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Associated Press
Twenty-year-old Angels outfielder Mike Trout is leading the American League in batting and stolen bases.

Hot, new faces make waves in season’s 1st half

– Mike Trout is burning up the base paths in Los Angeles. Bryce Harper is rocking and rolling in D.C.

And the standings in both leagues are dotted with newcomers like the Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates who are surprisingly in the hunt for the playoffs.

Suddenly the Grand Old Game has a fresh-faced new edge to it as the season passes the halfway point and heads into the All-Star break.

As the big leagues prepare to convene in Kansas City for the midsummer classic, the 20-year-old Trout has electrified the Angels and brought them back into contention in the AL West, the Orioles are within shouting distance of the mighty New York Yankees in the AL East, and the young Pirates are finally playing a brand of ball worthy of that gem of a ballpark in Pittsburgh.

It’s no wonder that baseball officials are seeing rising attendance this season. There are some charismatic young stars that are giving fans new reasons to get off their couches and head to the ballpark.

It all starts with Trout, who is hitting .343 with 10 homers and 23 stolen bases in 60 games this season, becoming the rare power-speed dual threat.

“He’s been a game-changer, offensively, defensively,” New York manager Joe Girardi said this season. “The kid has got a lot of talent, a ton. Usually when you see a guy that fast, you don’t anticipate him hitting the ball that hard. What he’s doing at 20, it’s really pretty amazing. You think about it, most guys don’t hit triples down the left-field line.”

And Trout isn’t even the youngest star setting the league on fire these days. Harper rocketed through the minor leagues to reach the big time at just 19, doing it his own way with a cocky attitude that rankled some of the old guard. Cole Hamels even drew a suspension for hitting Harper in the back early in the season.

Harper stole home an inning after being hit by Hamels, and he’s hitting .280 with eight homers and has shown off his rocket arm in the outfield to help the Nationals to the top of the division.

Andrew McCutchen, the 25-year-old speedster in center field, was hitting .360 with 16 homers and 54 RBI as of Thursday to help revive the Pirates.

Here are some other notable performances from the first half. All stats are as of Thursday afternoon.

Stars

Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers: Hitting .318 with 26 homers and 74 RBI to help the Rangers lay claim to title of best team in the league.

Jered Weaver, RHP, Los Angeles Angels: Is 9-1 with a league-leading 2.13 ERA and a no-hitter.

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: Showing the 2010 MVP season was no fluke, has emerged as one of the finest hitters in the game, hitting .350 with 14 homers and 47 RBI.

R.A. Dickey, RHP, New York Mets: Knuckleballer has been the feel-good story of the season, going 12-1 with a 2.15 ERA and 116 Ks this season.

Slumps

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox: Hitting .275 with 24 doubles, but he’s only hit six home runs for a Red Sox offense that needs more runs with their pitchers struggling.

Rick Porcello, RHP, Tigers: Detroit was supposed to be the class of a weak division after signing Prince Fielder, but Justin Verlander’s sidekicks have been mediocre so far.

Cliff Lee, LHP, Phillies: Had a pedestrian 3.98 ERA and just one victory in his first 14 starts. Absences of sluggers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard haven’t helped.

Todd Helton, 1B, Rockies: Looking every bit of his 38 years, hitting just .239 with seven homers for last-place Colorado.

Memorable moments

Perfectos from Humber and Cain: White Sox journeyman Phil Humber was perfect against Seattle on April 21, and San Francisco’s Matt Cain cemented himself as one of the best in the biz with his gem against Houston on June 13, making 2012 just the second season there have been multiple perfect games.

Johan’s no-no: The two-time Cy Young winner has battled arm problems in recent seasons, but Santana was back to his old self on June 1 against St. Louis, throwing 134 pitches to deliver the first no-hitter in Mets history.

Hill’s cycles: Arizona’s Aaron Hill hit for the cycle twice in 11 days, against Seattle on June 18 and at Milwaukee on June 29, joining Brooklyn’s Babe Herman in 1931 as the only players to do it twice in the same season.

Papi’s blast: David Ortiz hit his 400th career homer in a loss at Oakland this week, providing one of the few bright spots in another down year in Beantown.

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