HOUSTON -- The second half of the season can’t get much more interesting for the Astros than the first 30 games, which saw numerous key players go down with injuries -- Justin Verlander, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and Roberto Osuna, to name a few -- and benches-clearing dustups with the Dodgers and the A’s.
A whopping 13 players (12 pitchers) made their Major League debuts for the defending American League champs, and a couple of other youngsters, led by outfielder Kyle Tucker and left-hander Framber Valdez, had breakout performances. Who knows what the second half will hold, but let’s hand out some midseason awards based on first-half performances:
Most Valuable Player: OF Kyle Tucker
The team’s former top prospect, Tucker got off to a slow start but has become an offensive force and has played nearly every day following injuries to Alvarez, the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year, and Michael Brantley. Tucker has taken advantage of his opportunities and leads the club in runs scored, triples, homers, RBIs and OPS. He’s slashing .412/.400/1.029 in the last 11 games. No one saw that kind of production coming, and it’s helped lessen the burden of losing Alvarez and Bregman for extended time, as well as down first halves by Jose Altuve and George Springer.
You could make a case for: C Martín Maldonado, who has 17 RBIs and has started 25 of 31 games while assisting a young pitching staff behind the plate. He’s also hitting .500 (9-for-18) with runners in scoring position. ... SS Carlos Correa, who’s slashing .288/.368/.423 and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at a premium position. ... 1B Yuli Gurriel, who leads the club in total bases (60) and hits (34) and is third in OPS (.873) behind Tucker and Bregman.
Pitcher of the Year: RHP Zack Greinke
A year ago, he was pitching in the same rotation as Verlander and Gerrit Cole -- the 1-2 finishers in the 2019 AL Cy Young race -- and Greinke has stepped into the ace role in 2020. He leads the team with a 2.29 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in 35 1/3 innings, allowing nine earned runs with 26 hits and only six walks. He had a three-start stretch in which he allowed one earned run in 20 1/3 innings -- and he’s doing it all without throwing 90 mph.
You could make a case for: LHP Framber Valdez, who has finally reined in his control, building his confidence with each start. He’s 3-2 with a 2.35 ERA in six games (five starts) and leads the team in innings pitched (38 1/3) and strikeouts (40), with only nine walks.
Rookie of the Year: LHP Blake Taylor
Acquired from the Mets in the Jake Marisnick deal in November, Taylor is 25 but had pitched in only two games above the Triple-A level prior to this year. He got a chance because of the lack of lefties in Houston’s 'pen and has posted a 1.29 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 14 innings. Left-handed hitters are batting 4-for-23 (.174) against him.
You could make a case for: RHP Enoli Paredes, who has a 3.55 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings.
Comeback Player of the Year: RHP Lance McCullers Jr.
McCullers missed the entire 2019 season following Tommy John surgery and had to wait longer than expected to get back on the mound because of the coronavirus pandemic. He’s made six starts, going 2-2 with a 5.74 ERA in 31 1/3 innings. There’s room for improvement, but nearly half (eight of 20) of his earned runs allowed this season came in one poor start, on Aug. 5 at Arizona. His rate of strikeouts per nine innings is down by nearly three per game from 2018 and his ground-ball percentage is up, so he’s becoming a different pitcher and still evolving.