Paul Jannace: Nats, Pirates highlight MLB’s first half

Paul Jannace

Here’s a piece of advice for all you seamheads out there — go see the Washington Nationals play.

Here’s another piece of advice — go see the Pittsburgh Pirates play.

Oh, heck, just don’t miss out on checking out the long list of young superstars Major League Baseball has to offer.

It’s been a wonderful first half to the baseball season, and a group of players not yet in the prime of their careers are responsible.

Many of those young studs played in Tuesday's All-Star Game. One could even put together an All-Star team made up of only players 26 years old and younger and have a representable crew to take on the older All-Stars.

Leading this youthful charge has to be the best stories of the first half of the baseball season — the division-leading Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Baseball fans should be envious of the Nationals’ fan base with a team led by three arms that all could be aces — Gio Gonzalez (12-3, 2.92 ERA), Jordan Zimmerman (5-6, 2.61 ERA), and Stephen Strasburg (9-4 2.82 ERA) — and are all 27 years old or younger. Not to mention teen sensation Bryce Harper (.282, eight home runs, 25 RBI, 10 stolen bases in 63 games), who became the youngest position player to make an All-Star team.

The Nationals are not just an exciting team that is making a name for themselves — they’re legitimately good and will make a serious run for a postseason spot down the stretch.

In addition to the wealth of starting pitching, the Nationals are dominant at the end of games with five relievers posting an ERA under 2.00 — Tyler Clippards, Sean Burnett, Michael Gonzalez, Craig Stammen, and Ryan Mattheus — and all but one are under 30 years old.

The Pirates haven’t had a winning season in 20 years, but there’s a good chance that will change in a couple of months.

Andrew McCutchen is an MVP candidate with ridiculous numbers through exactly 81 games this season. “Cutch,”?as the Pittsburgh fans call him, leads all of baseball with a .362 batting average to go with 18 home runs, 60 RBI, and 14 stolen bases.

The Pirates are 11 games over .500 and could very well make the playoffs, but still probably are a year away from truly being a contender. Their offense is still a tad thin and don’t have the pitching like the Nationals do, but there are still some talented arms out there in Pittsburgh.

A.J. Burnett is 10-2 and making a serious run at Comeback Player of the Year, and James McDonald is having a career year with 100 strikeouts and a WHIP under 1.00.

The Pirates are finally coming after years of being irrelevant and just plain bad. McCutchen’s development has been the centerpiece of a budding group that may be bringing winning baseball to Pittsburgh after far too long a wait.

On a side note, any baseball fan worth his or her soul should go to a game at Pittsburgh’s PNC?Park. It’s a masterpiece overlooking the water with the picturesque bridges and building as a backdrop. Run, don’t walk to PNC?Park soon — it’s a gem.

Hopping over to the American League, the most exciting player of all just might be the not-yet-able-to-drink-alcohol-legally Mike Trout. Harper has stolen the headlines and become the face of this current youth infusion in baseball, but Trout has been the best of the young bunch.

Trout is miles ahead of the crowd for the A.L. Rookie of the Year award, but he could very well win the MVP, too. The Los Angeles Angels were looking for a spark when they called Trout up earlier this season, and he has provided that — and then some.

Trout, who turns 21 in August, is hitting a blistering .341 with 12 home runs, 40 RBI and 26 stolen bases in only 64 games. The Angels were 6-14 before Trout was called up and are 42-24 since, trailing Texas by only four games in the AL West.

Another youngster, 26-year-old slugger Mark Trumbo (.306, 22 home runs, 56 RBI), along with the rejuvenated — somewhat — Albert Pujols have also turned the Angels’ season around and should make for a great race out West.

The new trend in baseball is finding players with the perfect combination of power and speed. Players like Trout, Harper and McCutchen are those types of players and the best may be still to come.

Really, there are too many great storylines and players to mention in one newspaper column. There are great things going on all across the league and it’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting regular seasons in recent memory.

Baseball hasn’t been a star-driven league the way the NBA has become recently, but perhaps this infusion of youth can help change that soon. It would make it harder for older teams to keep up and force general managers to hit home runs in the draft and be patient with their young players.

With the extra wild card in place this season, it will make it easier for a team like the Pirates or Nationals to make the playoffs. So there’s a very good many of these great, young stars will get a chance to showcase their talents on the biggest stage of all.

For now, we have to rely on what should be a fantastic All-Star Game tonight in Kansas City and hope the Nationals and Pirates can hang on down the stretch and play some October baseball.

Seamheads like myself can’t wait.

Follow Paul Jannace on Twitter at @pjscribe.