Making sense of the 2001 Major League Baseball season is somewhat like reading "A Clockwork Orange." At first, you just don't get it, it's not written in English. The Yankees were far out of first place, and the Cubs, Twins and Phillies were significantly ahead in their divisions. As we keep reading, we begin to filter and translate what's going on. As of today, the Cubs, Twins and Phillies are still in first place, but their leads have shrunk and the Yankees have indeed returned to their perch atop the AL East. It is now at the season's midpoint that we completely understand why certain teams are where they are, and we have a better idea of where we are going. With that said, here are my Mid-Season Awards and Fearless Predictions.
NL MVP contenders: Lance Berkman (.355 AVG, 22 HR, 71 RBI), Barry Bonds (.299, 39, 71), Cliff Floyd (.337, 21, 69), Luis Gonzalez (.357, 34, 83) and Sammy Sosa (.307, 27, 76). Berkman and Floyd, who? They may not be household names but check their numbers and see that the Astros and Marlins are in the playoff hunt. If you don't know Sosa and Bonds, who are you? They've been stars for years now. Bonds is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, and Sosa is approaching that level.
NL MVP pretenders: Todd Helton (.320, 25, 82) and Larry Walker (.347, 25, 78). Both Rockies are incredible players with gaudy stats, but they have two problems. First, they play half their games in the thin Colorado air, where curve balls are as straight as an arrow. The second is that the Rockies are 38-44 in the NL West, 12 games out of first place and eight games out of the wild card.
NL MVP winner: Luis Gonzalez, Arizona Diamondbacks. The former Cub, former Astro, former fourth outfielder has turned himself into a slugger in his 30s. Bonds may sneak in and win, but he has to improve his RBI totals and the Giants have to get into the playoffs.
AL MVP contenders: Bret Boone (.328, 22, 82), Juan Gonzalez (.342, 21, 75), Manny Ramirez (.333, 25, 82) and Bernie Williams (.323, 14, 48). While Williams' numbers are not as good as the other three listed, he's in the mix, because after missing significant time in April and May, Bernie has been on a tear since returning. When he came back, his average was barely above .200 and dipped briefly thereafter, but look where he is now. Plus, the Yankees, sans Andy Pettitte, Orlando Hernandez and David Justice for significant time, are now back in first place in the AL East. Bret Boone has become an unlikely power source for the Mariners, and Juan Gonzalez has returned to MVP form after an off year last season. What can I say about Manny? After Edgar Martinez, he's the best pure hitter in the game.
AL MVP pretender: Alex Rodriguez (.317, 24, 69). A-Rod -- maybe Pay-Rod is more accurate -- is having another stellar year after joining the Rangers for ten years and $252 million. However, the Rangers sit at 32-50, 29 games out of first place in the AL West. Smart move leaving Seattle for Texas. Genius at work.
AL MVP winner: Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox. With respect to Boone, he does have Edgar Martinez and John Olerud in the lineup. Ramirez, on the other hand, has earned his $20 million per-season in Boston. With the volatile Carl Everett potentially flaking out any day, Pedro Martinez' on-again, off-again injuries, and without Nomar Garciaparra out of the lineup, Manny has kept the Bo Sox afloat until Nomar and Pedro come back healthy.
The droughts: Cub fans and Red Sox fans alike have been waiting a long time for that next World Series championship. The Cubs will trade for a hitter to back up Sammy Sosa, and Nomar and Pedro will return and perform for the Sox. Both teams will stay in the playoff hunt but neither will have enough to win it all.
Homerun chase: Barry Bonds says he's not thinking about hitting 71. Yeah, right. I guess he doesn't understand what it means when 100 reporters ask him every day, "Do you think you're going to break the record?" Don't insult our intelligence, Barry: you're thinking about it. By the way, Bonds will not break McGwire's record. He will continue his incredible year, but the self-described "line-drive hitter" will see more balls hitting the wall than he has so far.
NL Playoff teams: Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and Arizona. Philadelphia will fade and the Braves will once again claim the NL East only to lose to the Cubs in the Divisional Series. The Diamondbacks will knock off the Astros and then the Cubs en route to the World Series. The Braves and Cubs just do not have enough offense to offset facing Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling back to back once, probably twice in a series.
AL Playoff Teams: New York, Boston, Cleveland and Seattle. It's a shame the Indians will pass the Twinkies in the Central. Kelly's crew is not experienced enough and has a horrific bullpen. If there's one thing I have learned about the Yankees, it is never, ever underestimate them. For the fifth time in the last six years, the Yankees will represent the American League in the World Series.
World Series: Yankees over Diamondbacks. While the D-Backs have two aces in Schilling and Johnson, the Yankees have four in Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Orlando Hernandez. By my math, four is always better than two.