ESPN recently handed out some made-up mid-season awards, and before I clicked on it, I expected it to be littered with Braves, but no, they weren’t even mentioned.
Now, before I get into it, these aren’t awards like NL MVP and AL MVP. They did name the overall best player, which went to Shohei Ohtani, and best rookie, which went to Corbin Carroll. I can’t disagree with those, but here’s where I have my gripe.
Most exciting player: Elly De La Cruz, Cincinnati Reds
De La Cruz, in terms of raw production, hasn’t even been the best rookie on the Reds. That honor goes to fellow infielder Matt McLain. But De La Cruz is someone you just cannot take your eyes off. Even still, awarding “most exciting” is saying something, because there are some dynamic performers in the majors right now … including those honored above.
Take the game in which De La Cruz hit for the cycle — an 11-10 Reds win over the Atlanta Braves on June 23 that might have been the best contest of the 2023 season so far. De La Cruz became the first Cincinnati hitter to hit for the cycle since Eric Davis in 1989. If you are old enough to remember how electric a young Davis was, you will understand why the connection is apt.
De La Cruz hit a 117 mph double that looked like it might go through the fence at Great American Ballpark. On the triple that completed the cycle later in the game, he posted the fastest first-to-third time of any big leaguer this season. Since he was called up, he has also exhibited a rocket-fueled arm that reached 97.5 MPH on one throw.
That call-up, by the way, didn’t happen until June 6. This is going to be fun.
I understand the hype surrounding Elly De La Cruz. He runs like a gazelle and can hit the ball as hard as any player in baseball. But you’re telling me this guy has been the most exciting player in the game over the entire first half of the season? The kid wasn’t even called up until June 6th!
Even still, De La Cruz is hitting .301 with a few homers and a 127 OPS+. Those are some nice rookie numbers, but there’s a guy in Atlanta poised to challenge 40 homers and 70 steals named Ronald Acuña Jr. How in the absolute hell has he not been the most exciting baseball player in the game through the first half of the season?
That’s just an abysmal take, but I chalked it up to recency bias. However, he doesn’t have that same short term memory when it comes to the “best team” category. Because Bradford Doolittle still thinks the Rays are the class of baseball.
Best team: Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays might be moving back toward the pack a bit, but there’s no question that from beginning to present, they’ve been baseball’s best club. I had them ranked 10th in my preseason projections, but they got off to such an overwhelming start that they seized the top spot in my weekly voting for our MLB power rankings by the end of the first week. Other than a one-week dip that put them just behind the Texas Rangers, they’ve remained there ever since.
The Rays have been good at everything, ranking second in my offense rankings, third in pitching and sixth in fielding. The Braves are baseball’s hottest team at the moment and have passed the Rangers for second in last week’s power rankings, but for now, Tampa Bay still looks like the class of the season.
Again, this is no disrespect to the Rays. They’ve been fantastic this season, but they got off to a scorching hot start that was never sustainable. Their offense, which doesn’t feature nearly as much power as the Braves, was hitting an alarming number of home runs. That’s slowed down considerably, and now they have inched back toward the rest of the pack. So much so, the Rays don’t even have the fewest losses in the league anymore. The Braves do, who are far and away the class of Major League Baseball, and they are doing this without Max Fried and Kyle Wright!
I’m biased, but these categories aren’t even a discussion to me. It’s only made up MLB awards by some goofball who has probably watched five Braves games this season, but I’m not going to lie, this article has my blood boiling a bit this morning. The only thing that might cool me down is a sweep of the Marlins this weekend.
Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire