Many build strong All-Star cases quietly

Lamb, Teheran, numerous Indians merit considerat­ion

- Jorge L. Ortiz @jorgelorti­z USA TODAY Sports

Unless a late voting surge changed the direction of All-Star Game balloting, the Chicago Cubs will have an overwhelmi­ng presence at the July 12 showcase in San Diego, with as many as five of the eight elected National League starters possibly coming from the NL Central leaders. And that doesn’t even count likely starting pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Plenty of obvious choices will populate the rosters of both teams when they’re announced Tuesday, including the likes of Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Anthony Rizzo, Mike Trout, David Ortiz and Jose Altuve. On the pitching side, Madison Bumgarner, Jon Lester, Johnny Cueto, Chris Sale and Cole Hamels are locks.

But several of the 68 available spots should be filled by players with lower profiles who have proved themselves among baseball’s best over the first three months of the season. Here’s the case for a number of the lesserknow­n but deserving candidates:

NATIONAL LEAGUE Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbac­ks

Lamb did not appear among the top five NL vote-getters at third base in the last voting update released a week ago, yet he had the league’s second-highest onbase-plus-slugging percentage (.974) going into Monday’s games. His 19 homers and 58 RBI rank third at the position, but he’s in a tough field with Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado also enjoying banner seasons and Matt Carpenter (now playing second) in the mix.

Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves

It might sound silly to suggest a pitcher with a 3-7 record deserves to be an All-Star, until you realize Teheran has the NL’s second-lowest WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) at 0.93 and is holding hitters to the fifth-lowest batting average at .197. He also ranks in the top five in innings pitched with 1122⁄ and has a 2.72 3 ERA, but he is stuck on the league’s worst team.

Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis Cardinals

Part of a bumper crop of slugging rookie shortstops that includes Trevor Story and Corey Seager, Diaz leads all players at his position with a .907 OPS. That’s stunning considerin­g the Cuban defector was taken off the Cardinals 40-man roster almost exactly a year ago. Diaz has been a revelation offensivel­y with a .317 batting average, 11 homers and 42 RBI, but his case is hampered by his league-high 14 errors and the stiff competitio­n he faces. Smoothfiel­ding Brandon Crawford leads NL shortstops with 53 RBI, Story has driven in 50 and belted 19 homers, and they both trailed the Cubs’ Addison Russell in the voting.

Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals

Even avid baseball fans could be forgiven for seeing Ramos’ name near the top of the race for the batting crown and wondering who he was. Ramos, 28, had never hit better than .275 over a full season, yet his .343 average trails only teammate Daniel Murphy’s .348 mark. Ramos also has a .961 OPS and leads all NL catchers with 13 homers and 46 RBI, making him a strong candidate to earn a nod even if Posey or Yadier Molina wins the popular vote.

Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins

Ozuna has bounced back from his miserable 2015 season, which included a demotion to the minors, to deliver production more in tune with his talent. The Marlins center fielder ranks fourth among NL outfielder­s in OPS (.911) and in home runs (tied, 17) while batting .311. Ozuna was stuck at 14th in the latest vote, and he faces competitio­n from other underappre­ciated outfielder­s such as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gregory Polanco (.875 OPS) and the Cincinnati Reds’ Adam Duvall (22 home runs, 58 RBI), but Ozuna might have the strongest case.

AMERICAN LEAGUE Cleveland Indians aplenty

No Indians player was in the top five in his position when the latest voting update was released, a regrettabl­e developmen­t considerin­g the club was in the midst of a 14-game winning streak and led the AL Central for most of June.

Cleveland’s rotation leads the league in ERA and should be well represente­d with the likes of Danny Salazar (10-3, 2.22 ERA) and Josh Tomlin (9-1, 3.21). Some of the position players also merit considerat­ion. Shortstop Francisco Lindor is an MVP candidate with a .300 average and 10 homers, and unlikely leadoff hitter Carlos Santana has 18 homers and a .342 on-base percentage to make up for a .245 batting average.

Steven Wright, Boston Red Sox

One of the few bright spots of the Red Sox rotation, the 31-yearold knucklebal­ler earned a starting spot because of injuries in spring training and has come through with his best season. He has the AL’s second-best ERA (2.42, about half of Red Sox ace David Price’s 4.74 mark) and ranks in the top 10 in innings (108) and wins (nine).

Eduardo Nunez, Minnesota Twins

The woebegone Twins must be represente­d, so it might as well be Nunez doing the honors. Nunez, who has split time evenly between shortstop and third base, also can play second and the outfield. And he’s enjoying a breakthrou­gh season, with career highs in home runs (11) and RBI (34) while batting .319 with 19 steals.

Marco Estrada, Toronto Blue Jays

Estrada has been a model of consistenc­y, completing at least six innings in all but two of his 16 starts. He has experience­d recent back soreness that might render him unavailabl­e for the All-Star Game, but his 2.93 ERA and 0.99 WHIP — both among the top five in the league — speak volumes.

Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles

It’s hard not to be impressed by Britton. The lefty leads the AL with 23 saves — in 23 chances — while holding hitters to a .155 batting average. His 0.80 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and ratio of better than five strikeouts per walk show sheer dominance. Britton made his first All-Star Game last season; this time, perhaps he’ll bring along setup man Brad Brach (1.01 ERA, 0.81 WHIP).

 ?? MARK J. REBILAS, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Jake Lamb, left, celebrates one of his 19 homers with teammate Paul Goldschmid­t last month.
MARK J. REBILAS, USA TODAY SPORTS Jake Lamb, left, celebrates one of his 19 homers with teammate Paul Goldschmid­t last month.
 ?? BRETT DAVIS, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor has All- Star stuff.
BRETT DAVIS, USA TODAY SPORTS Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor has All- Star stuff.

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