MILWAUKEE — The Cubs officially made it to the halfway point of the season Tuesday. What a ride those 81 games have been.
The good: The Cubs have had nine players make their major-league debuts this season, many of them memorable. Who could forget Seiya Suzuki’s April, which earned him Rookie of the Month, or Christopher Morel’s 22-game on-base streak to start his career, setting a franchise record?
The bad: That 10-game losing streak — their third double-digit skid in a year — also is seared into Cubs fans’ minds.
The ugly: Despite an 8-3 victory Tuesday against the Brewers, the Cubs are 33-48. Forget about competing for the division title; the Cubs are competing for third place in the National League Central.
Midseason awards, therefore, take on a different tone — and some actual weight.
For the more established players, strong first-half performances might increase their trade value for a team positioned to be a seller at the trade deadline. For the younger players, a hot start to the season could position them squarely in the Cubs’ plans for the future.
So here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the Sun-Times’ midseason awards for a team on pace to finish just shy of 100 losses.
Most Valuable Player: Willson Contreras
Who else could take home the Cubs’ first-half MVP but catcher Willson Contreras? Contreras entered the game Tuesday leading qualified Cubs in on-base percentage (.392) and slugging percentage (.498) and is expected to be selected an All-Star starter, all while contract uncertainty and trade speculation loom over his season.
That’s not even the most impressive part.
‘‘He’s been as good as I’ve ever seen him in so many aspects,’’ manager David Ross said in recent weeks. ‘‘His leadership, his guidance with the young guys, the way he’s handled the [pitching] staff, the way he’s gone about his baserunning, maturing emotionally.’’
The list went on.
Outfielder Ian Happ also garnered MVP consideration for his consistency on offense and defense, but Contreras set a high bar.
Pitcher of the first half: Keegan Thompson
Right-hander Keegan Thompson, 27, has proved to be the Cubs’ most valuable pitcher in two roles. As a multi-inning reliever, Thompson didn’t allow a run in his first four outings of the season, and he never yielded more than one.
When the Cubs needed him in the rotation because of a spike in injured starters, he battled through initial growing pains to become their most reliable starter in recent weeks, even putting an end to that 10-game losing streak.
Reliever of the first half: David Robertson
Ross, with his aversion to labels, refused to call veteran David Robertson his closer at the start of the season. But Robertson, who signed with the Cubs this spring, seized the role. And he did so coming out of a short spring training that was even shorter for him because of a trip back east for the birth of his son Everett.
Robertson (1.95 ERA) leads the Cubs with 11 saves.
Most Improved Player: Nico Hoerner
Shortstop Nico Hoerner chalks up a lot of his success simply to playing every day. But he has impressed in the field at an important position and is setting single-season career highs right and left at the plate.
The last couple of weeks have been especially eye-popping. Hoerner is batting .440 (22-for-50) in his last 13 games.
Happ is a strong runner-up.
Rookie of the first half: Morel
This was the tightest race, with Suzuki making a last-minute push in Milwaukee by hitting an inside-the-park home run Monday, followed by a more traditional long ball Tuesday. But the finger injury that sidelined him for more than a month hurt his bid for this award.
Morel takes the cake, not only for his on-base streak, but also for the energy he has brought and the impact he has made since the Cubs called him up from Double-A Tennessee in May.