than likely, it will be somewhere in between.
A-Rod, Jeter and the Yankees
What is going on with the Yankees? Not only have their top four players — Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson — been unable to stay healthy, three of them (all but Rodriguez) came back from long absences and were almost immediately reinjured. Then there were the bizarre couple of days when A-Rod tweeted that he'd been cleared to start playing rehab games, an announcement that General Manager Brian Cashman was less than thrilled to hear since that's usually the team's job to make that determination and announce. Combined with the improbable lineups the Yankees have fielded — we're talking seriously marginal talent — that they've been able to stay above .500 has made them one of the biggest surprises of the first half.
There was the reviewed, but still called incorrectly, home run that wasn't (officially, anyway) for Oakland's Adam Rosales against Cleveland. And the pitching change that, by rule, shouldn't have been allowed by Houston against the Angels. And Joe Nathan's called strike three against Tampa Bay that just wasn't. And the stalking-ejections by umpires of Washington's Bryce Harper and Tampa Bay's David Price. And Oakland's Seth Smith getting called out on strike two. It hasn't been a good year for umpires making high-profile mistakes or having questionable actions, but most of the controversy has died down the past couple of months.
Bad weather, long games
Between the bad early-season weather and marathon-length games, it's been an unusual half-season. This season has featured the coldest game-time temperature in 20 years (23 degrees) in Denver. There was hail at Yankee Stadium. Rain was a constant threat everywhere. The Twins postponed three games because of snow. And, of course, it snowed in Kansas City in May. So far, more than 30 games have been postponed after 21 all of last season.
Once the games finally start, there's no guarantee they'll ever end. Tampa Bay and Cleveland waited out five hours worth of rain delays to finish a game. Kansas City and St. Louis waited four hours, eventually finishing a game at 3:14 a.m.
Also, 19 games this season have lasted 14 innings or more. There were only 20 such games last year.
AMERICAN LEAGUE MIDSEASON AWARDS
MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
With all due respect to the slugging heroics of Chris Davis, Cabrera earns the slight nod at this point to repeat as most valuable player. After all, he won the Triple Crown last year (the first time it had been done since 1967) and is on track to surpass last year's winning totals of a .330 batting average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs with an astounding pace — a .365 average, 52 homers and 164 RBIs. He leads the league in hits (132), runs (73), walks (60) and on-base percentage (.458) as well as two-thirds of the Triple Crown categories (batting average and RBIs, with 95). Only Davis, with 37 homers to Cabrera's 30, appears capable of preventing a second Triple Crown run. Cabrera's offensive WAR (wins above replacement player) is 6.6, the best in the game. He's a certainty to finish in the top five of his league's MVP voting for the seventh time in 10 seasons and should collect career hit No. 2,000 at age 30.
CY YOUNG: Max Scherzer, Tigers
It takes a lot to overshadow rotation mate Justin Verlander, but starting the season 13-0 — the first time anyone has done that since Roger Clemens in 1986 — is a pretty good way to get attention. Scherzer is just three wins away from matching the career high he set last season, has a career-best WHIP (0.98) that ranks second in the American League and is just shy of the 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings he averaged last season (10.6). He doesn't lead the AL in any category other than wins and winning percentage (.929, at 13-1), but he's second in allowing just 6.7 hits per nine innings, second in strikeouts per nine, second in strikeouts (152), third in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.9) and fourth in WAR for pitchers (3.7). He's ninth in ERA (3.19) and eighth in ERA+ (133), but he's gotten run support from his offense, so sometimes maybe just getting outs has been more important than pitching shutouts. Worthy challengers include Seattle's Felix Hernandez, the White Sox's Chris Sale and Texas' Yu Darvish.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Jose Iglesias, Red Sox
Really? Yes. Iglesias is probably the best the AL has to offer at this point, but he may be just holding a spot for now for Tampa Bay's Wil Myers, the former Omaha Storm Chaser who was the minor league player of the year last season. Iglesias has played 52 big-league games to just 26 for Myers. And suddenly the great-glove, no-stick shortstop has played both there and third base and leads all American League rookies with an .878 OPS, largely because of his .367 batting average. He has just 13 extra-base hits, 10 of them doubles. Among AL rookies, the 23-year-old Cuban defector is first in hits (66), average, on-base percentage (.417) and slugging percentage (.461) and ranks second with 26 runs. If not Myers, look for Seattle's Nick Franklin or perhaps another former Storm Chaser, David Lough of Kansas City, to overtake Iglesias. Texas' Nick Tepesch and Oakland's Dan Straily have been the best of a lukewarm group of rookie pitchers.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Joe Girardi, Yankees
Mark Teixeira has played 15 games and is out for the year. Curtis Granderson has played in eight. Derek Jeter played one game and got hurt again. Alex Rodriguez hasn't taken the field yet. Ichiro Suzuki is more old than the Ichiro of old, and Kevin Youkilis has been hurt, too. The Yankees have used 26 position players and 19 pitchers. Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Travis Hafner, like Ichiro, are all on the wrong side of 33. The Yankees have made waiver claims on guys who can hit but can't field, guys who can field but can't hit, and guys who can't do either. And yet, somehow, they are only six games back in the American League East, seven games above .500 at 51-44. Just filling out a lineup card has to have been difficult enough, but if you like to project wins and losses based on runs scored and runs allowed, the Yankees should have lost four more games than they have. Girardi is doing something right.
COMEBACK PLAYER: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
Limited to 74 games last year when he hit just .271 with a .313 on-base percentage and a below average OPS+ of 83, Ellsbury is producing in a big way again. He's on track for a third stolen base title with 36 thus far, leads the Red Sox in runs (59) and ranks second in hits (115), is approaching his career-best total for on-base percentage (.368) while his OPS+ is an above-average 113. He's not all the way back, though — he had 32 homers and 105 RBIs as the AL's runner-up for MVP in 2011, and this year he has just three and 33, respectively.
NATIONAL LEAGUE MIDSEASON AWARDS
MVP: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
Throw out Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez, the Mets' David Wright and Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez — among the top five WAR players in the National League. Those three play for below-.500 teams. That leaves Pittsburgh's McCutchen and Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt, who both have compiled overall WARs of 4.8. The top five have separated themselves from the rest of the WAR pack that includes Cincinnati's Joey Votto, San Francisco's Buster Posey and St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina, who is perhaps the best player on the league's best team. For now, let's go with McCutchen, who finished third in the MVP voting while winning a Gold Glove last year. His offensive numbers are down fairly significantly, from .327 with 31 homers, 96 RBIs and a career-best 162 OPS+ last year to a .302 average and 139 OPS+ this season. With 10 homers and 49 RBIs, he's on pace to finish with 17 and 85, respectively. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but this race is still too close to call.
CY YOUNG: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Matt Harvey-mania swept the country early in the season, and while the Mets' young ace has been awfully good, Kershaw, the 2011 Cy Young winner (and 2012 runner-up), has been even better. He leads the major leagues with a 1.98 ERA. And an ERA+ of 181. And a 5.1 WAR for pitchers. And with an 0.91 WHIP. And by allowing 6.0 hits per nine innings. He's second behind Harvey in strikeouts (147 for Harvey, 139 for Kershaw), second to St. Louis' Adam Wainwright in innings pitched (146 2⁄3 to 145 1⁄3). He's only 8-6, but he's given his team a chance to win in all 20 of his starts, allowing more than three earned runs only twice (and he gave up four earned runs in each of those games).
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
Don't think 38 games is enough to establish yourself as a half-season rookie of the year? Consider this: Puig could go 0 for 45 to start the second half of the season and he'd still be hitting .300. And he'd still be a leading contender for rookie of the year. The amazing start to the 22-year-old's career (he's hitting .391, with a 1038 OPS) is bound to slow down. After all, he was hitting “only” .313 in 40 games in Class AA (though with eight homers and 37 RBIs) before getting called up. But the most exciting power-speed-throwing arm outfielder since probably Bo Jackson is still the pick, even though baseball — where the proving ground is over 162 games — isn't about once-in-awhile brilliance. Any other year, St. Louis' Matt Adams or Atlanta's Evan Gattis among hitters, or the Cardinals' Shelby Miller or the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu would get serious consideration among a strong crop of NL rookies. Instead, Puig and Boston's Iglesias — a pair of Cuban defectors — could be the top rookies in each league.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Clint Hurdle, Pirates
This publication selected Hurdle for this award last year and that went … terrible in the second half for the Pirates. So here we go again. The streak without a winning season or a playoff berth is now at 20 years, but the Pirates are at 56-37, second place in the NL Central but also with the second-best record in baseball. The Pirates don't do much offensively, and they've given away too many at-bats to Clint Barmes and Travis Snider. But they quietly have the league's best pitching staff, with a league-leading 3.08 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP that ranks second. Jeff Locke (8-2, 2.15 ERA) has been a revelation in the rotation, Francisco Liriano is rounding back into form, and former overall No. 1 draft pick Gerrit Cole (4-3, 3.89) is off to a strong start. Jason Grilli, age 36, has 34 career saves — 29 of them this year to earn his first All-Star selection. And Grilli's setup group — including former Nebraska pitcher Tony Watson, Mark Melancon, Justin Wilson and Omaha Storm Chasers castoff Vin Mazzaro — is a combined 15-5. Hurdle had guided only one team to an above-.500 record in eight full seasons as a manager — the 2007 Rockies, who reached the World Series.
COMEBACK PLAYER: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
He's played in only 64 of the Rockies' 96 games this year, but he played only 47 all last season. He's already doubled his home run total from 2012 (from eight to 16), nearly doubled his RBI total (27 to 52) and has improved his average (.287 to .332), slugging percentage (.486 to .608) and OPS+ (113 to 156) while helping Colorado contend in the National League West. The problem, though, is staying healthy. He just returned last weekend after missing a month. Special recognition goes to teammate Jorge De La Rosa, who made just three starts last year and only 10 in 2011, but is 9-5 with a 3.21 ERA this season.