There are three days left for fans to vote for the MLB All-star Game starters. The fans pick the starters for each defensive position, the players pick the starting pitchers, and the coaches (last year's World Series managers Joe Maddon and Charlie Manuel) fill in the rest of the All-star game rosters.
The only rules? Each team in baseball must have a representative from their team on the All-Star roster. This doesn't mean that the fans must pick a player from each team on their ballot, but it does mean the players and coaches are responsible for evening things out and picking players from lesser-known rosters. Fans can cast their ballots up to twenty-five times. The winners will be announced by Major League Baseball and they'll suit up t square off in St. Louis during the all-star break weekend. The National League starters will take on the American League starters and perhaps, just maybe, the National League will put an end to their infamous losing skid. The all-star game will be played on July 14th with the home run derby and futures game prior to the big night.
Enough already with the particulars... Here's how my ballots have gone:
Starting with the American League, my choice at first base has flipped back and forth between Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins and Carlos Pena of the Tampa Bay Rays. I haven't been able to pick, in good conscience either Mark Teixeira of the Yankees or Youkilis of the Red Sox. Teixeira is a very talented first baseman, but there's a line to be drawn when you expect and accept such a ridiculous contract.
At second base I have chosen Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers on half of my ballots and Aaron Hill of Toronto on the rest of the ballots. Earlier in the week, Kinsler was up 3 homers to Aaron Hill, but Hill has been on a tear and I'm sure has since surpassed Kinsler. At short stop, I've had to take into account that there are plenty of superb players at that position in the American League. However, my philosophy on this pick is if you take the short stop out of the lineup, can the team survive. That leaves one man--Marco Scutaro of Toronto. His fielding fuels the Blue Jays and his presence in that lineup gives Aaron Hill the protection required to hit as he has. The guy most overlooked in the American League and most deserving of getting the start at third base is Brandon Inge of the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have been unstoppable on many fronts and the offense Inge has brought this season is part of the Tigers' success. I also look at what Inge can do defensively and marvel at his athleticism--he can play third base and catch a game with an equal amount of skill. Of course, in the American League Inge is going to be overlooked, but still, Inge has been my choice on all twenty-five of my ballots.
Another guy who has been my pick on every ballot is Joe Mauer, Minnesota's catcher. Since his return from the DL, he has been a power hitter the likes of which Minnesota hasn't seen in years. Put him in the lineup with Morneau and it's an amazing thing to see.
The ballot allows for a fan to choose three outfielders for each league. Not discounting the brilliance of Jason Bay or J.D. Drew in Boston, I have to go with the Seattle corners--Ichiro Suzuki (who is leading the league in hitting) and Ken Griffey, Jr. "The Kid" has infused the Seattle lineup and brought leadership to a clubhouse that has been without it since, well, the days when Jr. played there the first time around. Griffey isn't just a presence, either. He has proven that he still has the stuff of legends. His place in Cooperstown is secure and he's a perfect choice for the AL ballot. Rounding out my top three is Torii Hunter now with the Angels after years of amazing wall-smashing catches at the Metrodome in Minnesota. What sealed the deal for me in terms of the ballot was Hunter's recent three-homer game. He has offense to add to his superb defense and the Angels are all the better for it.
Moving on to the National League ballot... Perhaps the most difficult decisions for me come with the NL ballot because I am truly biased. The NL is what I love and the kind of baseball I like to see played. One of the most difficult decisions came in voting for a first baseman. Clearly, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals will be the starter at first. Being in St. Louis, the fans are going to pick him and with his recent 29th and 30th home runs, Pujols is a lock. His defense and offense are unmatched. However, I think that one of the obligatory picks by the NL coaches will snag Adrian Gonzalez of the San Diego Padres as the backup first baseman. There's always a chance Ryan Howard of the Phillies will get to play an inning or two here as well. All of my votes went to Adrian Gonzalez who is, I believe, the most underrated players in the game.
My votes at second base were split with a majority going to Chase Utley of the Phillies. He's leading the votes there and I'm sure he'll be the starter. The rest of my votes actually ended up going to Orlando Hudson of the L.A. Dodgers because he has been the best off-season acquisition in years. If the Dodgers didn't have so many stand-out players and didn't have the cloud of Manny Ramirez always hanging over them, I think a lot of people would be raving about Hudson and what he has brought to the Dodgers. Just think about the fact that in his first regular season game in a Dodgers uniform, Hudson hit for the cycle. That's simply amazing no matter what position you play.
Short stop in the National League is an interesting predicament. If you take out Jose Reyes of the Mets who has been battling hamstring and calf problems and you take out Jimmy Rollins who has yet to hit with any consistency this season, the standout player has to be Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins. Tejada is out, not because he isn't playing well, but because I refuse to vote for someone who is so secretive. Tejada used steroids, period. All-star caliber players in this new era of baseball have to be punished for that. And picking Hanley meets the rules of representing all NL teams.
My choice at third base is and will always be as long as Chipper Jones is playing, completely biased. There are standout performers in the National League, David Wright with his league leading batting average being one of them. However, Chipper Jones embodies everything I love about baseball and like my philosophy regarding the AL shortstop, if you were to take Chipper out of Braves' lineup, I'm convinced their numbers would be equal to the mediocre if not pathetic numbers of the Nationals.
The best offensive catcher in the National League has to be Brian McCann of the Atlanta Braves. The best defensive catchers are without question, Yadier Molina of St. Louis and Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez of the Houston Astros. Despite Pudge being my favorite player in the game today, all of my votes went to McCann though Molina will be the starter because the game is being played on his home turf.
The three picks for the National League outfield are Juan Pierre of the L.A. Dodgers, Raul Ibanez of the Phillies, and his teammate, Jayson Werth. Pierre has stepped in when the Dodgers needs consistency most and in many ways has done what Manny Ramirez never will do--play the game well and quietly. Pierre deserves to be recognized for not only playing well, but also for being the anti-Manny. What is there to say about Raul Ibanez? This is his year. Though on the disabled list at the moment, Raul will be back and he's carrying his team while Howard finds his stride and Rollins gets things back on track. Ibanez has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season and deserves to represent the Phillies in the all-star game. Jayson Werth may seem like an odd choice, but like Adrian Gonzalez, this is a guy who is severely underestimated. He hits for power, gets on base and even steals bases. All while fielding his position with ease.
As a fan, I don't get to vote on any of the pitchers, but if I did for the American League I would, limiting myself to four in each league, choose without hesitation Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals (I think everybody who knows anything about baseball would pick Greinke); Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox, who surprisingly has never been an all-star starter; Mariano Rivera of the Yankees, arguably the second-best closer in the history of Major League Baseball; and, Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays who continues to get better and better with each passing season.
The National League pitchers I would choose if given the option would be Tim Lincecum, reigning Cy Young award winning starter with the San Francisco Giants; Johan Santana who continues to be the best thing and perhaps only thing the New York Mets have going for them; Trevor Hoffman, a guy whose career may have seemed over, but he is closing games with Milwaukee this year in ways he closed games a decade ago; and, another guy who appeared to be a washed out, has-been Jason Marquis in Colorado.
Voting closes on July 2nd, so don't put off casting your ballot(s) for too much longer. The all-star break is rapidly approaching.