HBT First-Half Awards: American League MVP

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With no baseball on Wednesday or Thursday, we’re taking stock of the best performances of the first half of the season by handing out midseason awards. Maybe someday we’ll have the budget for an actual Midseason Award Trophy, but for now they merely get our kind and admiring words. Next up: American League MVP.

Aaron Gleeman‘s ballot:

1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
2. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
3. Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays

Angels center fielder Mike Trout is the reigning MVP and, in my opinion, also should have won the award in 2012 and 2013. He’s having perhaps his best season yet, leading the league in homers, slugging percentage, and runs scored–and OPS, among players not on the disabled list–while playing an up-the-middle position defensively and playing it well. It just doesn’t get any better in terms of all-around value. We’re seeing something truly special in Trout, who may end this season as the most valuable player in the history of baseball through age 23.

Manny Machado of the Orioles and Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays are much different players stylistically, but they’re both providing very good offense and elite defense at third base. They narrowly beat out Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis and injured Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera to round out my top three, with a little nod to the handful of starting pitchers who also warranted strong consideration for their great first halves.

Craig Calcaterra‘s ballot:

1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
2. Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians
3. Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles

It’s Mike Trout’s world and we’re all just living in it. He’s probably going to win the MVP award again and, like Aaron said, it should probably be his fourth. And contrary to the bizarre anti-Trout narrative so many people feel obligated to perpetuate, saying Trout is the best player in the game does not require one to know the first thing about advanced metrics. He’s leading the league in homers and runs. He’s slugging better than anyone. He has scored more runs and has more total bases than anyone. He plays eye-popping center field. His skills and numbers are such that they would be every bit as understood by an awards voter in 1935 as they are in 2015, and to suggest otherwise makes you sound silly.

Beyond him things get fun. Miguel Cabrera is an all-offense candidate, but a really good one. His calf injury will take him out of the actual MVP conversation — and he doesn’t make my top three here — but one must nonetheless tip their cap to how dang good he was in the first half.

But when it comes to actually casting a ballot, I am an all-around-player partisan, and Jason Kipnis’ all-around game has been second best to only Trout’s this year in the AL in my view. After a sort of slow start he has been astounding at the plate this year while playing a nifty second base while rapping doubles off the wall, walking a heck of a lot for guy with only six homers and playing every dang day. As I wrote yesterday, the Indians aren’t dead yet and have a chance to make some noise in the second half. The fact that they’re not totally dead yet with everything else that has gone wrong has an awful lot to do with Kipnis.

Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson are also having fantastic seasons, of course. But we decided to only go top three, so there we are.

Renfroe slam helps Rays sweep young Blue Jays in 1st round

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
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The Tampa Bay Rays gathered in front of their dugout and posed for a celebratory team picture they’re hoping will not be the last they take this postseason.

Hunter Renfroe hit a grand slam and the top-seeded Rays won a postseason series for the first time in 12 years, overpowering the young Toronto Blue Jays 8-2 Wednesday to finish a two-game sweep of their wild-card matchup.

And with a roster featuring just a handful of players who have posted impressive resumes so far, the AL East champs believe they’re nowhere near finished.

“We’ve been confident since Day One. So if we put the our heads down and just do what we’ve been doing and prepare like we’ve been preparing, the sky’s the limit,” winning pitcher Tyler Glasnow said.

Said manager Kevin Cash: “We have very good players first and foremost.”

“I understand the back of the baseball card stuff and some of our guys are not as established,” he said. “What we do have, what makes it formidable is that the entire roster is used to help us win games. We do that consistently during the season and are definitely going to do it in the postseason.”

Renfroe launched the first playoff grand slam in franchise history during a six-run second inning. Glasnow kept Tampa Bay ahead from there, allowing two runs – on a pair of homers by Danny Jansen – in six innings.

Mike Zunino hit a two-run homer off Blue Jays ace Hyun Jin Ryu during Tampa Bay’s big inning. Manuel Margot and Randy Arozarena also drove in runs as the Rays advanced to the AL Division series against either the New York Yankees or Cleveland Indians.

The next round starts Monday at Petco Park in San Diego. Renfroe is plenty familiar with the stadium – he hit 85 home runs in the previous three years for the Padres before being traded to the Rays last December.

“The opportunity in front of us is where you want to be,” Cash said.

The Rays celebrated with some hugs and handshakes after the final out.

Glasnow, who walked one and struck out eight before a small gathering of family and friends who were allowed to attend the series at Tropicana Field.

Ryu was rocked for a season-high seven runs in 1 2/3 innings, the lefty’s shortest outing of the season for the wild-card Blue Jays.

It was a disappointing finish for Toronto, which overcame a slow start to make a surprising run to its first playoff berth since 2016 with a roster featuring 19 players without previous major league playoff experience, including Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“Great season. I’m proud of my kids to make it to this point,” second-year Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said.

“It’s obvious that the Rays are a pretty good team, that’s why they’re picked to go to the World Series,” he said. “In this series, we didn’t hit. We only scored three runs. That’s not enough to beat that team.”

The Rays, who won the opener 3-1 with a nice mix of pitching, defense and timely hitting, had dropped five consecutive multigame postseason series dating to the 2008 World Series.

A year ago, they beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before losing to Houston in the division round – a five-game setback that nevertheless heightened team expectations heading into this season.

Ryu signed with the Blue Jays in free agency last winter after being an All-Star with the Los Angeles Dodgers and finishing second in NL Cy Young Award balloting in 2019.

The 33-year-old lefty had the AL’s fourth-best ERA this season. And, his career mark of .295 is third-best behind Clayton Kershaw (2.43) and Jacob deGrom (2.61) among active pitchers with at least 700 innings pitched.

Ryu’s impressive credentials meant nothing Wednesday.

The Rays began the first inning with three straight hits and scored their first run on Manuel Margot’s one-out single. Ryu escaped a bases-loaded jam by striking out Willy Adames, however his outing got worse the next inning.

After Zunino’s homer made it 3-0, Tampa Bay loaded the bases again on a double, walk and shortstop Bo Bichette’s second error of the day.

Renfroe, obtained from San Diego in an offseason trade that sent Tommy Pham to the Padres, hit his grand slam into the left field seats to extend the lead to 7-0.

“They were getting hits off all my pitches. I don’t think they were necessarily sitting on one or something like that,” Ryu said through a translator. “I just didn’t have a good game.”

“We have a lot to be proud of, we really do,” Jansen said. “We knocked on the door and next year we’re going to be ready to go through it.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: 1B Rowdy Tellez, who had a pinch-hit single in Game 1 Tuesday, remained out of the starting lineup. He was placed on the 10-day IL on Sept. 9 with a right knee sprain and missed the rest of the regular season.

Rays: INF Yandy Diaz (right hamstring strain) started at third base, his first game since Aug. 31.

UP NEXT

The Rays will play in the AL division round for the sixth time in franchise history, with all of the appearances coming since 2008.

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