MLB is set to announce its All-Star teams this Sunday, but before they do, I’d like to offer my own take on it. I’m ignoring the fan vote, which always offers up two or three awful picks, since it’s a popularity contest more than anything (Ryan Howard, who has yet to play this year, is currently 5th among 1Bs.) This is a snapshot of who the best players in the league have been thus far this season and this season only—no Chipper Jones or Derek Jeter coasting in on popularity and seniority. I’ll present the NL team today and the AL will be up tomorrow. Anyway, enough stalling, let’s get to the starting lineup:
Playing CF and leading off, Michael Bourn. Bourn’s everything you want in a leadoff hitter: speed, ability to get on base, and has even added power this year, hitting 7 HR so far, already a career high. Add elite defense in a premium position, and it’s starting to look like the Braves absolutely fleeced the Astros when they traded for him last season.
Batting 2nd, Carlos Beltran in RF. Leading the NL in RBI and tied for the lead in HR, Beltran has been a huge constant on a Cardinals team that has struggled with injuries all year.
3rd, Joey Votto, 1B. What really needs to be said here? Sporting a league leading .643 SLG and an insane .478 OBP, Votto is arguably the greatest hitter on the planet currently, and your 1st half MVP. And speaking of MVPs…
4th, Ryan Braun, LF. The reigning NL MVP is batting .311/.392/.596, tied for Beltran for the HR lead, and has added 13 SB. This type of season is becoming routine for Braun.
5th, David Wright, 3B. 2nd in the NL in both average and OBP, Wright is a major reason that the Mets, written off by most before the season began, are still thinking playoffs.
6th, Carlos Gonzalez, DH. CarGo has been an offensive force this year, batting .333/.389/.605 and leading the league in runs scored. His defense has been suspect though, so we’ll slot him at DH.
7th, Dan Uggla, 2B. Uggla leads all 2Bs in HR and OBP, and brings elite power to a position that normally doesn’t see it.
8th, Carlos Ruiz, C. Leading the league in average is always impressive, but doing it at catcher is extremely rare (unless you’re Joe Mauer.) Chooch is currently doing just that, with a Piazza-esque .364/.430/.591 and solid defense to boot. He’d be your MVP so far if not for Votto.
9th, Jed Lowrie, SS. If you haven’t heard of Lowrie until now, you’re probably not alone. Dumped from the Red Sox last year for Mark Melancon (who was so awful this year he managed to get sent down only two weeks in, and is currently sporting a 12.00 ERA) and now ignored in Houston, he’s broken out this year, leading all shortstops in OBP, SLG, and HR. I have to have an Astro somewhere, but Lowrie is no token pick; he’s earned it.
And now for the bench. We’ll start with the infield:
C—Yadier Molina, A.J. Ellis
SS—Starlin Castro, Rafael Furcal
NL catcher was perhaps the easiest position in either league to fill out, as Ruiz, Molina, and Ellis have been head and shoulders above the rest of the league this year. 1B has been a wasteland in the NL this year, however. I guess that’ll happen when Pujols and Fielder leave, and Berkman, Morse, and Howard have all been injured. Goldschmidt was the only real candidate for a backup spot at 1B, but he’s bounced back from a poor April to be one of the best hitters in the league in May and June. 3B isn’t a whole lot stronger beyond Wright, but Chase Headley is a very solid player in every aspect of the game, and consistently brings above average offense despite having his numbers depressed by Petco. He’s also the only Padre worthy of consideration, so he makes it.
Rounding out the outfield:
I’ll admit I expected a regression from Cabrera after his breakout last year. Instead, he’s gotten even better, batting a .351 so far. Prado has been great across the board for the Braves, and he can sub in at multiple infield positions as well, which managers always love. Stanton and Heyward are the youngest position players on the team; you’re likely to see them on All-Star teams for years to come. And McCutchen does it all on offense; I gave the start to Bourn because of his defense, but it nearly came to a coin flip.
And now for pitching. First the SPs:
Matt Cain (starting the game)
I really wanted to give the start to Dickey, who is the best story in the game right now, in my opinion. I wouldn’t argue with anyone who wanted to make him the starter, and you could probably make a strong case for Strasburg as well. But ultimately, I couldn’t deny Cain. His 14 K perfect game is up there with Kerry Wood’s 20 K 1 hitter and Sandy Koufax’s own 14 K perfect game as one of the greatest performances of all time. And his April 17 start against Cliff Lee is one of the best pitching duels in years. In between that, you have a league leading 0.897 WHIP, 107 Ks to only 22 BBs, and a 2.27 ERA.
And rounding out the team, the RPs:
Chapman and Kimbrel are probably the two best RPs in all of baseball at the moment. Kimbrel in particular is putting up a season so far reminiscing of Eric Gagne’s epic 2003. Chapman has dialed back his record-setting velocity a bit this year, but remains one of the hardest throwers in baseball. Along with Chapman, Clippard, Jansen, and Casilla have all stepped into closer roles mid-season, and have all excelled.
So there you go. There are many players who narrowly missed the cut, and who I wanted to include but just didn’t have the room (or in at least one case in particular, Andre Ethier, was on the team but just got hurt.) But this represents the best the NL has to offer at the moment, in my opinion. Let the arguments begin.