Comeback player of the year
Who would've been surprised if the Cubs' Kerry Wood, above, had never pitched again? Not only is he pitching, he has become one of the top closers in baseball.
It's the 'stache! (Or the golden thong, oh my!) Jason Giambi looked tired and old and just about out of gas a year ago. Now he's in the top 10 in homers and RBIs and has kept the Yankees afloat as much an anyone.
The Major League Baseball All-Star Game isn't until next week, but today we take a look back at the first half of the season. And what a season, huh? The Rays are in first place and, uh, the Rays are first place. What more needs to be said than that to prove just how wacky the first half has been? Anyway, here are our midseason awards.
Most valuable player
If you go strictly by numbers, you'd have to take Houston's Lance Berkman, who is hitting .350 and is on pace for 42 homers and 130 RBIs, or Atlanta's Chipper Jones, who is flirting with .400. But for impact, the pick has to be Philadelphia's Chase Utley, who has helped the Phillies into first place and is on pace to break the record (43) for most homers by a second baseman. Pick: Utley
The usual suspects — A-Rod, Manny, Ortiz — are not really in the discussion at the moment, though A-Rod is coming on strong. I wouldn't have a problem with Chicago's Carlos Quentin, but come on, the sentimental favorite has be former Ray Josh Hamilton. What a story. And what numbers: over .300, 19 homers and, holy cow, 83 RBIs! Pick: Hamilton
San Francisco's Tim Lincecum is 10-1 with a 2.49 ERA, while the Reds' Edinson Volquez is 10-3 with a 2.24 ERA. Both pitch for mediocre teams, which makes what they do more impressive. Then again, they're never pitching in big games, and that diminishes (a tad) what they have done. Arizona's Brandon Webb has a high ERA (3.43), but his 12-4 record and his 1.16 WHIP is good stuff. Pick: Webb
Oakland's Justin Duchscherer is only 9-5, but look at the ERA: 1.96. In the AL, that's incredible. Joe Saunders has been the surprise ace of the Angels at 12-4. Cliff Lee is 11-1 with a 2.26 ERA on a bad Indians team. It's never popular to go with a reliever, but, geez, the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez has converted 34 of 36 saves with a 1.93 ERA. Pick: Rodriguez
Rookie of the year
If someone had told you before the season that the Cubs would have a serious rookie of the year candidate, you would've thought Kosuke Fukudome. And Fukodome has solid numbers for a rookie. But it's teammate Geovany Soto who should get the attention. He's batting over .290 and is on pace to drive in 100 runs. That's great for a catcher. For a rookie catcher? Off the charts. Pick: Soto
Hard to believe Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury is still a rookie, and there's always chatter about Yankees cult hero Joba Chamberlain. But this isn't even close, is it? We all knew Rays third baseman Evan Longoria had a chance to be good. But this good? This soon? He has been the best player offensively and defensively on the best team in baseball so far. Pick: Longoria
Five craziest first-half story lines
Manager of the year
Sweet Lou Piniella has the Cubs thinking World Series and there's a St. Louis team that has no business being in the mix, so maybe it's finally time to admit Tony La Russa isn't overrated. But who would've thought the Marlins would be just a few games out in the NL East?
Pick: Florida's Fredi Gonzalez
Again, a no-brainer, wouldn't you say? If the Rays' Joe Maddon isn't the pick, then you don't know baseball. Pick: Maddon
Okay, we're going to cheat here and go back a few years. At the same time, we get to tease the New York Mets, and that's always fun. But don't you think those in Queens are still cursing the trade that sent Scott Kazmir from the Mets to the Rays for Victor Zambrano? This could end up being of Milt Pappas-for-Frank Robinson proportions.
A perfect deal is when the trade works out well for both sides. The Reds and Rangers both have to be ecstatic over the trade that sent Josh Hamilton from Cincinnati to Texas for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera. Hamilton is an AL MVP candidate; Volquez is an NL Cy Young candidate.
Most surprising teams
Marlins: Something says they'll fall apart in second half.
NL Central: The top three teams (Cubs, Cards, Brewers) might be league's three best teams.
Pirates: They're under .500, but some thought this team could lose 100.
Rays: Truly the story in baseball this season.
White Sox: Everyone thought the Tigers were the team to beat in the Central.
Twins: How does Ron Gardenhire keep putting out winning teams?
Most disappointing teams
ROCKIES: Did this team really go to the World Series last season?
METS: They were supposed to run away with the East with Johan Santana.
REDS: Some picked this team as a darkhose. They're in last place in the Central.
TIGERS: Still a dangerous team, but what an awful start.
INDIANS: Thought to be a contender, not a last-place team.
MARINERS: Preseason contender pick to worst team in the AL.
The Rays are in first place!
Brandon Inge pulls a muscle adjusting his son's pillow
Houston's Shawn Chacon is released after wrestling with GM
Boston's Manny Ramirez shoves team employee, over tickets!
A-Rod and Madonna?
Five fearless second-half predictions
1. This time it's the Phillies who will choke away the NL East to the Mets.
2. The Rays will not win the AL East (Boston will), but Tampa Bay will take the wild card.
3. The White Sox will still win the AL Central, but the Tigers will take over first place at some point in the second half.
4. The Cubs will reach the World Series.
5. Hey, why not? The Rays will beat the Cubs for the World Series!
Care to comment? Tom Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.