Stars and stripes: Send­ing base­ball’s best to Wash­ing­ton

The Standard Journal - - SPORTS - By Mike Fitz­patrick

NEW YORK — Now that fan vot­ing is fin­ished, it’s a good time to take a hard look at All-Star Game se­lec­tions.

Which play­ers are wor­thy of par­tic­i­pat­ing July 17 in Wash­ing­ton, and who gets left out?

Let’s touch on this topic first: Sho­hei Oh­tani is in­cred­i­bly tal­ented and fas­ci­nat­ing to watch, but the Los An­ge­les An­gels’ two-way Ja­pa­nese star sim­ply hasn’t been on the field enough to earn a spot. Not at pitcher OR des­ig­nated hit­ter.

Oh­tani just re­turned to the lineup from an el­bow in­jury that’s knocked him off the mound for now. He’s only made nine ma­jor league pitch­ing starts, and the An­gels have limited his at-bats all sea­son due to con­cerns about the rookie’s work­load.

So while it would def­i­nitely be fun to see him in base­ball’s sum­mer show­case, there are sev­eral more de­serv­ing Amer­i­can League slug­gers at DH. It wouldn’t be fair to deny one of them in fa­vor of Oh­tani. And he’s un­avail­able to pitch at this point.

Let him win his in­vi­ta­tion next sea­son with a fully healthy and pro­duc­tive first half. Or the year af­ter that. Or when­ever it hap­pens. Buz­zkill, I know. But even with­out Oh­tani, there’s plenty to watch for lead­ing up to the first All-Star Game in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal since the Sen­a­tors hosted at RFK Sta­dium in 1969.

Start with At­lanta out­fielder Nick Markakis. With more than 2,150 ca­reer hits, he’s poised to make an All-Star team for the first time in his 13th big league sea­son.

Matt Kemp, Miles Miko­las and Mike Foltynewicz are en­joy­ing feel-good come­backs.

Robin­son Cano, the MVP of last year’s game, will sit this one out while serv­ing a drug sus­pen­sion.

In­juries may keep fa­mil­iar stars such as Clay­ton Ker­shaw, Stephen Stras­burg, Car­los Cor­rea and Corey Sea­ger from re­turn­ing, but in their place should be ex­cit­ing new­com­ers like Aaron Nola, Ozzie Al­bies, Alex Breg­man and Ed­die Rosario.

The Amer­i­can League has won five times in a row and is 17-3-1 in the last 21 years.

“I want to win. I al­ways want to win. It’s not play­ing for home-field ad­van­tage any­more in the World Se­ries, but all these guys are com­peti­tors and they want to win for their re­spec­tive league,” said Na­tional League man­ager Dave Roberts of the Los An­ge­les Dodgers.

There’s a log­jam at short­stop in the AL, and the NL bullpen is loaded.

That sort of thing is where it gets com­pli­cated: Each ros­ter has 32 spots, with 12 go­ing to pitch­ers. Ev­ery club must be rep­re­sented, too.

On­line vot­ing for the starters at each po­si­tion ended at mid­night Thurs­day, and the teams will be re­vealed Sun­day night.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to it. It’ll be a great ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Hous­ton’s AJ Hinch, who will man­age the AL squad. “It’s as ca­sual a game as you’ll play with the big­gest names on the stage, and all the at­ten­tion that comes with it. It’s a big deal.”

Dis­re­gard­ing fan and player bal­lot­ing, here are our picks:

Amer­i­can League

FIRST BASE — Jose Abreu of the White Sox gets the start, barely nudg­ing out Toronto switch-hit­ter Justin Smoak.

SEC­OND BASE — AL MVP Jose Al­tuve from the World Se­ries cham­pion Astros is backed up by 34-year-old Oak­land vet­eran Jed Lowrie, whose first All-Star nod is prob­a­bly long over­due. SHORT­STOP — Cleve­land whiz Fran­cisco Lin­dor is in the lineup. Top trade tar­get Manny Machado from lowly Bal­ti­more, and Jean Se­gura from Seat­tle are on the bench. Gold Glove win­ner An­drel­ton Sim­mons of the An­gels is re­ally tough to leave out.

THIRD BASE — Jose Ramirez gives the In­di­ans both starters on the left side of the in­field. Breg­man backs up at the hot cor­ner, from Hous­ton.

CATCHER — Wil­son Ramos is a big rea­son the Rays are hold­ing their own. Peren­nial pick Sal­vador Perez rep­re­sents the strug­gling Roy­als de­spite his sub­par sea­son.

OUT­FIELD — An­gels star Mike Trout plays cen­ter, with Bos­ton’s Mookie Betts in left and Yan­kees masher Aaron Judge in right. Re­serves in­clude Rosario from the Twins, Mitch Haniger from the Mariners, and Ni­cholas Castel­lanos from the Tigers.

DES­IG­NATED HIT­TER — J.D. Martinez has been worth ev­ery penny dur­ing his first sea­son in Bos­ton. Texas’ Shin-Soo Choo and New York hulk Gian­carlo Stan­ton, last year’s NL MVP, both still play the out­field some­times, which helps. Seat­tle slug­ger Nel­son Cruz is a very dif­fi­cult omis­sion.

START­ING PITCH­ERS — Luis Sev­erino is in line to be­come the first Yan­kees pitcher to start an All-Star Game since Roger Cle­mens in 2001. Other right-han­ders in­clude Justin Ver­lan­der, Ger­rit Cole and Char­lie Mor­ton from Hous­ton, plus Cy Young Award win­ner Corey Klu­ber and Trevor Bauer from Cleve­land. The left­handers are Bos­ton ace Chris Sale and Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell. Seat­tle lefty James Pax­ton is our top pick to re­place Ver­lan­der, who doesn’t plan to pitch in the All-Star Game be­cause he’s sched­uled to start two days be­fore.

RE­LIEV­ERS — Four filthy closers in the bullpen: Yan­kees lefty Aroldis Chap­man, plus righthanders Craig Kim­brel (Bos­ton), Ed­win Diaz (Seat­tle) and Blake Treinen (Oak­land).

Na­tional League

FIRST BASE — Braves cor­ner­stone Fred­die Free­man starts over Ari­zona’s Paul Gold­schmidt, who over­came a mis­er­able May with a mon­ster June.

SEC­OND BASE — The un­ex­pected starter at a com­pet­i­tive po­si­tion is Scooter Gen­nett from the Reds. Right be­hind him are flashy Javier Baez from the Cubs and 21-year-old ig­niter Ozzie Al­bies from the sur­pris­ing Braves.

SHORT­STOP — San Fran­cisco pro Bran­don Craw­ford is backed up by Col­orado bop­per Trevor Story.

THIRD BASE — Nolan Are­nado is sen­sa­tional with his bat and glove for the Rock­ies. Eu­ge­nio Suarez is blos­som­ing into a big run pro­ducer for the Reds, and St. Louis’ Matt Car­pen­ter can play both cor­ner in­field spots — even sec­ond base if needed.

CATCHER — A chang­ing of the guard, with Mi­ami’s J.T. Real­muto start­ing and Chicago’s Will­son Con­tr­eras sec­ond string. St. Louis stal­wart Yadier Molina barely beats out fa­mil­iar ri­val Buster Posey of the Giants for an­other bench spot.

OUT­FIELD — Mil­wau­kee new­comer Lorenzo Cain is ex­pected back from a groin strain in time to start in cen­ter, flanked by Markakis in right and Kemp from the Dodgers in left. De­spite a low bat­ting av­er­age, slump­ing slug­ger Bryce Harper of the Na­tion­als starts at DH in his home ball­park. Also avail­able are Chris­tian Yelich (Brew­ers), Odubel Her­rera (Phillies) and Gre­gory Polanco (Pi­rates).

START­ING PITCH­ERS — Wash­ing­ton ace Max Scherzer, who won his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Cy Young Award last year and third over­all, gets the ball to start on his own mound. The other righthanders are Nola from the Phillies, Foltynewicz from the Braves, Miko­las from the Car­di­nals, and Ja­cob deGrom of the Mets. Cubs lefty Jon Lester rounds out the group, with Pa­trick Corbin of the Di­a­mond­backs next in line as a po­ten­tial re­place­ment for some­one.

RE­LIEV­ERS — So many to choose from, and not only closers. A bevy of NL setup men are putting up dom­i­nant num­bers. In the end, this bullpen fea­tures Dodgers closer Ken­ley Jansen, Ari­zona setup man Archie Bradley and San Diego’s Kirby Yates from the right side, com­ple­mented by Na­tion­als closer Sean Doolit­tle, Mil­wau­kee strike­out artist Josh Hader and San Fran­cisco’s Tony Wat­son from the left side.

/ AP- Aaron Gash

At­lanta Braves’ Ozzie Al­bies hits an RBI dou­ble dur­ing the first in­ning of a base­ball game against the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers on July 6 in Mil­wau­kee.

/ AP-Frank Franklin II

New York Yan­kees’ Aaron Judge fol­lows through on a home run dur­ing the first in­ning of a base­ball game as At­lanta Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki, cen­ter, and home plate um­pire Mike Estabrook watch July 2 in New York.

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