As mentioned earlier, I'll be looking at the NL All-Star selections and the logic (or lack of) behind them. This year, more so then in the AL, has been very interesting in the NL. There has been plenty of stellar breakout seasons for guys like Derrek Lee and in a way, Carlos Lee (who has driven in a major league high 72), and has seen incredible pitching from possibly the best right-hander ever, Roger Clemens, and from Dontrelle Willis, Jake Peavy, John Smoltz, and Pedro Martinez. Lets look at the starting lineup to begin:
Catcher: Mike Piazza, New York Mets
This is Piazza's 12th All-Star selection and there is clearly good reason for it. Piazza is probably, along with Johnny Bench, the greatest offensive catcher ever. He remains a .313 career hitter despite a hideous .258 average, with only 9 HRs and 34 RBIs. But, beyond his slowdown in offense, is his complete loss in defensive ability. Piazza has never been a great defensive player, but pretty much ever base-stealer has been successful against Piazza. He's aging and he desperately is in need of a move to the AL, where he can DH and preserve his offensive talents for a high-caliber team. So, essentially, Piazza was choosen because of his history, and of course, the lack of good catchers in the NL. Paul Lo Duca is the only other legitimate choice, as he is hitting well over .300 this year, but he does not have the name of Piazza.
First Base: Derrek Lee, Chicago Cubs
Lee has had an incredible breakout season this year, and a lot like Roberts, many suspected that it would end quickly but it did not. Lee is hitting .383 with 25 HRs and 67 RBI with a .457 OBP and a .733 slugging percentage. He is leading the league in average, OBP, slugging, and OPS, while just behind in HRs and RBI. Lee is clearly the first half MVP of the NL, as his amazing play has helped keep an injury-plagued Cubs team afloat. His gaudy numbers were good enough to give him the starting spot over Albert Pujols, who is having a great season as well.
Second Base: Jeff Kent, Los Angeles Dodgers
This is Kent's 5th All-Star selection as he continues to be one of the best offensive second-basemen in baseball history. Kent is the leader in HRs for 2B and he has had a very good first half considering his age of 37. Kent is hitting .304 with 15 HRs and 59 RBIs, doing the same job as Lee as his offense has helped the Dodgers stay afloat. Its apparent as well that the Astros miss his presence. Kent is by far the best second-baseman in the NL and there is no second guessing this choice.
Shortstop: David Eckstein, St. Louis Cardinals
This is a surprise choice, as Eckstein has never been a huge force on defense or offense. He's more known as a good contact hitter who puts a lot of energy into his game and who is always a "pest" to his opponents. His stats; 2 HRs, 23 RBIs, .290 average; aren't much to look at, as suddenly the NL does not have so many productive shortstops. I believe this is another questionable choice as Cesar Izturis has to be the best shortstop in the NL. (He is a reserve, though) Izturis plays better defense and is the better hitter, as he has improved his game alot over the years.
Third Base: Scott Rolen, St. Louis Cardinals
Rolen is obviously the best third baseman in the NL, but he has been hurt most of the year and has not had anywhere near the numbers of last year. Rolen seems better as a reserve, just to be fair to the incredible year he had last year. He is hitting only .250 with 5 HRs and 21 RBIs (which is comparable to Cuddyer). The Cubs Aramis Ramirez is doing well and was selected as a reserve.
Outfield: Bobby Abreu, Phillies, Carlos Beltran, Houston, Jim Edmonds, St. Louis
Abreu certainly started the season strong, as he hit a home run in eight straight games. He has cooled down a bit though and is currently hitting .314 with 17 HRs and 52 RBIs. He clearly is deserving of a nomination but maybe as a reserve over a starter. Edmonds has been similar, hitting .283 with 15 HRs with 50 RBIs. Beltran, on the other hand, has been sub-par this year, hitting well below his usual stats. He is currently batting .262 with 9 HRs and 40 RBIs. Beltran is clearly not an All-Star this year. If anything, I'd prefer to see Ken Griffey, who has had a good year coming back from injuries, hitting. 283 with 15 HRs and 53 RBIs (numbers very close to Edmonds) in the game and in the home run contest now that he is healthy. But, its some of the reserves who should get to start.
Miguel Cabrera has been hot since the beginning of the year, hovering around the top of the league hitting .341 with 16 HRs and 59 RBIs. Andruw Jones and Carlos Lee, though not boasting high averages, have been tearing up the league, as Jones leads the bigs in HRs with 26 and Lee leads the big with RBIs.
The NL has quite the imposing staff, boasting the likes of Clemens, Martinez, and Peavy. Clemens got his 11th All-Star nomination as he is having one of his best years at the tender age of 42 (43 in August). Clemens has gone 7-3 with a 1.41 ERA with 108 Ks in 115 and a phenomenal .181 opponent batting average. Its a pleasure to watch Clemens continue to produce amazing stats and he clearly deserves this nomination. But so do Willis, Martinez, Peavy, and Chris Carpenter. After a mediocre "sophmore" year in the bigs, Willis has rebounded and astonished the league's hitters, with his 13-3 record, 1.89 ERA, and 92 Ks in 123 innings. Pedro looked as if he was going into the twilight of his career last year, as he posted a 3.90 ERA far from his 2.58 career ERA at time. This year, he has also responded with a great start, going 9-2 with a 2.74 ERA with 123 Ks in 115 innings and a impressive .177 opponent batting average. He's been as potent and powerful as Clemens and a key to any succes the Mets have had. Jake Peavy is the only All-Star from the surging Padres, as he has been the staff ace since his breakout year last year in which he lead the NL with a 2.22 ERA. Peavy has gone 7-2 with a 2.89 ERA and 119 Ks. However, most impressive has been Chris Carpenter, the Cardinal's emerging ace, who has been Halliday-esque in his stats, with a 12-4 record, a 2.60 ERA, and 121 Ks. The All-Star starting pitchers are rounded out by Atlanta's John Smoltz, who became a starter again this year and has sparkled with a 9-5 record and a 2.68 ERA, and Livan Hernandez, who leads the league in innings pitched and has been the ace of the Nationals' staff, going 12-2 with a 3.32 ERA for the surprise leaders of the NL East.
The bullpen has some new names as well. Nationals' closer Chad Cordero, who has converted 25 straight saves and leads the majors with 29 saves, has been amazing for his team. Brad Lidge has not had the season he had last year, in which he struck out a record 157 batters in 93 innings, and like Santana, is likely on the staff for the aura of 2004. However, 52 Ks in 33 innings is not bad at all and 18 saves is very good for a Astros team that has struggled all year. The others are the Cardinals' Jason Isringhausen, who has 22 saves in a good first half, and the Rockies Brian Fuentes, who has not been great but is the apparently the best choice for the hideous Rockies club.
Most of the guys I have mentioned as replacements for starters made the team. Albert Pujols is not a questionable choice, as he has obviously been great all year, but Lee has simply been a little better. Pujols is the best right-handed hitter in the league and should be expected to be a perennial All-Star. Andruw Jones and Carlos Lee perhaps should have started, but they were rightly choosen by the players. Cesar Izturis, Aramis Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera, and Paul Lo Duca also may have been the better choices for starters, but were also choosen by their fellow players. To round out the team, the players and managers choose Arizona outfielder Luis Gonzalez, Pittsburg outfielder Jason Bay, San Fransisco outfielder Moises Alou, Cincinnati shortstop Felipe Lopez, and Florida second baseman Luis Castillo. Bay, Lopez, Alou, and Gonzalez were all choosen by La Russa, and likely because their team needed representatives. Thats not to say they aren't neccessarly deserving. Bay has been good again, with a .311 average, 15 HRs, and 41 RBIs, as has Alou, with a .325 average, 12 HRs and 39 RBI, but guys like Carlos Delgado (15 HRs, 57 RBIs and of course, a good choice for DH) and Griffey seem to have more legitimate cases. Of course, there are always plenty of guys left of the roster more deserving. Its apparent that Beltran isn't an All-Star and neither is Eckstein, but players are not neccessarly voted in on their value but their popularity. It should be, nonetheless, a very good game, with Clemens and Martinez, two pitching legends, on the same staff against Halliday, Garland, Santana, and some of the other young guns of the AL.
Here's are the possible final All-Stars to be voted on online:
* Trevor Hoffman, Padres, 23 SVs, 0-4, 3.68 ERA
* Billy Wagner, Phillies, 20 SVs, 1-1, 2.41 ERA
* Bretty Myers, Phillies, 6-4, 3.18 ERA, 110 Ks
* Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks, 8-5, 3.43 ERA, 88 Ks
* Roy Oswalt, Astros, 11-7 , 2.44 ERA, 88 Ks
Sportsnation voting shows that the majority of voters (34.1%) agree with me that Oswalt is the choice. Oswalt has been wonderful this year and is certainly deserving. I can see a good argument for Wagner, as he has his usual dominant numbers, but the Ks are down, he doesn't have a lot of saves, and the Phillies aren't winning. That hurts Myers in the argument too. He has been great but there is lots of good starting pitching this year and Myers doesn't have the record and he hasn't been as good as Oswalt. Same for Webb, who has done well for the Diamondbacks, but he has not been dominant or significantly better than Oswalt, or for that matter, Myers. My vote goes for Oswalt.
* Carlos Delgado - As much as Cabrera has been great this year, Delgado has been just as potent as the Marlins' clean-up hitter. The largest reason he is off the team is that Pujols and Lee already occupy first, but Delgado could just as well be used as a DH since the game is in Detroit.
* Pat Burrell - Another possibility at outfield and more deserving than Beltran or Edmonds, Burrell has hit .290 with 17 HRs and 62 RBI after a very fast start to begin the year. Burrell is a streaky hitter and the Phillies have not been great this year, so those are factors to take into consideration for leaving him off the roster.
* Morgan Ensberg - I have to agree with my associate Nick Nelson on this one. Ensberg is a huge omission on the roster and he isn't even in the final vote category. This is the guy who should be there instead of Scott Rolen. Ensberg has numbers similar to Aramis Ramirez, except Ensberg has pretty much been the offense for the Astros. He is hitting .288 with 22 HRs and 60 RBIs and a .591 slugging percentage, fantastic numbers for a infielder. The fact that he isn't in the debate is what is most confusing. Ensberg has rebounded big-time this year and he should join the plurality of new All-Stars on the rosters this year.
* Roy Oswalt - Oswalt has had a great year for Houston, going 11-7 with a 2.44 ERA and 88 Ks in 129 innings. The Clemens-Oswalt combo has the same potential as the Schilling-Johnson combo in Arizona a few years back. Perhaps, instead of adding another Cardinal to the team (there are six), LaRussa could have given the deserving Oswalt a spot. Of course, he is one of the players available for online voting for a last member, so he may still be on the squad.
* Matt Morris - Its a surprise that admist all of LaRussa's Cardinals choosen for the All-Star game that he didn't choose his starter but his closer. Morris' 10-1 record and 3.17 ERA have been, like Carpenter's pitching, probably more important to the Cardinals success than Isringhausen. Having two great starter pitchers have pushed the White Sox to the top of the Central the same way.
More on this tonight with analysis of the game against the Angels. Carlos Silva starts and if he can give his usual seven innings, the Twins should have a chance against the Angels, who have 2004 MVP Guerroro back ripping up AL pitching again.