The 2009 Midseason Report Card

Our annual look at the best, worst and most unexpected during the first half of the 2009 major league season.

By Eric Gouldsberry, This Great Game
Posted July 7, 2009

This Great Game Opinion.

It’s baseball’s version of Hump Day: The midway point of the season, where we grab a view of what’s taken place so far in the majors and determine who’s hot, not, and unexpectedly good (and bad) thus far.

As an added bonus, both Ed and I have picked our choices for, among other things, the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards—if they were to be selected after roughly 81 games. Let us know if you have any thoughts by chiming in our Facebook page. (Note: All statistics evoked are based on those accumulated at the end of play on July 5.)

AL East
AL Central
AL West
NL East
NL Central
NL West

Mid-Season Honors

Ed’s pick: AL, Mark Teixeira; NL, Albert Pujols
Eric’s pick: AL, Zack Greinke; NL, Albert Pujols

Ed is going with Teixeira given he’s been the glue for the Yankees—and especially difficult on opponents when Alex Rodriguez is batting behind him. For me, I haven’t seen any truly dominant hitting performances that have single-handedly elevated a team (with the possible exception of Minnesota’s Joe Mauer), so I move toward Greinke, who’s meant more to his team than any other player. In the NL, it’s an automatic consensus on Pujols.

Cy Young Winner (Best Pitcher)
Ed’s pick: AL, Zack Greinke; NL, Jason Marquis
Eric’s pick: AL, Zack Greinke; NL, Tim Lincecum

There’s no question about Greinke in the AL, in spite of some spotty pitching of late. In the NL, Ed loves Marquis, a borderline failure over the last three years who’s re-emerged with an impressive year pitching a mile high; I go with Lincecum, who’s looking to get better with every start he makes and, to me, is easily the most dominant pitcher today.

Rookie of the First Half
Ed’s pick: AL, Rick Porcello; NL, Andrew McCutcheon
Eric’s pick: AL, Rick Porcello; NL, Tommy Hanson

We both side with Porcello, on pace for over 15 wins and providing much-needed starting power for the surprising Tigers. It’s otherwise slim pickings in the NL, where we both gone in different directions with McCutcheon and Hanson—two players who weren’t even on a major league roster until the end of May.

Manager of the First Half
Ed’s pick: AL, Jim Leyland; NL, Joe Torre
Eric’s pick: AL, Jim Leyland; NL, Joe Torre

Leyland has been a reassuring force in Detroit, where the Tigers have kept a steady lead on the AL Central; ditto Torre, who’s guided the Dodgers with remarkable ease in spite of a patchwork pitching staff and, of course, the whole Manny Ramirez drama.

Biggest Surprise (Team)
Ed’s pick: AL, Texas Rangers; NL, Colorado Rockies
Eric’s pick: AL, Toronto Blue Jays; NL, Colorado Rockies

Ed likes the Rangers, who’re actually pitching this season and are giving the Angels unexpected turbulence in the AL West standings, and the Rockies, who’ve surprisingly kicked it in out of thin air since Jim Tracy took over as manager. I side with Ed on the Rockies, but no AL team has raised my eyebrows higher than the Blue Jays, who I felt were due to crash and burn this season.

Biggest Disappointment (Team)
Ed’s pick: AL, Minnesota Twins; NL, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs (tie)
Eric’s pick: AL, Cleveland Indians; NL, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ed’s pick of the Twins seems odd given that he picked the Tigers to win the division (while I picked the Twins, so go figure). But he’s right; a .500 mark is not where we anticipated Minnesota at this point. For me, the Tribe has been a disaster, as has been the Diamondbacks, who’ve shamed my reputation for preseason picks after I embraced them as NL West favorites. Ed throws in the Cubs, who’ve maddened the Wrigley faithful with uneven results.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles
What Jumps Out: The Orioles are hitting .299 at home—and .238 on the road.

In the Spotlight: Matt Wieters. This year’s most talked-about rookie prospect finally made it on board in Baltimore on May 29 and has been okay at best, hitting around .250 with a couple of homers.

Best of Show: Adam Jones. The Mariners let the prized center fielder go in exchange for Erik Bedard and, a year later, might be beginning to regret it. Jones is hitting .300 with good power, and has been more patient at the plate, already matching his walk total of 2008.

Messed of Show: Chris Ray. Three years ago, Ray was the Oriole closer, and a pretty good one. Now, after Tommy John surgery, he’s just another struggling reliever in what has otherwise been an improved Oriole bullpen; opponents are hitting .379 against him.

Boston Red Sox
What Jumps Out: Very little. The Red Sox are proceeding on schedule toward an expected presence deep into October.

In the Spotlight: The scrap heap. Rather than go after pricey free agents this past winter, the Red Sox went for once-shining stars (John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito and Rocco Baldelli) who recently suffered through injuries. With the exception of Smoltz, who just returned to the mound, these reclamation projects have done as asked and have nobly played the role of reinforcements to an already stellar roster.

Best of Show: Jacoby Ellsbury. Yes, Kevin Youkilis is arguably enjoying a MVP-caliber campaign, but Ellsbury’s hitting (.303), speed (35 steals) and exceptional center field defense may be every bit as important to the Red Sox as the contributions given to the team last year by AL MVP Dustin Pedroia.

Messed of Show: Daisuke Matsuzaka. Boy, does David Ortiz have this guy to thank for being bumped off this dishonor. Matsuzaka has yet to make it to the sixth inning of any game this year, and it’s easy to see why with an 8.23 ERA and an opposing batting average of .378. If the World Baseball Classic is truly to blame, abolish it.

New York Yankees
What Jumps Out: Eight players on pace for 20 or more home runs. Thank you, new Yankee Stadium.

In the Spotlight: The high-priced additions: CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett. The Big New Three haven’t exactly been bowling anyone over, but by and large, they’ve been earning their money.

Best of Show: Teixeira. The most productive of the Big New Three, at least when Alex Rodriguez has been in the lineup behind him for protection purposes. Teixeira’s on pace for 40 homers and 120 RBIs.

Messed of Show: Chien-Ming Wang. Few pitchers in the history of major league baseball has had as atrocious a start to a year as Wang, who allowed 23 runs in his first six innings. After a month off to recollect his pitching game—to say nothing of himself—Wang is slowly (but not surely) getting back to normal, and finally just got his ERA under 10.00 for the first time this season.

Tampa Bay Rays
What Jumps Out: The sheer combination of power and speed; the Rays are the first team in history to collect at least 100 homers and 100 steals before the season’s midway point.

In the Spotlight: Pat Burrell. The Rays swept him off the free agent market and were hoping that his bat would sweeten a young, emerging lineup. It’s been all sour instead; Burrell’s hitting .225 with just three homers after knocking out around 30 in each of the last four years at Philadelphia.

Best of Show: Carl Crawford. Injuries curtailed Crawford from being a primary part of last year’s fun in Tampa, but he’s making up for lost time this season with a spectacular show at the plate and on the basepaths (major league-high 41 steals).

Messed of Show: Scott Kazmir. We could pick Burrell, but we’ve already picked on him. So then there’s the fragile Kazmir, hounded by injuries like never before when a quad problem made him miserable (6.79 ERA). After a month on the shelf, Kazmir appears to be on the mend, but he’s got a way to go before matching the success of his previous few years.

Toronto Blue Jays
What Jumps Out: Three everyday players hitting .300 with power—none of them named Vernon Wells or Alex Rios. (For those who want to know, they are: Scott Rolen, Adam Lind and Aaron Hill.)

In the Spotlight: Roy Halladay. A looming free agent, there was a question of whether the Blue Jay ace would even finish the season in a Toronto uniform. But the Jays have made things interesting in the AL East race, and Halladay (10-2, 2.79 ERA) has obviously contributed.

Best of Show: Hill. Tormented by concussion problems last year, Hill has rebounded in 2009 with a clear head and a clear way of destroying opponents; he’s on pace for nearly 40 homers. Hill’s previous career high is 17.

Messed of Show: Wells. It’s not that he’s been terrible (.251 average, eight homers), but the instant inclination from observers is that he should be putting up Hill-Lind numbers for the millions and millions he’s raking in.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox
What Jumps Out: The impressive return of Scott Podsednik, the offensive sparkplug for the 2005 world champion Sox. His career appeared to be on life support after a forgettable part-time showing for Colorado in 2008, but he’s made the most of his second chance in the Second City, hitting over .300.

In the Spotlight: Carlos Quentin. Last year’s MVP candidate—until he missed the last month—has had a rough go of it so far in 2009, partly sidelined by a foot injury. He’s hitting only .229 with 8 jacks in 38 games.

Best of Show: Jermaine Dye. So good, in fact, rumors abound of his being traded if the White Sox prematurely raise the white flag on the AL Central as it has been their nature to do in recent times.

Messed of Show: Jose Contreras. The 37-year-old veteran hurler from Cuba has gotten his act back together after a one-month stint in the minors, but it’s hard to ignore the totally awful time he was having that got him to Triple-A in the first place.

Cleveland Indians
What Jumps Out: A pitching staff with 14 saves—and 13 blown saves.

In the Spotlight: Kerry Wood. The Indian closer just doesn’t look at home in anything other than a Cub uniform, and judging from his mediocre effort so far in Cleveland (nine saves, four blown and a 5.27 ERA), maybe he feels out of place, too.

Best of Show: Victor Martinez, who’s rebounded with flying colors after suffering through injuries and general ineffectiveness in 2008. The question for the season’s second half is what uniform Martinez will be in by September.

Messed of Show: Fausto Carmona. Just two years ago, Carmona appeared to be on the threshold of greatness. Now he’s in the minors, attempting to resuscitate his career after another terrible start (2-6, 7.42 ERA).

Detroit Tigers
What Jumps Out: Much better-than-anticipated starting pitching, led by a revived Justin Verlander, highly improved first-year Tiger Edwin Jackson and rookie Rick Porcello.

In the Spotlight: Brandon Lyon. The former Arizona closer came to Detroit in hopes of pitching the ninth, but lost the job to Fernando Rodney (who’s converted all 17 of his save opportunities). As the set-up guy, Lyon’s been fair, holding down a 3.77 ERA.

Best of Show: Miguel Cabrera. Still only 26, Cabrera quietly remains the best pure hitter on the Tigers, hitting for average (.323) and power (16 homers).

Messed of Show: Carlos Guillen. A consistent, positive element of the Tigers’ lineup over the past five years, Guillen has been out of play since the beginning of May due to a shoulder injury, and was floundering before then, hitting just .200 with no home runs.

Kansas City Royals
What Jumps Out: The Royals are hitting .164 with the bases loaded, exposing a gaping clue as to why they’re last in the AL in runs scored.

In the Spotlight: Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs. It was thought that these two mid-level acquisitions would kick the Royal offense into a smooth rhythm. Jacobs brought the good (ten homers) along with the bad (.225 average, 74 strikeouts); the news is worse for Crisp, who hit .228 before being sidelined for the rest of the year with a rotator cuff injury.

Best of Show: Zack Greinke, who’s phenomenal start has been tempered of late with more mortal performances, but he’s still put up better numbers than any other pitcher in the season’s first half.

Messed of Show: Mike Aviles. A year ago, Aviles looked like a star in the making at shortstop; now he’s looking to start all over after season-ending elbow surgery—following a disastrous start (.183, one homer in 36 games).

Minnesota Twins
What Jumps Out: Joe Mauer’s sudden embracement of power—without sacrificing the rest of his hitting game. Memo to Joe: Take any steroid rumors in stride.

In the Spotlight: Denard Span. Injuries to others helped earn his way into the starting lineup last season; so far in 2009, he hasn’t lost the job, hitting near .300 and leading the Twins in steals.

Best of Show: Mauer, who’s having a MVP-type season as he flirts with the .400 barrier.

Messed of Show: Francisco Liriano. The whole point of having Tommy John surgery is to come back new and improved, like John himself did; it hasn’t happened to Liriano (4-8, 5.49 ERA), who’s struggling to ramp up a once-blazing fastball, his command and his hold on the starting rotation.

AL West

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
What Jumps Out: The one guy with a 0.00 ERA for the Angels: The late Nick Adenhart.

In the Spotlight: Brian Fuentes. It’s a tough act to follow Francisco Rodriguez and his 63 saves, but after a rough start, Fuentes has won over the majority of the Angel faithful—and, oh, he leads the majors with 24 saves.

Best of Show: Torii Hunter, who’s been doing it all for the Angels so far at the plate, on the basepaths and in the outfield. He has to be considered a front-runner for the AL MVP.

Messed of Show: Gary Matthews, Jr. Say his name to anyone in the Angel front office and you’ll have them reaching for the nearest Advil. The $50 million man continues to decline, hitting just .229 with a pair of homers.

Oakland A's
What Jumps Out: As usual, the lack of anyone hitting near .300.

In the Spotlight: Matt Holliday. Oakland’s high-priced rental for roughly two-thirds of the season has played pretty much as anticipated away from Coors Field: With good, not great numbers. Maybe a trade back to Colorado will save his 2009 campaign—and engineer a few extra million on the free agent market.

Best of Show: Andrew Bailey. The 25-year old rookie has had to grow up fast—like most Oakland pitchers in recent years—but rightfully inherited the closer role in May, thanks to a 2.03 ERA.

Messed of Show: Bobby Crosby. When are the A’s going to give up on this guy? Since winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2004, Crosby has been racked by injuries and poor performance in general. It’s taken a .199 average to finally convince the A’s he’s not everyday material.

Seattle Mariners
What Jumps Out: The late, late blooming of 12-year veteran Russell Branyan, a career .237 power hitter finally playing everyday for the first time—and making the most of it, hitting near .300 and on pace for 40 homers.

In the Spotlight: Adrian Beltre. The last time he was in the final year of a contract, Beltre absolutely smoked opponents apart as if lobbying for A-Rod money. With free agent status looming in 2009, Beltre isn’t close to matching his 2004 greatness, batting .259 with just five homers; recent shoulder surgery will further decrease his odds of another big payday.

Best of Show: Ichiro Suzuki. Just the same ol’, same ol’: A .362 average and 17 steals. He easily leads the majors in hits despite missing the first eight games of the season.

Messed of Show: Carlos Silva. So far, the Mariners have paid the pitcher roughly $18 million to put up a 5-18 record and 6.77 ERA since signing him in 2008—with the worst of those numbers invested so far in 2009. A shoulder injury is giving Silva some rest—and the Mariners more chances to win.

Texas Rangers
What Jumps Out: A team ERA that’s actually in the middle of the major league pack. Maybe Texas team president Nolan Ryan was right about that fitness regimen he commanded.

In the Spotlight: Elvis Andrus. It seemed like a tall order to bring up a guy with a sloppy glove and no experience past the Class-AA level. But perhaps the Rangers knew something we didn’t; he’s hitting a respectable (if not awe-inspiring) .267, leads the team in steals, and hasn’t been an embarrassment at shortstop.

Best of Show: Kevin Millwood. This is what Ryan was hoping for out of his pitchers: An 8-5 record and 2.80 ERA in 119 innings, all belonging to Millwood—who’s pitched at least seven frames in 12 of his 17 starts.

Messed of Show: Rob Deer, meet Chris Davis (.202, 15 homers, 114 strikeouts). Chris Davis, Rob Deer. You two have a lot in common to discuss.

NL East

Atlanta Braves
What Jumps Out: No one on this team has more than five steals.

In the Spotlight: Derek Lowe. One of the few free agents to say yes to the Braves during the winter, Lowe has produced mixed results in his first year at Atlanta, leading the team with seven wins despite an underwhelming 4.56 ERA.

Best of Show: Rafael Soriano. When are the Braves going to make this guy their full-time closer? With a WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning) under 1.00 since 2006 and opponents hitting well under .200 against him, you’d think the Braves would send Soriano out in the ninth every chance they got.

Messed of Show: Kelly Johnson. The 27-year-old second baseman’s lousy year—hitting .214—just got lousier with a trip to the DL due to tendinitis in his wrist.

Florida Marlins
What Jumps Out: They’re actually building a new ballpark for the Marlins.

In the Spotlight: Cameron Maybin. The young prospect was pegged as the Opening Day center fielder after teasing the Marlins at the end of 2008 with a dynamic late call-up effort, but the magic hasn’t been there so far this season; he batted .208 with one steal in 26 games before being sent back to Triple-A.

Best of Show: Hanley Ramirez. The 25-year-old shortstop continues to prove his All-Star value, finishing the first half of the year leading the NL with a .346 average; in June alone, he knocked in 33 runs.

Messed of Show: Closer Matt Lindstrom is making former Marlin Kevin Gregg look awfully good. Amazingly, Lindstrom has only blown two of 16 save opps despite a 6.52 ERA.

New York Mets
What Jumps Out: The sheer volume of talent…on the disabled list.

In the Spotlight: Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz. The two closers were brought on board to revive a bullpen that sank the Mets last year. Rodriguez has pulled his weight, saving 21 games with a stellar 1.59 ERA; a bad elbow caught up to Putz after a good start, ballooning his ERA and placing him on the shelf until August.

Best of Show: David Wright. It’s not that he’s been good—perched at or near the top of the NL batting leaders—but that he’s been the one Met hitting star to actually remain healthy.

Messed of Show: Oliver Perez. Incredibly, the Mets gave Perez virtually the same contract as Rodriguez, and this is what they’ve gotten out of him so far: A 1-2 record, 9.97 ERA and two months on the disabled list.

Philadelphia Phillies
What Jumps Out: One of the majors’ worst records at home—and the best on the road.

In the Spotlight: Raul Ibanez. We predicted that Ibanez (.321, 22 home runs, 59 RBIs) would be a “modest upgrade” to the position vacated by Pat Burrell (.222, three homers in Tampa Bay). To say our comment was modest is the understatement of the year.

Best of Show: Ibanez. All that output, and he’s missed two weeks to injury.

Messed of Show: A tie between Jimmy Rollins and Brad Lidge. Rollins didn’t make any bold predictions this spring; maybe he didn’t want to tell everyone he was in for a rotten year. Lidge, meanwhile, has already blown six saves after not allowing one for all of 2008, and suggested that his current knee problems go back to the piling on by his teammates at the end of last year’s World Series.

Washington Nationals
What Jumps Out: By the numbers, the Nationals are the fifth-highest draw on the road. Maybe that’s because the fans who show up know that their home team will likely win against the Nats (9-29 on the road).

In the Spotlight: Adam Dunn. The address may have changed for Mr. Consistency, but the numbers have not: He’s hitting .260 and is on pace for the usual 40 homers, 100-plus walks, and near-200 strikeouts. Those stats aren’t helping the Nats; then again, Babe Ruth in his prime couldn’t save these guys.

Best of Show: Ryan Zimmerman (.293, 13 homers, 47 RBIs). The young third baseman generated the only positive news related to baseball in Washington this year with a 30-game hitting streak.

Messed of Show: Joel Hanrahan. Hard to believe this guy was a member of the American WBC team this past spring. Hanrahan was a disaster for the Nationals, saving only five of ten games and being clobbered for a 7.71 ERA. He’s Pittsburgh’s problem now after a trade to the Pirates.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs
What Jumps Out: Pitcher Ted Lilly has committed five errors—in 19 chances.

In the Spotlight: Milton Bradley. The Cubs took a three-year, $30 million gamble on the physically and emotionally fragile veteran, and it so far appears that they’re losing. In the season’s first half, Bradley is batting .245 with six homers, 19 RBIs, one suspension, one altercation with Lou Piniella and one trip to the DL.

Best of Show: Derrek Lee. With so much underachieving going on in the Cubs’ lineup, Lee has been an alternative breath of fresh air, hitting .285 and on pace for 30 homers and 100 RBIs.

Messed of Show: Alfonso Soriano. The normally prodigious leadoff batter has never been confused for a threat to win a batting title, but his .226 mark is more than 50 points off his career average. That, along with his dubious defense in left, has ignited the wrath of the Wrigley Bleacher Bums upon him.

Cincinnati Reds
What Jumps Out: How it is that, for the second straight year, Bronson Arroyo (5.85 ERA) can get away without a losing record while Aaron Harang (5-8, 3.86) can’t buy a break by comparison.

In the Spotlight: Willy Taveras. The Reds were hoping that the ex-Rockie’s speedy presence in the leadoff spot would ignite the boomers hitting behind him. His .244 average to date is convincing many that if you can’t hit at Colorado, you can’t hit anywhere.

Best of Show: Joey Votto. The third-year slugger has been dealing with depression, but believe us, his numbers so far (.364, ten homers and 41 RBIs in 50 games) have nothing to do with it.

Messed of Show: Jay Bruce. The 22-year old has shown a lot of pop (18 homers)—and flop (.217 average).

Houston Astros
What Jumps Out: The Astros have blown 11 of 21 save opportunities at home.

In the Spotlight: Nobody expected Mike Hampton, a shadow of his greatness from 1999 when he last wore a Houston jersey, to burst out and go 22-4 again. At 4-5 with a 4.44 ERA, Hampton has been given the Astros the good, the bad—but not the ugly. At least he can still hit (.360 average in 25 at-bats).

Best of Show: Miguel Tejada. With a .326 average and 26 doubles, consider it a comeback year for a guy who’s successfully overcoming the stigma of proven steroid usage.

Messed of Show: Brandon Backe. One of the worst pitchers in the majors last year was off to an even worse start in 2009, slogging through with a 10.38 ERA in five appearances before the Astros finally said enough and let him go.

Milwaukee Brewers
What Jumps Out: Six players on pace for 100 strikeouts.

In the Spotlight: Trevor Hoffman. More than a few experts felt the all-time saves leader had little or no gas left in the tank. So Hoffman goes out, doesn’t allow a run until mid-June and has converted 18 of 19 save opps. Lesson: Never underestimate a future Hall of Famer.

Best of Show: Yovani Gallardo. When the Brewers decided not to resign CC Sabathia, they pinned their pitching hopes partly on the highly thought-of 23-year old Mexican native; with an 8-5 record and 2.75 ERA thus far, Gallardo clearly looks to be the new ace in town.

Messed of Show: Manny Parra. Perhaps the threat of getting shoved around again by Prince Fielder got to be too great. Parra had a rocky start and then utterly collapsed in June, forcing him to Triple-A with a 7.52 ERA.

Pittsburgh Pirates
What Jumps Out: Adam LaRoche may be the only Pirate to finish 2009 with ten or more homers.

In the Spotlight: Breaking .500. The Pirates haven’t made that grade since 1992, and although the season hasn’t been mailed in yet, it doesn’t look good for the Bucs to avoid setting a pro sports record with their 17th straight losing year.

Best of Show: Zach Duke. With an 8-7 record and 3.28 ERA, Duke finally appears to have regained the convincing touch of his 2005 rookie performance.

Messed of Show: Ian Snell, so upset with his 2-8 record and 5.36 ERA that he asked the Pirates—not vice versa—to be sent to the minors.

St. Louis Cardinals
What Jumps Out: Above everything else, Super-Cardinal Albert Pujols leads the team in steals.

In the Spotlight: Jason Motte. The fireballing rookie won the closer’s job in spring training, then lost it after a spectacular meltdown on Opening Day. He’s been standard at best in middle relief since.

Best of Show: Pujols. Best baseball hitter on the planet. Period.

Messed of Show: Khalil Greene. The first-year Cardinal looked good in spring training, but then the at-bats started to count. He’s struggled to keep his average over .200 and, worse, has been sent to the disabled list with that new thing, social anxiety disorder.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks
What Jumps Out: Pitchers Dan Haren and Doug Davis, who together have a 2.62 ERA, are a combined 11-13.

In the Spotlight: Chad Qualls, who’s been an adequate—not stifling—replacement for the departed Brandon Lyon in the closer role. Still, Qualls’ 3.93 ERA is a run better than that of Lyon in 2008.

Best of Show: Haren. He’s 8-5 and, if he was on the flip side of the coin of luck, could be 13-0. But he’s been failed again and again by the bullpen and/or a lack of support.

Messed of Show: Chris Young. Bad habits at the plate appear to be dooming the center fielder’s season; he’s batting .197, his home run total is down and the voluminous number of strikeouts—well, they’re always there.

Colorado Rockies
What Jumps Out: Four starting pitchers with ERAs under 4.00. When have we ever seen that in Colorado?

In the Spotlight: Huston Street. Traded from Oakland to fill in for the departed Brian Fuentes, Street has been a key component of the Rockies’ dazzling run through June, when he racked up 11 of his 19 saves.

Best of Show: Brad Hawpe, who’s inherited the role of prime slugger vacated by Matt Holliday—and inherited it well, hitting .327 with 13 home runs and 56 RBIs.

Messed of Show: Garrett Atkins. While Hawpe has surged to fill the Holliday void, Atkins (.225, six homers, 25 RBIs) has not. A hot late June has at least kept him from finishing the first half of the season below the .200 barrier.

Los Angeles Dodgers
What Jumps Out: An overachieving pitching staff loaded with guys (Jeff Weaver, Eric Milton, Randy Wolf) considered major league scrap before the season began.

In the Spotlight: Jonathan Broxton. After a shaky debut as Dodger closer in 2008, Broxton has found a dominant rhythm and made Dodger fans forget about Takashi Saito. Broxton has struck out 65 batters in 39.2 innings, and opponents are hitting just .132 against him.

Best of Show: Manny Ramirez, who still seems to have that post-Boston kick going in Dodger Blue.

Messed of Show: Manny Ramirez, who disappointed a whole lot of folks in the Southland with his 50-game suspension for using a female fertility drug banned by MLB.

San Diego Padres
What Jumps Out: The Padres are 14-10 in games decided by a run, 21-36 when decided by more.

In the Spotlight: The bullpen. With Trevor Hoffman’s departure, the Padres’ relief corps appeared to be vastly inexperienced and in need of a closer out of the blue. They found one in Heath Bell, who carries a sharp 1.49 ERA and leads the NL in saves for a team that doesn’t win often.

Best of Show: Scott Hairston. A model of positive consistency, he’s batting over .300 on the road and at Petco Park (where no other everyday guy is hitting above .240.) And to show just how committed the Padres are to winning now, they just rewarded trading him to Oakland.

Messed of Show: Brian Giles, who at 38 is starting to show his age with a .191 average and just two homers; he doesn’t even have the usual, voluminous number of walks to fall back on.

San Francisco Giants
What Jumps Out: The Giants have the second best record in the NL.

In the Spotlight: Pablo Sandoval. The big kid is for real, with a .333 average and 12 homers. What’s more frightening for opposing pitchers: He’s taking pitches.

Best of Show: Tim Lincecum. Last year’s NL Cy Young recipient is halfway to winning another, if he can maintain his first-half pace (9-2, 2.23 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 121 innings).

Messed of Show: Jonathan Sanchez. The Giants have been banking on the southpaw to be the next big thing in an already gifted rotation, but Sanchez (2-8, 5.30 ERA, 46 walks in 69.2 innings) has suffered from focus problems, among many other things.

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All Things Being Equal: Our Picks for 2009
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