Top 10 Story Lines of the 1st Half

I’m many things – among them, a journalist and a die-hard baseball fan. The journalist in me is a sucker for cool stories both read and told. The baseball fan in me is a sucker for…cool baseball related activities. Therefore, when the two are combined I’m just short of the giddiness level of a sorority girl seeing Magic Mike at midnight.

From rookies like Mike Trout making emphatic debuts, to veterans making inspiring comebacks, to underdogs atop the standings, the first half of 2012 has been chock full of epic story lines.

Here are my ten favorites, narrowed down from a seemingly infinite list:

10. Carlos Beltran Replaces Albert Pujols

Remember when Pujols signed with the Angels and everyone outside of St. Louis feared the baseball apocalypse was hitting the defending champs? Remember how weird it was to see Pujols in a different red jersey? Remember how bitterly satisfying it was to see him struggle terribly at the start of the season while Beltran put up huge numbers in his place for the Cardinals? I’m really looking forward to seeing if Beltran will finally get some love from the naysayers who told us he was over the hill last season. And to see if the suddenly red-hot Pujols will reach the 30-homer, .300 average, 100 RBI plateaus again, let alone outperform his replacement in St. Louis.

9. Former Dodgers Dominating

This is a personal one; part of me hates seeing Jonathan Broxton (Kansas City closer) and James McDonald (Pittsburgh ace) thriving in new cities. But like a proud father, I also beam when I see McDonald put up another quality start, or Broxton lock down another save. Both guys were necessary departures from L.A., but I enjoyed watching them play while they were here, even more now that they are gone. I’m rooting for these All-Star snubs to keep kickin’ butt and takin’ names this season.

8. Giancarlo Stanton Dents a Scoreboard

How rude. The Marlins spent all this money to build a beautiful, neon, psychedelic new stadium, and Stanton just up and smashes a hole in it. This is why he can’t have nice things. But really, is there any more exciting young player right now in the National League than Mapes’ boyfriend, Giancarlo? The dude has Vlad Guerrero bat speed, strength and reach, with more control. His manager Ozzie Guillen claims Stanton will kill someone with a baseball some day. And as grotesque as that is, I won’t be surprised when it happens. It’s a damn shame this kid isn’t in the Home Run Derby anymore.

7. Billy Hamilton has 100 Stolen Bases…Already

It’s okay if you read that and didn’t recognize the name. Well, it’s sort of okay. Because by now, you should know about the phenomenal base runner that is playing in the Reds’ minor league system. He has 104 steals through 82 games. And in his minor league career at all levels (329 games…in perspective: 2 full seasons and 2 playoff series), Hamilton has stolen 269 bases. He’s got super speed, obviously, but is also a very strong technical slider. Hamilton may be raw in other aspects of his game, but I can’t wait to see him get a shot at stealing a base in the big leagues!

6. Hamilton Hits Hordes of Homers

Different Hamilton this time. The one we all know and love. Forget the minor ailments and slumps that have caused his production to drop to only god-like levels, rather than titanic. Josh Hamilton continues to be the most intriguing overall story in baseball. He hit four homers in one game against the Orioles and had 18 through 36 games in 2012, prompting even the most skeptical fans to start mumbling about the possibility of 62. It would likely take a second epic homer binge to even approach Roger Maris, but I’m not putting it past this kid. By the way, no matter how cheesy the movie about him will be, I’m going at midnight.

5. Rookies Rocking 

This has to be one of the most talented, ridiculous rookie classes to ever make their debuts in the same season. And I love it. We’re talking about a legitimate MVP candidate in Mike Trout. The spark plug for a first-place Nationals team in Bryce Harper. The intimidating physical specimen that is Brett Lawrie. Ruben Tejada. Yu Darvish. Way-too-early NL Cy Young favorite Lance Lynn. Andrelton Simmons. Arizona’s only All-Star, Wade Miley. Most of the A’s roster. And many, many more. I can’t remember a crop of talent this widespread among rookies in a long time. Baseball fans should really be excited about the future of the sport.

4. Speaking of Rookies…Look Who’s Winning!

A theme among this story line is rookie production. I’m a big fan of the underdog story, no matter how cliché. So when I see the long-time doormat Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles either leading the division or the Wild Card at the midway point…I’m a happy camper. Even teams like the Oakland A’s (I picked them to lose 100 games this season – currently sitting at .500), and the New York Mets (picked them to finish last by a mile – currently four games back of first in the NL East) can thank rookies for where they stand now. I’m really excited to see if the aforementioned teams can keep up the momentum and make a run at the playoffs, or if they’ll fade down the stretch.

3. The Man, The Myth, The Legendary Knuckleball

How can you not love R.A. Dickey? I’m one of the millions of fans whose team has been victimized by Dickey’s unhittable knuckleball, a pitch he’s re-revolutionized in an era when its been mostly forgotten. Nobody has ever thrown it this hard, this often and this effectively. But Dickey’s back-to-back 1-hitters were absolutely incredible, and if his second half is even remotely like the first, we may be looking at a 37-year-old, knuckleballing, first time All-Star win the NL Cy Young award. And that would be freakin’ AWESOME.

2. Another One Bites the Dust

Oh, Chipper where art thou? After Mariano Rivera basically announced 2012 would be his last season (later retracted after tearing his ACL shagging fly balls), I didn’t think my heart could take any more. Then BOOM. Chipper Jones. One of my childhood heroes growing up in the 90’s (along with Ken Griffey, Jr. and Derek Jeter) told the baseball world that this would be his final season in baseball. Not much later came Ivan Rodriguez. Then Omar Vizquel. And I’m suddenly no longer a child, apparently. My childhood baseball heroes are dropping like flies. But I’ve loved watching Chipper play this year and will never forget the effect he had on a generation of young baseballers everywhere. What do you think? First ballot?

1. Milestone Moments Win the Day

I don’t think even Chipper & Co. can top the unbelievable year of pitching we’ve witnessed thus far. Phil Humber, then Jered Weaver, then Johan Santana, then half of the Mariners’ bullpen, then Matt Cain. And a whole slew of near-no hitters or perfections interspersed among those. Cain’s perfecto was one of the most dominating performances I’ve ever seen, and we’re on pace for double digit no-no’s in one season? Doubtful, but in a year full of surprises…why not? Oh, and lest we forget about Aaron Hill and his apparently-not-All-Star-worthy two cycles in 11 days. Between all these moments and other career milestones like David Ortiz’s 400th homer, it’s been a historic season. And there’s still another whole half to play.

So, what is your favorite story line of the first half? What else are you excited to see in the second half? Comment below and vote in the poll! Follow Three Up, Three Down on Twitter @3u3d and LIKE us on Facebook at facebook.com/3u3dpodcast.

– Jeremy Dorn (@Jamblinman)

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