Stats: .365, 30 HR, 95 RBI, 1.132 OPS
The next four: Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles (.315, 37 HR, 93 RBI, 1.109 OPS); Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles (.310, 7 HR, 45 RBI, 39 2Bs, .807 OPS); Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels (.322, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 21 SB, .964 OPS); Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers (.316, 21 HR, 55 RBI, .901 OPS)
Why Cabrera: It was his award last year, and he certainly hasn't relinquished it. The 2012 AL Triple Crown winner is having an even better season a year later, even though it doesn't seem likely he'll get the home run title, at least as long as Chris Davis is healthy and swinging the way he's swinging it in Baltimore. It's a two-horse race at this point between Cabrera and Davis, but Machado could be the one setting a big-league record at the end. He's on pace for 66 doubles, and the big-league record is 67, set 82 years ago by Earl Webb. Trout, who dueled Cabrera for the MVP last season, is having a solid second season, and few pay attention to Beltre, who is quietly one of the best all-around players in the game.
Preseason pick: Jose Bautista, RF, Toronto Blue Jays (.254, 20 HR, 55 RBI, .844 OPS). He's an All-Star and has 20 homers, so not a terrible pick, but the Blue Jays have been a disappointment, aside from a 11-game winning streak in June.
Stats: .341, 7 HR, 49 RBI, .875 OPS
The next four: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks (.313, 21 HR, 77 RBI, .952 OPS); Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds (.318, 15 HR, 42 RBI, .939 OPS); Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants (.325, 13 HR, 56 RBI, .931 OPS); Carlos Gonzalez, LF, Colorado Rockies (.302, 25 HR, 64 RBI, .980 OPS)
Why Molina: Others have better offensive stats, but the leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game also is renowned for his defense. He's leading the NL in hitting and is at leading the team with the best record in baseball at the all-star break as well. There are two former MVPs chasing him in Votto and Posey. Goldschmidt is living up to his vast potential for first-place Arizona and Gonzalez is putting up big numbers for the Rockies.
Stats: 13-1, 3.19 ERA, 129.2 IP, 152 Ks, 0.98 WHIP
The next four: Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle Mariners (10-4, 2.53 ERA, 138.2 IP, 140 Ks, 1.10 WHIP); Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas Rangers (8-4, 3.02 ERA, 119.1 IP, 157 Ks, 1.05 WHIP); Chris Sale, LHP, Chicago White Sox (6-8, 2.85 ERA, 120 IP, 131 Ks, 1.01 WHIP); Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, Seattle Mariners (8-4, 3.02 ERA, 131.1 IP, 113 Ks, 0.94 WHIP)
Why Scherzer: A 13-0 start certainly showed that Scherzer has arrived among the elite, and it's not just wins he's piling up. The American League All-Star starter hasn't needed much luck as he's second in the league in strikeouts (behind Darvish) and has generally dominated. Hernandez, the 2010 Cy Young winner, is also having a dominant season. Darvish has electric stuff and is living up to his big contract, and Sale is the best pitcher who isn't getting run support this season.
Preseason pick: Jered Weaver, RHP, Los Angeles Angels (3-5, 3.63 ERA, 67 IP). He suffered a broken forearm on his non-pitching arm, getting struck by a line drive in April. And he hasn't really returned to form.
Stats: 8-6, 1.98 ERA, 145.1 IP, 139 Ks, 0.91 WHIP
The next four: Matt Harvey, RHP, New York Mets (7-2, 2.35 ERA, 130 IP, 147 Ks, 0.92 WHIP); Adam Wainwright, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals (12-5, 2.45 ERA, 146.2 IP, 130 Ks, 1.01 WHIP); Jeff Locke, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (8-2, 2.15 ERA, 109 IP, 73 Ks, 1.13 WHIP); Patrick Corbin, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (11-1, 2.35 ERA, 130.1 IP, 109 Ks, 1.00 WHIP)
Why Kershaw: Sure, Matt Harvey got the All-Star start. But the best pitcher of the first half has been Kershaw, who is looking like the best pitcher in baseball at age 25. The 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner led MLB in ERA in each of the last two years and is on pace to make it three in a row. And how about the young lefties in the NL all of a sudden? Locke is 25 and Corbin is 23, and they're a combined 19-3 with low-2 ERAs.
Preseason pick: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington Nationals (5-7, 2.99 ERA, 108.1 IP, 109 Ks, 1.13 WHIP). The record doesn't say it, but don't sleep on Strasburg's chances if he can get on a winning streak in the second half.
Stats: .367, 1 HR, 16 RBI, 180 AB, .878 OPS
The next four: Dan Straily, RHP, Oakland Athletics (6-2, 4.28 ERA, 119.1 IP, 98 Ks, 1.13 WHIP); Nick Franklin, 2B, Seattle Mariners (.267, 6 HR, 19 RBI, .788 OPS); Oswaldo Arcia, LF, Minnesota Twins (.257, 6 HR, 25 RBI, .725 OPS)
Why Iglesias: This isn't exactly a stellar crop of rookies this year, but that doesn't diminish the promise that Iglesias has shown as the Boston shortstop. It was thought coming into the season that the 23-year-old Iglesias was MLB-ready with the glove but not with the bat, but he's caught up quickly and is a big reason why the Red Sox are surprisingly in first place in the AL East at the break. Straily has had a nice season in the rotation for a contender in Oakland.
Stats: .391, 8 HR, 19 RBI, 151 AB, 1.038 OPS
The next four: Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins (5-5, 2.75 ERA, 104.2 IP, 103 Ks, 1.08 WHIP); Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals (9-6, 2.92 ERA, 104.2 IP, 112 Ks, 1.12 WHIP); Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (7-3, 3.09 ERA, 116.2 IP, 93 Ks, 1.25 WHIP); Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves, (7-5, 3.35 ERA, 113 IP, 94 Ks, 1.23 WHIP)
Why Puig: Yeah, perhaps we're a little caught up in Puig-mania at this point. Perhaps it's too early to make the Cuban outfielder the front-runner, as he's only been in the big leagues for a month. And he'll get some competition from a solid group of rookie pitchers, led by the phenom Fernandez, who has dynamic stuff and would have a better record if he got run support in Miami. Miller could make a run because he's pitching very well for a contender, as could Ryu and Teheran.
The next four: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians (51-44); Bob Melvin, Oakland A's (56-39); Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays (55-41); Joe Girardi, New York Yankees (51-44)
Why Farrell: Nobody had the Red Sox pegged as a first-place team at the break, but Boston (58-39) would have the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if the season ended today. That seems crazy after the dysfunctional 2012 season in which Boston lost 93 games. Even a .500 season would make Farrell a contender for this award. Francona, the former Boston manager who had Farrell as his longtime pitching coach, has done a similar job in Cleveland. Melvin won the award last year. Maddon, the 2011 winner, always has the Rays ready to play and Girardi has done a great job keeping the Yankees on a winning path despite key injuries to Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and others.
The next four: Kirk Gibson, Arizona Diamondbacks (50-45); Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals (57-36); Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers (47-47); Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves (54-41)
Why Hurdle: The Pirates (56-37) are poised to end a 20-year losing streak and are a contender to make it back to the postseason for the first time since 1992 as well. But we've been down this road the last two years with Hurdle's team, and they haven't cleared that hurdle yet. The Pirates were 17 games over .500 on Aug. 8 of last season and they still finished 79-83. Gibson (the 2011 winner), Matheny and Gonzalez have their teams in first place, and give some props to Mattingly, who looked like he'd get fired at any moment in May when the Dodgers were underachieving, but now has Los Angeles back in contention.