Jayson Stark says National League MVP of the Half-Year: Joey Votto, Reds–“We’re betting most Americans have heard and read more about Joey Votto in just the past week than they had in his entire career before now. But here at the Worldwide Leader, we can assure you that it isn’t because we’re trying to recruit him to star in a new reality show or anything. It’s because he’s the best player in baseball who’d managed to avoid nearly every radar screen in America before this. But Votto is more than merely the most deserving player left off the original All-Star rosters. He’s also the most valuable player in his whole league so far. You want numbers? How ’bout these numbers: The guy leads the league in homers (22), on-base percentage (.417), slugging (.595) and OPS (1.012). And the more important the situation, the better he’s been: .351 with men on base, .395 in the late innings of tight games, .379 from the seventh inning on, with 16 homers that have either tied games, put his team ahead, brought his team within a run or broken open a one-run game. But put those numbers aside for a second. The biggest reason this guy ekes out a tight MVP duel with Albert Pujols? Votto has been a culture changer for a team that hasn’t won a postseason game in 20 years. “He comes to play,” Braves manager Bobby Cox told Half-Year in Review. “He’s a dirt player. He’s a tough out. He’s really grown on me.” And, all of a sudden, he’s been growing on the rest of the hemisphere, too. Apologies to: Pujols, David Wright, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Rolen, Martin Prado, Roy Halladay, Andre Ethier, Aubrey Huff. [ESPN – Jayson Stark]