Stars and stripes: Sending baseball’s best to Washington
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.