It's almost mid-season for the Northwoods League and the races are really getting interesting now. Unlike most baseball leagues that you may be familiar with, the NWL has division winners for the first half as well as the second half of the season. Those first half winners are granted a bid in the playoffs at the end of the season. So, with just a shade under two weeks left before the All-Star break, it's starting to feel like end-of-season baseball.
In the North Division, the Manakto Moondogs have been in the lead pretty much since the season began. The still lead with a 19-12 record, but they have company at the top. The Rochester Honkers are right behind them at 18-12. The St. Cloud Riverbats are within striking distance with a 16-14 record, but they've won 7 straight, so they could make things interesting.
The South Division has been a tighter race all along and suddenly, it's a traffic jam at the top. The Wisconsin Woodchucks (Wausau) have been up at the top most of the season and now find themselves tied with the red-hot Madison Mallards for the division lead at 20-10. A strong La Crosse Loggers squad is right on their tails at 19-11.
If I were to pick an early, first-half MVP for the NWL my ballot would go for Eric Stephens of the Rochester Honkers. The junior infielder from Cal-State Fullerton is hitting at a .377 (tied for 1st) clip with 5 home runs (also a tie for 1st), 31 rbi (2nd), 11 stolen bases (tied for 3rd), 11 doubles (tied for 1st) and a .642 slugging percentage (1st). He's not just a stat stud, he's a big reason that the Mankato Moondogs are looking at Rochester in their rear view mirror as the Honkers are charging up. Honorable Mention: Derek Melton, 1B, La Crosse Loggers.