Don't feel guilty if you've lost that lovin' feeling for the All-Star Game, because you're already in good company. Sixteen players, including Derek Jeter, have blown off the Midsummer Classic. Maybe everyone was spent from a first half of surprisingly good (Mets and Indians) and bad (A's and Orioles) baseball.
We've been treated to beasts (Jose Bautista), snakes (Frank McCourt), the mighty (Justin Verlander) and the helpless (Adam Dunn), not to mention the renewal of the game's best rivalry (Yankees-Red Sox). So what's not to love about the summer of 2011, even if Bud Selig is scrambling for another gimmick to make the All-Star Game relevant again.
Here's a look at the high (and low) lights, with a few predictions sprinkled in, all of which are guaranteed only to burn brightly when taken to a match.
AL MVP: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays.
He's leading the majors in home runs and WAR (wins above replacement) if new-age metrics are your thing. Bautista is a pitcher's nightmare, a lethal combination of power and bat speed. Don't ask about steroids, either, because the man has passed every drug test MLB has thrown his way. Far as we can tell, no need for an asterisk next to his name.
RUNNER-UP: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox.
NL MVP: Jose Reyes, Mets.
Think Reyes isn't enjoying making Fred Wilpon squirm? The only question is what the shortstop continues to do with his mind-boggling numbers (his .354 average is 30 points higher than NL runner-up Joey Votto). Despite being on the DL, Reyes still is leading the league in hits and triples, and was tops in runs before injuring his hamstring. Can the Mets possibly write a check big enough? (Our guess: no chance).
RUNNER-UP: Lance Berkman, Cardinals.
AL CY YOUNG: Justin Verlander, Tigers.
Ridiculous power numbers that are underscored by a 0.87 WHIP it's a moral victory just getting on base. The Tigers' righty is leading the American League in strikeouts and is tops in the majors in innings. No starter throws as hard as Verlander late in the game: In a 14-strikeout performance against the Diamondbacks last month, he was clocked at 100, 98 and 99 mph in the eighth inning.
RUNNER-UP: Jered Weaver, Angels.
NL CY YOUNG: Jair Jurrjens, Braves.
The pack is tightly clustered in terms of wins and ERA, so the award easily could've gone to Roy Halladay, who leads the National League in innings our definition of a horse. But Jurrjens' 12-4 record has helped keep the Braves within sight of the Phillies; his 1.87 ERA also is a shade lower than Halladay's, too (1.87 to 2.45). No one in the NL can touch Cole Hamels' 0.93 WHIP, but you could flip a coin and be justified in naming a winner.
RUNNER-UP: Roy Halladay, Phillies.
NL ROOKIE OF THE HALF-YEAR: Craig Kimbrel, Braves.
Nasty, nasty stuff; part of Atlanta's late-inning shutdown equation. Kimbrel leads the NL with 28 saves and an insane 13.4 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio. Dillon Gee gets strong consideration, of course, succeeding on brains and finesse when talent comes up short. Still, it would be impossible to pass over Kimbrel, who helped the Braves make a smooth transition after Billy Wagner.
RUNNER-UP: Dillon Gee, Mets.
AL ROOKIE OF THE HALF-YEAR: Michael Pineda, Mariners.
Hard as it might be to believe, Pineda, not Felix Hernandez, has emerged as the Mariners' ace. It's not just the eight wins (which matches Hernandez) or the 1.04 WHIP (better than the King's 1.15), but the strikeout ratio (113 in 113 innings) is better, too.
RUNNER-UP: Jeremy Hellickson, Rays.
AL MANAGER OF THE HALF-YEAR: Joe Maddon, Rays.
No one gave the Rays much of a chance to hang with the Yankees and Red Sox, certainly not after losing Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano and Carlos Pena in a single off-season. But they still play (and, specifically, pitch) at a high-enough level to be considered a threat. Props to the manager for keeping the Rays from surrendering to the East's two evil empires.
RUNNER-UP: Manny Acta, Indians.
NL MANAGER OF THE HALF-YEAR: Terry Collins, Mets.
You certainly could make an argument for Clint Hurdle, who's got the Pirates over .500 in July for the first time since 1992. At least everyone knew Hurdle was an upbeat, charismatic leader. Collins, on the other hand, has completely remade himself with the Mets, shedding the fatal personality flaws that cost him jobs in Houston and Anaheim in the '90s. He's been honest and accountable, a refreshing change from the Art Howe-Willie Randolph-Jerry Manuel trifecta.
RUNNER-UP: Clint Hurdle, Pirates.
AL COMEBACK PLAYER: James Shields, Rays.
The right-hander has cut his ERA in half from 2010, and is ranked fourth in the AL with a 2.33 mark. Shields has re-earned the right to his nickname, "Big Game."
NL COMEBACK PLAYER: Carlos Beltran, Mets.
This is more physical than statistical: Beltran's knees have made such a dramatic improvement since the off-season, he chose to stay in right field during interleague play instead of opting for the cushier DH role. The Mets may hang on to him for the rest of the regular season, after all.
MAN OF THE HALF-YEAR: Derek Jeter, Yankees.
It's true, we leveled our share of criticism at the Yankee shortstop, mostly because of his rapid descent into mediocrity. But Jeter's performance Saturday, going 5-for-5 in the final sprint for his 3,000th career hit, ranked as one of the most memorable feats in baseball history. It was impossible not to be moved by the home run that provided the mark. Jose Reyes told the New York Post, "I almost cried," when Jeter finally crossed the threshold to 3,000.
SNAKE OF THE HALF-YEAR: Frank McCourt, Dodgers (owner).
He can't disappear fast enough, having been too broke all along to own and operate the Dodgers responsibly. McCourt took the franchise into bankruptcy only as a stall tactic; it's just a matter of time before he gets the boot from the courts and Bud Selig. In the meantime, the Dodgers are mired in irrelevance: Their attendance is down 20 percent from 2010, while local broadcast ratings are down 27 percent. By the way, the Mets' ratings on SNY are down 29 percent, the steepest drop in the majors.
PLAYER WE'RE GOING TO LOVE (AND HATE): Bryce Harper.
With incredible long-ball power, he already has fans in D.C. counting down the days until his major league debut. But Harper was childish enough to blow kisses at a Class A pitcher who did nothing more than serve up a home run pitch.
NEIL YOUNG "HELPLESS" AWARD: Adam Dunn, White Sox.
There've been 118 strikeouts in 269 at-bats, topped off with a .160 average. How is that even possible?
AL TEAM TO WATCH: Yankees.
They ended the first half on a high note, but remember, Alex Rodriguez is out for a month or more, Mariano Rivera will be nursed through August to prevent a recurrence of arm problems, and who knows if Rafael Soriano is coming off the DL? And let's see if Jeter's momentum from 3,000 rolls over into his next, say, 100 at-bats.
NL TEAM TO WATCH: Cardinals.
The Brewers failed to capitalize on Albert Pujols' abbreviated stay on the DL. Now it's time for the Cardinals still the NL Central's best team to take off on a sprint.
THE GREAT PRETENDER: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins.
The Marlins' supertalented shortstop should feel plenty guilty cashing the checks on his $11 million salary this year. Chances are he doesn't feel guilty at all, and that's the problem. Ramirez appears utterly disinterested in playing, winning and certainly in hitting, with his average down to .242. That's 62 points below his career average and 100 points down from his career best in 2009.