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NY Post
New York Post
1 Jul 2023


NextImg:Midseason MLB Awards 2023: Stars, underachievers and Shohei Ohtani

The top two storylines midway through the 2023 season:

The Cardinals, Mets and Padres began the season with powerful odds to make the playoffs, but began this weekend a combined 30 games under .500. The Mets and Padres are in the midst of joining the large lists of teams that won the winter and bombed during the actual season.

Ohtani also won big before the season. He earned the World Baseball Classic MVP award with a 1.345 OPS, 1.86 ERA and a save in the championship game, finishing off Japan’s title by striking out his Angels teammate and American star Mike Trout.

That was merely an appetizer.

You know how Aaron Judge was impervious to looming free agency in setting the Yankees record with 62 homers last year and beating Ohtani to win the AL MVP? Well, Ohtani is hitting like Judge did last season. Through the Yankees’ first 84 games of 2022, Judge had 30 homers and a .980 OPS. Through the Angels’ first 84 games this season, Ohtani had 30 homers and a 1.070 OPS.

Shohei Ohtani has already crushed 30 homers through the first half of MLB’s season.
Getty Images

And he is in play for the Cy Young award.

And the Angels are contenders this year as much because of Ohtani as the Yankees were last season due to Judge.

We shouldn’t lose sight of how special it is what Ohtani is doing. If he were simultaneously a league average hitter and pitcher, that would be worthy of MVP consideration for the value of having one person who was good at both disciplines. Ohtani had a 188 OPS-plus (or 88 percent better than average factoring league and ballpark). He had a 146 ERA-plus (46 percent better).

The same human being entered Saturday leading or tied for the MLB lead in homers, RBI, triples — yes triples — slugging percentage, OPS and lowest average allowed by a qualified starter while topping the AL in strikeouts per nine innings. And there is one other category in which he was tied for the league lead: games played. He is inexhaustible and more and more inexplicable. He has 11 steals and six pitching starts with at least 10 strikeouts.

Since the Baseball Writers Association of America began voting for MVP in 1931, 28 players have won the award at least twice and 18 have been unanimous. But no player has won unanimously twice. Ohtani won the AL MVP award unanimously in 2021. Midway through this season, it is hard to justify a first-place vote for any other AL player.

In fact, as I did these midseason awards, the much tougher decision was whether to put Judge and Houston’s Yordan Alvarez in the top five though both had missed significant time with injury, because their stats were still so good and because their value was accentuated by how much their respective offenses (especially the Yankees) have struggled without them.

2. Wander Franco, Rays; 3. Marcus Semien, Rangers; 4. Bo Bichette, Blue Jays; 5. Aaron Judge, Yankees/Yordan Alvarez, Astros.

Shohei Ohtani has compiled six pitching starts with at least 10 strikeouts this season.

Shohei Ohtani has compiled six pitching starts with at least 10 strikeouts this season.
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Carlos Correa, Twins

There are AL players having worse seasons than Correa — I see you over there, Jose Abreu.

But the player version of the Mets and Padres is Correa — all that noise in the offseason for this? Correa agreed to contracts of 13 years at $350 million with the Giants and 12 years at $315 million with the Mets only to not get beyond physical review with either team. He landed with the Twins for six years at $200 million.

Is it possible to be a disappointing first-place team? If so, we present the 41-42 Twins (entering Saturday). Central to the disappointment of the AL Central leader was Correa, who was hitting .217 with a 92 OPS-plus and had grounded into an MLB-leading 14 double plays. He was hitting .156 with runners in scoring position, the worst in the AL for any player with at least 60 plate appearances in those situations.

2. Jose Abreu, Astros; 3. Oswaldo Cabrera/DJ LeMahieu/Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees; 4. Kolten Wong, Mariners; 5. Tim Anderson, White Sox

Carlos Correa was hitting .156 with runners in scoring position to start the year with the Twins.

Carlos Correa was hitting .156 with runners in scoring position to start the year with the Twins.
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Ronald Acuña, Jr., Braves

At the simplest, he is the best player on the NL’s best team. Acuña blew out his knee as the NL MVP frontrunner in 2021. He returned a month into last season and had a good, but hardly great season. But he is great again now.

Acuña led the NL in steals (37) and OPS (1.008) while hitting 20 homers and striking out just 12.6 percent of the time.

2. Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks; 3. Luis Arraez, Marlins; 4. Mookie Betts, Dodgers; 5. Freddie Freeman, Dodgers

Ronald Acuña Jr. has struck out in just 12.6 percent of his at-bats in 2023.

Ronald Acuña Jr. has struck out in just 12.6 percent of his at-bats in 2023.
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Starling Marte, Mets

It feels like this award has to go to a Met or a Padre, perhaps a Cardinal. A case like the one for Correa can be made for Manny Machado, who finished second for the NL MVP last season, extended his pact with the Padres to 11 years at $350 million and has delivered his worst season, including an NL-leading 13 double plays and an 89 OPS-plus.

But I thought this came down to Marte versus Jeff McNeil from the most expensive roster in history. McNeil’s defensive value kept him above Marte, whose plummet has occurred not only at the plate, but also in the field.

2. Manny Machado, Padres; 3. Trea Turner, Phillies; 4. Willson Contreras, Cardinals; 5. Jean Segura, Marlins

Starling Marte reacts after striking out with the bases loaded to end Thursday's game against the Brewers.

Starling Marte reacts after striking out with the bases loaded to end Thursday’s game against the Brewers.
Robert Sabo for the NY Post

Framber Valdez, Astros

A case could be made for several candidates. Valdez was second in the AL in ERA (2.49) and third in innings (105). One category I like to look at, especially in a tight race, is who leads in the super-quality start — at least seven innings, two or fewer earned runs. That shows who is getting deep into games at an elite level. Valdez had an MLB-best seven such starts, two more than anyone else in the AL. Gerrit Cole, for example, had three.

Valdez, Cole and Tampa Bay’s Shane McClanahan have performed wonderfully while carrying rotations beset by injuries. The toughest top-five omissions were Minnesota’s Sonny Gray, who had completed six innings just six times in 16 starts, and Toronto’s Kevin Gausman, who had three starts in which he permitted at least six runs, which the others in my top five did a combined three times.

2. Shane McClanahan, Rays; 3. Gerrit Cole, Yankees; 4. Nathan Eovaldi, Rangers; 5. Shohei Ohtani, Angels

In seven starts, Framber Valdez has lasted at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer runs.

In seven starts, Framber Valdez has lasted at least seven innings and allowed two or fewer runs.
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Alek Manoah, Blue Jays

An All-Star who finished third for the AL Cy Young last year, Manoah was 1-7 with a 6.36 ERA when Toronto sent the righty to its minor league facility to try to fix him mechanically and mentally. In his first try back on the mound last week, in the Florida Complex League, Manoah allowed 11 runs on 10 hits.

The right answer here might be the entire Athletics pitching staff, which went into Saturday with a 6.05 ERA, which is on pace to be the worst since the 1996 Tigers’ second worst of all-time 6.38.

2. Corey Kluber, Red Sox; 3. Jordan Lyles, Royals; 4. Rafael Montero, Astros; 5. Lance Lynn, White Sox

Alek Manoah's horrific start to the 2023 season even included a trip to the Florida Complex League.

Alek Manoah’s horrific start to the 2023 season even included a trip to the Florida Complex League.
Robert Sabo for the NY Post

Zac Gallen, Diamondbacks

Miami’s Sandy Alcantara won this award last season. In December 2017, St. Louis traded Alcantara and Gallen as part of a package for Marcel Ozuna. Among the reasons the Cardinals are last in the NL Central is a lack of high-end starting pitching.

Gallen was tied with the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Giants’ Logan Webb for most starts (6) of at least seven innings and two or fewer runs.

2. Marcus Stroman, Cubs. 3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; 4. Logan Webb, Giants; 5. Bryce Elder, Braves

Arizona's Zac Gallen could take the NL's Cy Young Award this season.

Arizona’s Zac Gallen could take the NL’s Cy Young Award this season.
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Adam Wainwright, Cardinals

Justin Verlander’s tumble from AL Cy Young to a pitcher who has completed more than five innings in just five of his 10 starts has been central to the Mets being such underachievers.

But there are more egregious offenders. The Cardinals had three franchise legends on their NL Central winner last year. Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols retired. Wainwright decided to come back for one more go-around. He has, to date, more than doubled his ERA, from 3.71 last season to 7.45. Teams are hitting .358 against him.

2. Noah Syndergaard, Dodgers; 3. Jameson Taillon, Cubs; 4. Ross Stripling, Giants; 5. Justin Verlander, Mets

Adam Wainwright's ERA sits at 7.45 through his first 10 starts in 2023.

Adam Wainwright’s ERA sits at 7.45 through his first 10 starts in 2023.
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Josh Jung, Rangers

His progress was slowed when he needed shoulder surgery in February 2022, but he has emerged as an All-Star starter at third base as part of Texas’ fierce lineup.

The Yankees were hoping that Anthony Volpe would be at least top five — and perhaps his recent surge at the plate, combined with his strong defense and stronger baserunning, is a sign that he will get into this race as the season progresses. The player to watch, however, is Baltimore’s Gunnar Henderson, who was the preseason favorite, struggled early, but since May 23 had produced a .945 OPS.

2. Yennier Cano, Orioles; 3. Hunter Brown, Astros; 4. Gunnar Henderson, Orioles; 5. Masataka Yoshida, Red Sox

Josh Jung has become an All-Star starter at third base throughout the Rangers' surge.

Josh Jung has become an All-Star starter at third base throughout the Rangers’ surge.
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Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks

Like Ohtani for AL MVP, this is a layup choice. Carroll has a case for NL MVP. He is third in the NL in Wins Above Replacement to Acuña, as he had produced 17 homers, 24 steals and a .926 OPS.

Here comes the proviso: Carroll was removed from Arizona’s game Thursday with right shoulder soreness — the same shoulder he had surgery on in 2021. The Diamondbacks portrayed it as precautionary. Any significant lost time or fall in production could open the door to Miami’s Eury Perez or Cincinnati’s Elly De La Cruz. But the Marlins, even in contention, are likely to curtail Perez’s workload in the second half, and, as brilliant as De La Cruz has been, it would take an awful lot for him just to replicate what Carroll has done to date.

Corbin Carroll could also be a candidate for NL MVP, but he has recently dealt with an injury scare.

Corbin Carroll could also be a candidate for NL MVP, but he has recently dealt with an injury scare.
Getty Images

Imagine if I told you that after all the calls going into this season for Francisco Alvarez’s bat to be in the Mets lineup every day, that his defense would be superior to his offense to date. And that Brett Baty so far in 2023 looks a lot like Eduardo Escobar in 2022.

2. Matt McLain, Reds; 3. Patrick Bailey, Giants; 4. Eury Perez, Marlins; 5. Spencer Steer, Reds