Mike Trout entered the All-Star break in style.
The Los Angeles outfielder had eight hits and nine RBIs as the surging Angels swept a four-game series at Texas. Trout is now hitting .310 with 22 home runs, 73 RBIs and 10 steals, and the Angels have won 19 of 23.
“We’re playing good right now, and that’s all that matters,” Trout said. “We are pitching good and our timely hitting has been awesome. The team chemistry is unbelievable. We all love each other and we all pick each other up.”
The Angels are now just 1 1/2 games behind first-place Oakland in the AL West, and Trout has a good chance to play in the postseason for the first time in his young career. This could also be the year he picks up his first MVP award after earning plenty of support in 2012 and 2013.
Miguel Cabrera of Detroit won it both those seasons, but his offensive numbers — while still excellent — have come down out of the stratosphere.
Trout will still have some competition in the American League MVP race. Toronto’s Jose Bautista could end up with big numbers if he stays healthy, and Baltimore’s Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz have led the Orioles to the top of the AL East — although those two may take votes away from each other.
The fact that the Angels missed the playoffs the last two years worked against Trout in the MVP discussion. Now, Los Angeles has reached the break with the second-best record in baseball.
Here are five other award races to watch in the second half:
NL MVP: As long as he isn’t traded to the American League, Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki figures to be a front-runner in this race. His .345 average, 21 home runs and 52 RBIs call to mind Alex Rodriguez in his prime.
If the Rockies’ poor record costs Tulowitzki, look for Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy to emerge as one of the more out-of-nowhere MVP candidates in recent memory. Giancarlo Stanton of Miami is another possibility.
The trio of star pitchers in the National League — Clayton Kershaw of Los Angeles, Adam Wainwright of St. Louis and Johnny Cueto of Cincinnati — may have cases as well. More on them later .
AL CY YOUNG: Felix Hernandez of Seattle looks like the clear favorite here after the injury to New York’s Masahiro Tanaka. Yu Darvish of Texas and Chris Sale of Chicago could also end up in the mix, and if you’re looking for a longshot, how about Scott Kazmir of Oakland? The 30-year-old left-hander is 11-3 with a 2.38 ERA.
NL CY YOUNG: Kershaw missed over a month with an injury, and it almost doesn’t matter. With a 1.78 ERA at the break — and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 126 to 13 — the Los Angeles lefty has set the bar awfully high for the rest of the league.
But Wainwright (12-4 with a 1.83 ERA) and Cueto (10-6, 2.13) are right there with Kershaw.
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Tanaka’s injury also affects this race, giving Chicago slugger Jose Abreu the inside track. Kansas City right-hander Yordano Ventura and Houston outfielder George Springer could still make it interesting.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton is hitting just well enough to put his speed to good use on the bases, and shortstop Chris Owings has been a mild bright spot amid a terrible season in Arizona.
Right-hander Jesse Hahn is off to a fine start in San Diego, and after a late start, Pittsburgh outfielder Gregory Polanco has already shown he can get on base.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Tulowitzki brings a major league-leading OPS of 1.048 into the All-Star break. According to STATS, only four shortstops have finished a season over 1.000 since 1900: Rodriguez, Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan and Nomar Garciaparra.