By Jon Heyman
July 01, 2011

The list of first-half heroes include the expected (Roy Halladay and Ryan Braun), the unexpected (Tony Sipp and Terry Collins), the young (Clayton Kershaw and Starlin Castro) the old (Lance Berkman and Mariano Rivera), the spectacular (Asdrubal Cabrera), the clutch (Johnny Damon), the resurrected (Matt Kemp) and the truly heroic (Darrel Akerfelds).

Here is the full list of 70 first-half heroes ...

1. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays OF-INF. The versatile and intelligent player can no longer be stamped a one-year wonder now that he is blowing away baseball with his 1.129 OPS and .470 on-base percentage. A true role model, he didn't hesitate when asked to move from left field to third base, an area of greater need.

2. Jose Reyes, Mets SS. Someone told him to concentrate on his speed game and forget the homers, and the result is arguably baseball's best player. Leads the NL with 65 runs, 121 hits, 15 triples and a .352 batting average. Worth whatever Carl Crawford got, and more.

3. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox 1B. With all the pressure of moving from low-key San Diego to baseball's biggest cauldron in Boston, he's more than lived up to the press clippings. If there is pressure, he hasn't shown it. Leads the AL in both batting average at .352 and RBIs with 71. Arguably the best hitter in the game. For good measure, he volunteered to play the outfield to get David Ortiz in the lineup.

4. Justin Verlander, Tigers SP. He threw one no-hitter and nearly threw another. Has 11-3 record, 0.86 WHIP and 2.32 ERA.

5. Jered Weaver, Angels SP. The terrific righthander who's 9-4 with a 1.97 ERA doesn't let the fact he can't crack 93 mph deter him from being one of the game's most dominant starters.

6. Matt Kemp, Dodgers OF. Shedding his spacey label, he's now one of baseball's best all-around players. Kemp always wanted to play every day. Now, he's just playing better than just about everyone else. And by the way, hands off; the bankrupt Dodgers won't consider moving Kemp (who leads the NL with 22 home runs and a 1.043 OPS) to aid the owner's abject financial problem.

7. Darrel Akerfelds, Padres bullpen coach. An amazing man. While undergoing chemo treatments, he's helped the Padres pen to another fantastic season. Their 2.88 ERA is second best only to Atlanta's (2.71). In many respects, should be No. 1.

8. Paul Konerko, White Sox 1B. The ageless Konerko is one of baseball's most loyal players, as he never seriously considered leaving Chicago's South Side. Gives hope to everyone in the over-35 set as he gets better with age, too. Has 21 home runs, 61 RBIs and .321 batting average.

9. Brian McCann, Braves C. He might be a little higher than some would expect but there's a need to make up for the paucity of deserved publicity over the years. Despite making five All-Star teams in six years, he's gone almost under the radar. Getting more attention this year, thanks to 14 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .314 batting average.

10. Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians SS. His play has been both clutch and spectacular. Has 13 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .296 batting average. The leader in the Indians' stunning start.

11. Clint Hurdle, Pirates manager. Yes, the Pirates really are over .500 (41-39). That's no mirage.

12. Roy Halladay, Phillies SP. He has a 10-3 record, 1.03 WHIP and 123 strikeouts to go with 16 walks, numbers that are almost expected from him now.

13. Curtis Granderson, Yankees CF. He's showing huge power in the No. 2 spot in baseball's most prolific lineup. Awesome start, with 21 home runs.

14. Prince Fielder, Brewers 1B. Doesn't look like the pressure of the walk year is getting to the noted "vegetarian.'' Leads the NL in RBIs.

15. James Shields, Rays SP. He's put the "Big Game'' back in his repertoire with a league-high six complete games.

16. Mariano Rivera, Yankees RP. At 41, he was older than several players in the Yankees' Old-Timers Game last weekend. Has 21 saves and his 0.96 WHIP and 1.72 ERA are better than his career marks.

17. Jack McKeon, Marlins manager. He's a hero for anyone in the senior citizen set, taking the job as interim manager at age 80 (almost double Mariano), eight years after leading the team to a surprise World series championship in the same role.

18. Hunter Pence, Astros OF. He hasn't let Houston's typically putrid start deter him. As the designated "face of the franchise'' he's lived up to that billing, and excited the disappointed fan base with a 23-game hitting streak and .315 average overall.

19. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers SP. With 128 strikeouts in 116 2/3 innings, the Koufax comparisons don't seem quite as silly.

20. Cliff Lee, Phillies SP. He has 32 straight scoreless innings. A hero in Philly for taking less to come back, he's worth every penny. The man who makes the Phillies the World Series favorite.

21. Jair Jurrjens, Braves SP. On a staff that's nearly keeping pace with Phillies, Jurrjens has been the best pitcher, with a 10-3 record and 2.07 ERA.

22. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks manager. The young Diamondbacks team was waiting for someone to come in and kick some you know what. This is just the guy. A surprise contender in the NL West.

23. David Ortiz, Red Sox DH. At least twice before in recent years folks suspected the end might be near. But Ortiz is making himself indispensable again, with 17 home runs and a .305 batting average. Looks like he might become a rare DH to earn a two-year deal after the season.

24. Alex Anthopoulos, Jays GM. He's becoming a legend already in Toronto for two moves: 1) ridding the payroll of Vernon Wells' albatross of a deal, and 2) locking up Bautista to a $65-million, five-year deal. The Wells move has gotten by far the bulk of the press, but the Bautista contract, which actually was linked to the Wells deal, may wind up being an even bigger cost saver.

25. Cole Hamels, Phillies SP. The best No. 4 pitcher on the planet. Has 0.94 WHIP.

26. Lance Berkman, Cardinals RF. Defying his age with 20 home runs, 58 RBIs, a .997 OPS (and upsetting Astros honk Milo Hamilton), though he's slowed bit since his blazing start.

27. Joel Hanrahan, Pirates RP. The Nationals castoff has been nearly perfect, with 23 saves in 23 tries and a 0.94 WHIP.

28. Michael Pineda, Mariners SP. Making a huge case for AL top rookie honors, with a 2.65 ERA and .198 batting average against.

29. Andrew Friedman, Rays GM. The Rays lost Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit and Randy Choate to free agency and traded Matt Garza, yet they remain a threat on a budget in arguably baseball's best division.

30. Mike Adams, Padres RP. He has a 0.66 WHIP and .150 batting average against in Padres' fantastic pen.

31. Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney, Cubs SS and 2B. Castro is a hitting prodigy. Barney might be even better than Castro at shortstop but he is proving to be adept at second too. Together they give the Cubs one of the most productive DPs combos going forward.

32. Ryan Braun, Brewers LF. Excellent all-around player showed his loyalty by committing basically forever to Milwaukee, with a five-year, $105 million extension through 2020. Having his usual superb season (he's a 30-30 threat with 16 home runs and 19 stolen bases) as the Brewers threaten in what could be Fielder's last year there.

33. Alex Avila, Tigers C. Nobody was expecting this from the son of the longtime Tigers executive Al Avila. Has a .914 OPS and 46 RBIs, which makes for pretty good production when combined with high-priced free agent Victor Martinez, who's second in the league in hitting at .329 after sparking Detroi's turnaround.

34. Andre Ethier, Dodgers RF. He's slowed a bit but the 30-game hitting streak was a nice highlight.

35. Terry Collins, Mets manager. It's been more than a decade since he'd managed in the big leagues but he's seemed to have re-acclimated himself nicely. Nobody else had the Mets over .500 at this point.

36. Tom Schieffer, Dodgers overseer. Just the thought that someone responsible is there to make sure Frank McCourt doesn't do anything more to damage the historic franchise is nice to know.

37. Carlos Beltran, Mets OF. Thought to have knee trouble, he has regained full health and even leads the Mets in games played. Also leads the NL in doubles with 21.

38. Phil Humber, White Sox SP. The former No. 3 overall pick has finally lived up to the expectations, with help from White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. He's 7-4, boosting his career victory total to nine.

39. Michael Weiner and Rob Manfred, union and MLB negotiators. It's nice to hear there isn't much acrimony with months to go before the CBA expires.

40. Jhonny Peralta, Tigers SS. How many know he has 13 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .313 batting average?

41. Don Baylor, Diamondbacks hitting coach. Arizona is third in the NL in runs with 371 as well as third in OPS (.737). The idea to bring in accomplished major leaguers to form a coaching staff seems to be working.

42. Brian Wilson, Giants RP. Whether folks are fearing the beard, they certainly aren't beating it. Has 24 saves and a 5-1 record after beginning the year on the DL.

43. Josh Beckett, Red Sox SP. He looks like he's back, with a 0.93 WHIP and .178 batting average against.

44. Matt Holliday, Cardinals OF. He's hitting .325 despite physical ailments, and between he and Berkman, they're making up for Pujols' less-than-expected start.

45. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks SP. He seems to have taken off since Gibson named him Opening Day starter. He's 8-2 with a 3.01 ERA.

46. Jonny Venters, Braves RP. Has allowed only 30 hits in 51 innings and 0.94 WHIP. Awesome stuff.

47. Ray Searage, Pirates pitching coach. Who would have predicted the Pirates would be fourth in the NL with a 3.48 ERA, which is eight best in baseball?

48. Adam Lind, Blue Jays 1B. He's put his terrible 2010 season (.237 BA, .712 OPS) behind him. Has 16 home runs, 49 RBIs with a .312 batting average and .929 OPS.

49. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks C. He has an under-the-radar nine home runs and 40 RBIs.

50. Jamey Carroll, Dodgers SS. One of the best backups in baseball, he has hit since replacing injured Rafael Furcal. First-year manager Don Mattingly probably doesn't mind having an Evansville, Ind., product around either.

51. John Axford, Brewers RP. After a rough start on Opening Day, he has 20 saves for the first-place crew. Has convertied his last 17 tries.

52. Dan Haren, Angels SP. You've got to love the 98 strikeouts to go with 18 walks. One Angels trade that definitely panned out.

53. Mark Teixeira, Yankees 1B. His 25th home run was the 300th of his career. He's normally a slow starter, so the best may be yet to come.

54. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks OF. Looks like the 30-30 threat he should be (13 home runs, 14 stolen bases) while hitting .304.

55. Dave Hudgens, Mets hitting coach. The Mets are hotter than anyone right now, with a team-record four-game stretch of 52 runs going into Friday. Overall, they are fourth in the NL with 369 runs and second with a .336 on-base percentage.

56. Kevin Correia, Pirates SP. Anyone with 10 wins in half a season for the Pirates (he's 10-6) deserves some credit. Well worth the $4 million a year deal the Pirates gave him.

57. Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks SP. After a slow start, he has been super for the stunning D-Backs, winning nine of his past 10 decisions.

58. Anibal Sanchez, Marlins SP. It's not just the no-hit bids but the 6-1 record and 2.82 ERA with a team in the tank.

59. Tyler Clippard, Nationals RP. The unheralded Clippard is doing it again, with a .089 WHIP and general dominance out of Washington's pen.

60. Tony Sipp, Indians RP. This guy may be the most under-the-radar guy on the list, but that comes with the territory of being in the Indians pen where Joe Smith is one of the better known guys. Has 15 holds and a .148 batting average against.

61. Bartolo Colon, Yankees SP. The miraculous shoulder surgery may be behind the revival but it's surprised everyone, including the Yankees. Has 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Ready to come off the disabled list.

62. Koji Uehara, Orioles RP. Has a 0.78 WHIP to go with 46 strikeouts in 36 innings.

63. Al Alburquerque, Tigers RP. He's doing what Joaquin Benoit was supposed to do, allowing opposing hitters to a ridiculous .157 slugging percentage. And no, he's not from New Mexico.

64. Antonio Bastardo, Phillies RP. He successfully closed his first three save attempts and has 33 strikeouts in 29 innings. Ryan Madson, the Phillies' second fill-in closer (after Jose Contreras), converted 15 of 16 saves and had 24 strikeouts in 31 innings before going on the disabled list.

65. Johnny Damon, Rays OF. He's showing he has a bit left. The highlight was five straight walkoff hits earlier. Also became the first player ever to hit walkoff hiome runs with five teams. Building a possible Hall of Fame case while making up for Manny.

65. Dillon Gee, Mets SP. He's bolstered the Mets' rotation, going 8-1 with a 3.32 ERA after starting the year in the minors.

66. Sergio Romo, Giants RP. Has 9-to-1 strikeout-to� walk ratio (38 strikeouts, four walks).

67. Alex Gordon, Royals OF. Like Humber, he's finally living up to the expectations (nine home runs, 44 RBIs, .293).

68. Drew Storen, Nationals RP. After a rough spring, he has 19 saves a 0.99 WHIP. Relishes the role of closer.

70. Jason Giambi, Rockies 1B. Has nine home runs in 77 at-bats as he attempts to make good on his threat to play until he's 50. Starter Todd Helton has been fairly ageless, too.

• Carlos Zambrano could be moved, but one competing GM said, "He's a No. 4 starter right, and what are they worth... maybe $6 million.'' So the Cubs would have to subsidize the remainder of his $18 million salary. Ryan Dempster's $14 million player option next year makes him a tough one to trade, as well.

• CC Sabathia will "definitely'' exercise his opt-out clause, surmised one competing executive. "That's why he put it in there,'' the exec said.

• One GM said the Astros aren't yet offering any financial relief to teams interested in their pitchers. They probably can hold to that stance when it comes to Wandy Rodriguez, but if they truly want to trade Brett Myers, who has a $12 million salary for 2012, they'd have to contribute to that pay.

• Brandon Lyon is out for the year after biceps and labrum surgery. His $15-million, three-year free-agent deal was one of the most ill-conceived free-agent contracts to begin with.

• One scout said he remains unconvinced Alexi Ogando will be a successful starter. Ogando started great, winning his first seven decisions before losing his next three.

• One GM said all that's available so far on the starting pitching market is "change of scenery'' type guys.

• The Rockies shored up second base with Mark Ellis. They also are interested in a starter and corner outfielder, two weak markets thus far.

• Despite the Dodgers' record, folks are saying Don Mattingly has been impressive in his first year managing. Hopefully, his check cleared.

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