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“It’s Not a Break:” My Selections for the 2012 National League All-Star Team
- Updated: June 19, 2012
“I am a Major League Baseball All-Star. I didn’t get here by chance. I did not take the road of easy or the path of the painless. I worked hard to take this field, for my team, and for my league… Some call it an All-Star break. It’s not a break: we play on, because the battle for the postseason begins now.”
If you’re perusing this site, then I’ll assume you’ve heard the credo above stuffed between the innings of ESPN’ Sunday Night Baseball. While it primarily serves to advertise the 2012 All-Star Game, the TV spot implies something more. In the wake of the steroid era, MLB presents its fan base with a younger, flashier generation who became baseball’s new elite through constant training rather than a needle in the buttocks.
If you believe in the adage that “practice makes perfect,” then these young guns deserve to be honored at the All-Star Game. They did it the right way, putting the hours in on the field and in the weight room. The following players have earned their seven-figure contracts, and deserve to represent the National League in this year’s Midsummer Classic.
The National League
Catcher: Yadier Molina, STL: Sure, Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz has a gaudy .362 batting average that tops Molina’s .323, but Philadelphia’s man got lucky with an absurdly-unsustainable .373 BABIP. The Flying Molina Brother’s season is clearly no fluke. Yadi’s average and counting numbers have trended upwards since 2010, and he leads all catchers with six steals in 2012, impressive for a guy who crouches all day for a living. More importantly, Molina positively influenceed the Cardinals’ young starters, while Ruiz has watched his top-notch staff fall apart with injuries and inconsistency.-
First Base: Joey Votto, CIN: Baseball is an American game, but the Canadian was a no-doubter here. He leads the Senior Circuit in batting average (.366), doubles (28), walks (54), on-base percentage (.489), slugging-percentage (.652), and OPS (1.141). The 2010 MVP is putting together what some are calling a Ruthian season, and is leading the Reds to first place in the competitive NL Central; hopefully putting him on a national stage will make Votto a household name.
Second Base: Brandon Phillips, CIN: With the Cano-Pedroia-Kinsler triumvirate in the AL, there is not much talent at second base in the National League, but Brandon Phillips gets the nod over Atlanta’s Dan Uggla. After batting .215 through May 6, Phillips has been tearing it up, hitting .329 with a .373 OBP to rack up 9 homers and 40 RBIs; for a slow start, that’s pretty darn good. He’s provided great protection for Votto in Cincinnati’s lineup, and compliments the first baseman well on the right side of the infield. Add in Phillip’s cheery personality, and he’s the kind of guy you want representing your league in the All-Star Game.
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, MIA: After being a no-factor in his 2011 campaign, HanRam has come back with a vengeance to lead the revamped Marlins back to relevancy in the bloodthirsty NL East. He spreads his production through all categories with 11 HR, 37 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases, making him an all-around player. His .255 batting average and .333 on-base percentage leaves more to be desired, but those statistics result from a BABIP that is 50 points lower than his career average. Ramirez will work his way back up to the .300 mark, and presents a better option at short than the Cubs’ unpolished Stalin Castro and the oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki of the floundering Rockies.
Third Base: David Wright, NYM: Wright is a major catalyst behind the Mets’ surprising relevancy in the rough NL East. He places in the NL’s top five in runs (44) and walks (43), and his .355/.458/575 line is one of the best in the league as well. His value as a leader (or potential trade bait) has been the bright light of a troubled Mets organization in recent years.
Left Field: Ryan Braun, MIL: Like my American League picks, I pooled all outfielders and chose the top three for my All-Star team roster. Even with the departure of Prince Fielder and the PED fiasco in the offseason, the Brewer earns his spot in left field by putting up comparable numbers to his 2011 MVP campaign. He’s a five-tool player with a .316 average, 19 home runs, 47 RBI, 11 stolen bases, and gets on-base nearly forty percent of the time.
Center Field: Andrew McCutchen, PIT: Matt Kemp should be here with explosive start to the season, but a balky hamstring has kept Beast Mode on its leash for most of the season. If you read my piece on contract extensions, you’ll know that I have a big man-crush on McCutchen, so I won’t elaborate the point. His counting numbers don’t compare the revived Carlos Beltran due his offensively-challenged lineup, but he’s got a great glove that Beltran lacks. In short, he’s an all-around performer who acts as the bedrock of a mediocre Pirates team.
Right Field: Carlos Gonzalez, COL: CarGo was clearly made from the same five-category blueprint as Braun and Cutch: 17 home runs, 51 RBIs, 9 steals with .335/.394/.629. Coors Field probably doesn’t hurt that slash line, but his all-around ability makes him and the others outfield selections more valuable than one-category players like the Giants’ Melky Cabrera, the Braves’ Michael Bourn, and the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton. The outfield is way deep with talent this year, but these guys have definitely earned spots in the NL’s second string for the game.
Designated Hitter: Carlos Beltran, STL: I initially forgot that the Midsummer Classic is being played in Kauffman Stadium, so the National League gets the benefit of a designated hitter. Carlos gets the nod over Giancarlo here due to the latter’s sagging batting average, which has limited his counting numbers even after a scary-good May. Beltran has been the more consistent of the two, with 19 dingers and 47 RBIs to fill Prince Albert’s vacancy in St. Louis.
Starting Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg, WAS: Like the outfield, the NL’s pitching is extremely deep, so much so that reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw almost didn’t make my team. My initial plan was to give Strasburg the start over Gio Gonzalez based on experience, but Matt Cain’s beautiful perfect game fouled things up. Even with Cain’s ERA down to a tiny 2.18, it’s reached that mark because of one fantastic night, so I still want Strasburg to take the ball in the first inning. With a 100:20 K:BB ratio, a 2.45 ERA, and a lot of hype, the National’s young ace is the perfect face for MLB’s newest generation. Cain, Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Kershaw, and Zach Greinke should follow.
Relief Pitcher: The Rest of the NL’s Starters: I didn’t really know many standout relief pitchers in the National League, and it would be criminal to exclude the rest of the Senior Circuit’s impressive arsenal of starters. The Cardinals’ Lance Lynn and the Pirates’ James McDonald have appeared out of thin air as flamethrowers capable of anchoring their staffs. Atlanta’s Brandon Beachy and the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster have exceeded expectations, and the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and the Reds’ Johnny Cueto continue to mature and impress. The Mets’ rotation also deserves some recognition, and should send R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana to the Midsummer Classic; the league’s last knuckleballer mastered the game’s most erratic pitch, and the Metropolitans’ ace returned from major surgery to throw the club’s first no-hitter.
Closer: Aroldis Chapman, CIN: Earlier in the year, Mr. 105-MPH had struck out over 50 hitters in 100 plate appearances. Even with two straight loses this month, he still has 4 wins, 8 saves, 6 holds, 59 strikeouts, a 1.06 ERA, and a 0.68 WHIP. Chapman has transitioned nicely into Cincinnati’s closer role, and has the dominant stuff to close for the National League.