Trout still setting the standard in AL through first half

At the All-Star break last year, Chris Sale looked as if he might pull away in the American League Cy Young race. He already had 178 strikeouts with only 22 walks.

By the end of the season, of course, Sale had to settle for second place – and not a particularly close second – after Corey Kluber took the award away with a torrid second half.

That’s all just a roundabout way of saying that the following midseason awards aren’t meant as predictions of who will actually win these in 2018. It’s just a quick attempt to honor the players who have stood out so far.

AL MVP

Top Contenders: Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Aaron Judge, Yankees; Francisco Lindor, Indians; Jose Ramirez, Indians; Mike Trout, Angels

The Pick: Trout

Trout leads the AL in on-base percentage, and although he’s second to Betts in OPS, he’s played in 19 more games than the Boston outfielder. Trout also has the lead in wins above replacement – both the Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs versions. You could put together an entire 10-man MVP ballot that’s just Trout and nine players from the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians and Astros.

AL CY YOUNG

Top Contenders: Trevor Bauer, Indians; Gerrit Cole, Astros; Corey Kluber, Indians; Chris Sale, Red Sox; Luis Severino, Yankees; Justin Verlander, Astros

The Pick: Sale

At some point, all those strikeouts are going to be enough, right? Sale has finished in the top six of the Cy Young vote in each of the past six seasons, but he has yet to win it. Last year, he fanned 308 batters – baseball’s highest total since 1999 – and got all of two first-place votes. Severino has 14 wins already, but Sale has an AL-leading 2.23 ERA and 188 Ks.

NL MVP

Top Contenders: Lorenzo Cain, Brewers; Freddie Freeman, Braves; Max Muncy, Dodgers; Aaron Nola, Phillies

The Pick: Cain

Good luck coming up with a satisfying answer on this award. Right now the NL WAR leaderboard is topped by pitchers – Baseball-Reference has Nola, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer ahead of all position players. Just sorting out that trio is hard enough (more on that later) and it’s not clear if any of those right-handers has stood out enough to win MVP honors as a pitcher. Yes, you can actually make a bit of a case for Muncy, who has come out of nowhere to hit 22 homers and lift the Dodgers back to first place after a difficult start. But he doesn’t even qualify for the batting title yet.

The top position players are Freeman, the steady Atlanta slugger, and Cain. Although he’s only played 80 games himself, Cain has been a terrific all-around player, and his arrival this year seems to have given Milwaukee’s defense an important boost.

NL CY YOUNG

Top Contenders: Jacob deGrom, Mets; Josh Hader, Brewers; Aaron Nola, Phillies; Max Scherzer, Nationals; Ross Stripling, Dodgers

The Pick: deGrom

One of the few bright spots for the floundering Mets, deGrom has a 1.68 ERA that sets him apart from Nola (2.30) and Scherzer (2.41). Hader has been spectacular in relief, with a 1.50 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 48 innings – but he’s only thrown about half as many innings as Stripling. If Hader is receiving Cy Young support, Stripling (8-2 with a 2.08 ERA in 95 1/3 innings) should be, too.

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Top Contenders: Shohei Ohtani, Angels; Gleyber Torres, Yankees

The Pick: Ohtani

Torres has the slightly better OPS and 84 more at-bats than Ohtani. Plus, Torres plays in the field at second base. The question is whether Ohtani’s pitching – a 3.10 ERA over nine starts – makes up for that. Right now it’s close. If Ohtani’s injured elbow keeps him off the mound, Torres likely overtakes him.

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Top Contenders: Brian Anderson, Marlins; Harrison Bader, Cardinals; Seranthony Dominguez, Phillies; Juan Soto, Nationals

The Pick: Anderson

Soto has been terrific in 51 games, but his late start leaves him with a playing time deficit against Anderson and Bader.

AL MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Top Contenders: Aaron Boone, Yankees; Alex Cora, Red Sox; Bob Melvin, Athletics; Scott Servais, Mariners

The Pick: Cora

Boone and Cora took over talented rosters in high-pressure situations and have managed their transitions smoothly. Cora’s Red Sox could be on their way to one of the best regular seasons in that franchise’s (lengthy) history.

NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR

Top Contenders: Craig Counsell, Brewers; Gabe Kapler, Phillies; Brian Snitker, Braves

The Pick: Kapler

It’s been quite a turnaround for Kapler after a tough start that had him getting booed at Philadelphia’s home opener. Now the Phillies are in first place despite having only one All-Star in Nola.

More AP baseball: Hometeaminsider.com

Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

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