Baseball has problems that sometimes seem intractable. Too many teams are headed for 95 or more losses; home runs have become so commonplace that they’ve lost their excitement; and strikeouts are piling up at an alarming rate.
But with the season at its midpoint, there are individual performances worth celebrating.
Players such as Mike Trout, Justin Verlander, and Max Scherzer are in the middle of careers that will be remembered for their historical significance. Seeing Trout now is akin to seeing Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle in their primes.
So with the caveat that the final three months of the season will surely bring changes, here’s a look at the midseason award winners after checking in with a few executives, managers, scouts, and players to get their opinions.
AL Most Valuable Player
Mike Trout, Angels — It’s hard to fathom that a $430 million contract extension would make sense for any player. But Trout is not just any player and has been worth every dime so far. At 27, he’s having the best season of his career offensively and is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game.
He’s among the leaders in WAR, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs, home runs, and walks. You name it and he’s good at it.
Trout hasn’t been named MVP since 2016. He seems intent on adding what would be his third.
Do yourself a favor and try to see him play in person. He’s bigger than you probably expect — like a football player — and it makes his athletic ability all the more impressive. Trout is the kind of player you’ll want to tell your grandchildren you saw.
In contention — Alex Bregman, Astros; Gary Sanchez, Yankees; Jorge Polanco, Twins; Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox.
NL Most Valuable Player
Christian Yelich, Brewers — The choice could just as easily be Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers, who has been better statistically. But Yelich has put the Brewers on his back.
Milwaukee’s next most productive hitters have been Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas. Bellinger is part of a deeper team with a better pitching staff, so Yelich gets the edge for now.
But at 23, Bellinger has been the breakout player of the season. He’s on pace to finish the season with more than 50 home runs, 125 runs, and 125 RBIs. Bellinger was 1 for 16 in the World Series last season and 6 for 52 overall for the postseason. He’s been making up for that since.
In contention — Cody Bellinger, Dodgers; Anthony Rendon, Nationals; Ketel Marte, Diamondbacks; Nolan Arenado, Rockies.
AL Cy Young
Justin Verlander, Astros — At 36, Verlander is defying the trend of protecting starting pitchers by limiting their innings. He pitched into the seventh inning in 13 of his first 17 starts and leads the AL in innings.
He’s been dominant, too, with an 0.75 WHIP and a 6.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In an age of so much offense, Verlander hasn’t given up more than four earned runs in a start. Chris Sale has done that three times.
Verlander won his only Cy Young in 2011. Kate Upton should have no complaints this season.
In contention — Mike Minor, Rangers; Charlie Morton, Rays; Jose Berrios, Twins; Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees.
NL Cy Young
Max Scherzer, Nationals — In what has been a disjointed season in Washington, Scherzer remains fearsome. He allowed two or fewer earned runs 12 times in his first 17 starts but was 7-5.
Back in February, Scherzer made the long drive across Florida to face the Red Sox for three innings in a spring training game rather than pitch against minor leaguers back in West Palm Beach. “I’ll drive anywhere to get a chance to face these guys,” he said. “It’ll make me better.”
Sox pitchers should take a lesson from that attitude next season.
In contention — Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers; Cole Hamels, Cubs; Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks; Luis Castillo, Reds.
AL Rookie of the Year
Brandon Lowe, Rays — Right now, there’s not much other choice. The 24-year-old second baseman and occasional outfielder has an OPS approaching .900, and no other rookie is close to that.
Michael Chavis of the Red Sox has been the next most productive rookie despite all his strikeouts.
But Blue Jays rookies Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio will make a run at the award in the second half, as will White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez. Guerrero’s incredible bat speed could lead to huge numbers.
In contention — Michael Chavis, Red Sox; Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays; Eloy Jimenez, White Sox; John Means, Orioles.
NL Rookie of the Year
Pete Alonso, Mets — The burly first baseman is having the kind of season the Mets haven’t seen from a rookie since Darryl Strawberry in 1983. Alonso had 27 home runs and 61 RBIs through the team’s first 81 games.
It’s been an embarrassing season otherwise for the Mets. But Alonso is a power hitter with a good approach at the plate. He has given their fans something to dream on.
But like the American League, challengers will arise in the second half. Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., only 20, is already making a run.
In contention — Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres; Alex Verdugo, Dodgers; Mike Soroka, Braves; Chris Paddack, Padres.
AL Manager of the Year
Aaron Boone, Yankees — Rocco Baldelli has been terrific for the Twins in his first season, and Kevin Cash wrings everything he can out of the low-budget Rays. But Boone has kept the Yankees on an upswing despite a relentless stream of injuries.
Through 80 games, the Yankees had Giancarlo Stanton for 10 and Aaron Judge for 25. But they still built a big lead in the AL East as Boone turned to players such as Gio Urshela and Luke Voit.
Payroll matters. But it also matters when a manager has the ability to keep his team from losing faith in the face of obstacles. Boone has kept the Yankees focused on the game in front of them, not who isn’t in the lineup.
In contention — Rocco Baldelli, Twins; Chris Woodward, Rangers; Kevin Cash, Rays; AJ Hinch, Astros.
NL Manager of the Year
Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks — Alex Cora has been an excellent manager for the Red Sox and has all the qualities you’d want for the job. But I still wonder what would have happened had the Sox named Lovullo manager in 2015 and moved John Farrell into the front office.
Lovullo showed he could handle the job when he filled in for Farrell during his cancer treatments. Morally, the Sox did the right thing by bringing Farrell back to manage. But you knew Lovullo would get a chance somewhere, and it was with Arizona.
Despite the trade of Paul Goldschmidt and the losses of Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock to free agency, the Diamondbacks are a wild-card contender.
In contention — David Bell, Reds; Dave Roberts, Dodgers; Brian Snitker, Braves; Joe Maddon, Cubs.
IT DOESN’T ADD UP
Red Sox fail bullpen math
It’s hard to fault the Red Sox for not bringing back Joe Kelly. He was inconsistent last season, and the righthander has been even worse for the Dodgers this year, although there has been improvement this month.
The same is true for Craig Kimbrel. His postseason downturn was alarming and his intransigence about being used in non-save situations was a problem.
But Kelly and Kimbrel combined to make 136 appearances and throw 128 innings last season, and that usage had to be accounted for somehow. But it wasn’t.
The only reliever added to the Red Sox’ 40-man roster from outside the organization was Colten Brewer, a righthander the Padres traded in lieu of designating him for assignment.
How the Sox expected to make up 136 appearances with assorted castoffs and rookies wasn’t clear.
We’re seeing now that they can’t. It didn’t work. Matt Barnes is worn out. Heath Hembree landed on the injured list. Brandon Workman won’t be able to survive at the rate they’re using him. The same is true for Ryan Brasier.
Now the season hangs on Dave Dombrowski being able to trade for a reliever or two capable of getting outs late in games.
There are many candidates out there given all the non-contenders, and surely some help will be on the way.
But six months ago, the Sox could have let Steve Pearce walk and non-tendered Tyler Thornburg. That would have given them $8 million to work with on the bullpen.
Adam Ottavino took $9 million a year from the Yankees and has been great for them. How different this season could have been.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
■ David Price and Mookie Betts did a podcast with CC Sabathia and ESPN and YES announcer Ryan Ruocco that came out this past week. Price told an interesting story.
In March 2018, when the Sox had their preseason dinner, every player said a few words and Price told the group he would win the World Series MVP award.
Seven months later, Price probably would have been the MVP until Pearce hit a second home run in Game 5 against the Dodgers.
■ Christian Vazquez has been behind the plate for 29 wild pitches, third in the majors and eight more than he had all of last season. Alex Cora has said several times that it’s something they have to clean up. But it hasn’t happened yet.
Two things are in play. Sox pitchers tend to throw high fastballs and low breaking balls, and low breaking balls are going to bounce sometimes. But Vazquez also is sometimes trying too hard to frame the ball.
■ Chris Sale has not been the winning pitcher of a regular-season game at Fenway Park since July 11, 2018, when he threw seven shutout innings against the Texas Rangers.
With the Sox not playing at home again until July 12, Sale will go at least a full year between Fenway victories. He did get the win in Game 1 of the Division Series against the Yankees on Oct. 5.
■ Cora, the coaching staff, and any players who make the All-Star team are in the middle of a 14-day road trip.
The Sox left for England on Wednesday night. They travel to Toronto on Sunday night for three games starting on Tuesday before a three-day series at Detroit. Then it will be 2½ days in Cleveland for the All-Star Game.
“That’s a lot of packing — or a lot of shopping. One of the two,” Cora said.
■ Vanderbilt outfielder Stephen Scott, newly crowned a national champion, should be coming to Single A Lowell soon. Scott, who the Red Sox took in the 10th round of the draft, is a senior and is expected to come to an agreement quickly now that his season is over. Scott hit .325 with a 1.028 OPS for the Commodores with 14 home runs and 61 RBIs.
Scott hit .286 in 14 NCAA Tournament games with nine RBIs, five extra-base hits, and eight walks. For a senior draft pick, he could make an impact.
■ J.D. Martinez told Chris Mason of The Eagle-Tribune that he believes all baseball writers want to work for a team in the front office and that influences how they vote for Most Valuable Player and other awards.
That statement is ridiculous. So I asked Martinez about it and assured him it’s never once crossed my mind that I’d want to work in a front office.
He disagreed with me, saying he was sure we all did. Not some of us, all of us.
That’s right up there with Kyrie Irving believing the Earth is flat.
Pomeranz’s year difficult to figure
Drew Pomeranz cost himself millions last season by going 2-6 with a 6.08 ERA for the Red Sox in his free agent year. He settled for a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the San Francisco Giants.
Pomeranz is now 2-8 with a 6.79 ERA. But how he’s gotten there is the story.
Pomeranz has eight starts when he has allowed two or fewer earned runs, but also two starts where he lasted less than two innings, giving up seven earned runs in one and eight in the other.
“I’ve seen him look like an All-Star a few times and then like they should put him in the bullpen,” a scout said. “His curveball has been very good. But he’s not sequencing his pitches very well.”
Pomeranz has a career 3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings as a reliever. A contender should trade for him to use in that role.
Voting for the All-Star team, which Major League Baseball and the Players Association worked on together, turned into a convoluted mess. The online voting was done in two segments — a primary and a final election — that somehow ended up with the Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts in fifth place and the Astros’ George Springer in second place among the outfielders despite having played only 50 games. Ultimately, who is on the All-Star team isn’t a big deal. But there has to be a better way . . . Albert Pujols hit sixth for the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday. It was the first time since Aug. 7, 2001 — when he was a 21-year-old rookie, that Pujols hit that low in the order. An incredible 96 percent of his starts have come hitting third or fourth . . . Derek Dietrich of the Reds has been hit by a pitch 15 times in his first 74 games, including six times over a span of a four-game series against Milwaukee . . . Jerry Remy will be at Brookline Booksmith on July 9 at 7 p.m. to sign copies of his book, “If These Walls Could Talk: Boston Red Sox.” The book was written with the late Nick Cafardo and a portion of proceeds will go to a charity in his honor . . . Happy birthday to Mike Carp, who is only 33 but hasn’t played professionally since eight games in the Mexican Winter League in 2016. Carp had an .885 OPS for the 2013 Red Sox and played a big role off the bench for that championship team, collecting a series of big hits and performing well when he was plugged into the lineup. But he faded out in 2014 and never played in the majors again. Former Red Sox players Ryan Cook (32) and Drew Sutton (36) also are celebrating birthdays.