All-Star games are not a feature of British sports, so in many respects they are an unfamiliar, alien concept to fans in the UK.
And yet rather than put you off and make you ambivalent towards them, this makes them all the more special. They are one of the many features of the North American sports landscape that provide something different to how we do things over here.
Us baseball fans are particularly lucky as MLB’s All-Star game is the most enjoyable of the lot. It carries the same razzmatazz and excitement that also makes the others a great spectacle, but the game itself is much more of a ‘proper’ contest than its NFL, NBA and NHL counterparts.
The All-Star starting rosters are created by a public ballot and the results for this year’s lineups were announced yesterday. Fellow BaseballGB writer Mark George and I submitted ballots online and our selections and explained below. Please note that Mark’s ballot was submitted a couple of weeks ago and, for consistency, his comments reflect how the players were performing at the time.
Mark George (MG): Alex Avila. I wasn’t expecting him to hit .300. I thought he’d be in the .250s.
Matt Smith (MS): Alex Avila. After a learning year during his first full term as a Major Leaguer in 2010, the Tigers’ catcher is having a strong season, both in the batter’s box and behind the dish. Carlos Santana and Matt Wieters will stake a claim for the spot in future years, but Avila deserves the call this time around.
MG: Adrian Gonzalez. Honourable mention to Konerko, but Gonzo’s been outstanding.
MS: Adrian Gonzalez. Not much of an argument, really. Everyone thought that the former Padre would fit Fenway perfectly and after a slightly slow start, he has been outstanding for the Red Sox, finally getting the superstar recognition that he had deserved during his time in San Diego. Konerko, Miguel Cabrera and Mark Teixeira are all having good years too.
MG: Robinson Cano. Easiest choice on the ballot?
MS: Ben Zobrist. I’m going in a different direction for this pick, partly on the grounds that Cano is almost certain to make it so voting another way isn’t likely to hurt his strong case to start. Zobrist plays in the outfield as well so that perhaps counts against him on the ballot; however he’s been the Rays’ best position player this year and it would be good to see him get some recognition.
MG: Alex Rodriguez. Youk pushes him very close, but A-Rod has the edge in average by almost 20 points.
MS: Alex Rodriguez. I have to agree with Mark on this one: Youkilis is playing very well yet again, just not quite up to A-Rod’s standard so far.
MG: Asdrubal Cabrera. You can make a good case for Peralta, but Cabrera’s been a pleasant surprise.
MS: Asdrubal Cabrera. Add up his batting performance this season, his collection of great fielding plays and that fact that he plays for a team that doesn’t get the headlines and you’ve got someone who fully deserves his night in the spotlight.
MG: Jose Bautista – It turns out last year wasn’t a fluke. Regretting not drafting him for my fantasy teams! Curtis Granderson – A personal favourite, nice to see him doing so well. Jacoby Ellsbury – Great to see what he can do when he stays healthy.
MS: Jose Bautista – an easy pick as he continues to smack the living daylights out of the ball. Curtis Granderson – similar thoughts to Mark on him, having a great season and one of the most likeable players in the Majors (even in a Yankee uniform). Alex Gordon – one of my ‘wildcard’ picks, the Royals have done their best to mess him about, yet he’s coming through for them now and it’s great to see.
MG: David Ortiz. Big Papi off to a hot start for a change, and proving he can still deliver.
MS: David Ortiz. Has to be Big Papi, with the caveat that I don’t think the position deserves its own spot on the roster and DH’s should be considered with the first basemen (pick the best two, one starts as a fielder, the other starts as a DH regardless of if they’re a DH normally), in which case Ortiz wouldn’t make the team.
Additional choices - Starting pitcher and closer
MG: Jered Weaver. Tough call between Jered Weaver and Verlander, but I’ll pick Weaver. Mariano Rivera for the closer. Brandon League has more saves, but Mariano’s ERA is more than two runs better.
MS: Justin Verlander. Same as above, only with the opposite outcome. Verlander’s recent spell just tips the balance. Mariano Rivera – because he’s Mariano Rivera.
MG: Brian McCann. Montero and Lucroy have been good, but McCann’s the clear pick here.
MS: Brian McCann. No argument with Mark’s thought process here.
MG: Prince Fielder. Deserves to start even before Pujols’ injury. Good time for the free agent to be to have a monster year!
MS: Prince Fielder. He doesn’t need a big All-Star moment to guarantee that he’ll be paid like one of the very top stars after the offseason, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he delivers one all the same. Reigning MVP Joey Votto deserves a mention here as well.
MG: Rickie Weeks. Hardly a strong NL crop this year, but Weeks deserves the reward for avoiding injuries so far this year.
MS: Rickie Weeks. He finally showed last year what he could do with a healthy full season and he’s carried that form forward into 2011. He’s the cream of the crop, but Brandon Phillips is doing a lot more than just tweeting to deserve plenty of attention (although it seems like his Twitter antics are all many in the media want to talk about), while Danny Espinosa has been a real bright spark in Washington.
MG: Placido Polanco. It’s hard to believe only on NL 3B has double-digit homers. And that’s Ryan Roberts. I’ll take Polanco’s average and good RBI numbers.
MS: Placido Polanco. A steady contributor on the best team in the Majors so far this season, he deserves the call from a slightly underwhelming 2011 third base class.
MG: Jose Reyes. Tulo’s the leading power hitter by a mile, but Reyes is earning himself a fortune with his huge walk year.
MS: Jose Reyes. The Mets’ owner Fred Wilpon infamously stated earlier this season that Reyes wants “Carl Crawford money” and that “he won’t get it”. Maybe his injury history will leave him a little shy of Crawford’s seven year/$142m deal, but if he’s healthy the rest of this season and keeps playing as he has, he will get very close to it.
MG: Matt Kemp – Finally putting it all together for an MVP type year. Lance Berkman – Outstanding year for the Cards. Ryan Braun – Close here with Bruce and Pence leading other contenders, but Braun has the better average, RBIs and steals stats.
MS: Matt Kemp – ‘Hollywood’ Kemp has rebounded from a trying 2010 and is having a great season in an otherwise tumultuous year in L.A. Ryan Braun – easy to take his performances for granted as we’ve quickly come to expect him to play at a very high level. Andrew McCutchen – there are several contenders, as noted by Mark above, but I’ll go for the exciting young Bucco.
Additional choices - Starting pitcher and closer
MG: Roy Halladay to start, with Cliff Lee and Clayton Kershaw to follow. Joel Hanrahan. I remember when he was a top prospect for the Dodgers, but it looked like he’d never reach the majors for a while. He now has 20 saves, a 1.31 ERA and a 30/8 K/BB ratio.
MS: Roy Halladay. What’s left to be written about Doc? A great pitcher at the peak of his powers. As for the closer, I’ll go with the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel. His fastball/slider combination is absolutely devastating.
Who did you vote for in this year’s ballot? Let us know via the Comments section below.