Remember, the All-Star Game now means something. "This time it counts,"
they say, because the winning team earns home-field advantage for its
league in the World Series. So while there's still plenty of pomp and
circumstance surrounding the annual Midsummer Classic, both of the
managers will be looking to compile the best team possible. Without
further ado, it's time to make a case for the National League All-Star
It's tough to argue with the fans' picks in the outfield. The
potential problem is that two of the top three are currently on the
If it weren't for Albert Pujols, Raul Ibanez might be
the leading NL MVP candidate as we approach the All-Star break. His
.312 average, 22 homers and 59 RBIs are all among the league leaders
and have him on top of the voting at last check. But Ibanez was
suffering from a strained groin, was placed on the DL and is scheduled
to come off later this week. Team doctors are now saying that an immediate return is unlikely.
It's not clear yet how that will affect his status for the game in St.
Louis, but he's still worthy of a vote to go to — believe it or not —
the first All-Star Game of his 14-year career.
Second in the fan voting is young Brewers bopper Ryan Braun
(above). Despite his equally impressive .321 clip, 16 dingers and 53
RBIs, it's a bit surprising that Braun, the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year,
has so quickly permeated the fan vote. Still, with his numbers, the
25-year-old is a solid bet to make his second straight All-Star squad.
Next in line is Mets slugger Carlos Beltran, whose .336
average, eight home runs, 40 RBIs and 11 steals are also St.
Louis-worthy. The problem with Beltran, too, is that he's been on the
DL since June 22 with a bone bruise in his knee. He should be back in
time for the All-Star Game, but there are several others more worthy of
a starting nod.
Brad Hawpe (.327, 12 HR, 55 RBI) has been tearing the cover
off the ball in the middle of the hot Rockies lineup and could earn his
first All-Star trip.
Another potential first-timer is Justin Upton (.318, 14 HR, 45 RBI, 10 SB), the Diamondbacks' 21-year-old wunderkind, who is breaking out in a big way in 2009.
Matt Kemp of the Dodgers (.309, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 19 SB), too,
is improving on last season's breakout year and stands a decent chance
of stepping up his game even further once Manny Ramirez returns to the L.A. lineup.
Speaking of old No. 99, despite his 50-game suspension for violating
the league's performance-enhancing drug bylaws, Ramirez still sits
seventh in the fan voting. And despite the considerable press — much of it negative — following Manny's rehab assignments, he's still eligible to play in the All-Star Game.
Would Phillies and All-Star manager Charlie Manuel add Manny
to the roster if he's not voted in by the fans? Probably not, but if
Manuel is looking to compile the best stable of hitters in hopes of
winning the game, Manny has to be part of the conversation. How much
would you love to see Manny striding to the plate to face Jonathan Papelbon as the go-ahead run late in the All-Star Game?
Other names possibly worth a look? Jayson Werth of the Phillies, Astros Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence, Adam Dunn of the Nationals and Atlanta's Nate McLouth could also get the call to St. Louis depending on the "at least one player per team" quota and some judgment calls by Manuel.
But if I'm a fan of the National League, I'm casting my first two
votes for Ibanez (hoping he comes back in time to play) and Braun. My
third vote goes narrowly to Upton, not because his first half is
head-and-shoulders above that of Beltran, Hawpe or Kemp, but because
he's healthy, he's the type of gamer who tends to do well in All-Star
Games and his combination of speed and power would add another
dimension to the NL's starting lineup.
Leading up to Major League Baseball?s announcement of the starting
lineups for the 2009 All-Star Game, to be held July 14 at Busch Stadium
in St. Louis, NESN.com will be ?Making a Case? for starters at each of
the American and National League positions. Follow along and keep
checking back for daily updates:
Catcher: AL: Joe Mauer | NL: Yadier Molina
First base: AL: Mark Teixeira | NL: Albert Pujols
Second base: AL: Ian Kinsler | NL: Chase Utley
Shortstop: AL: Derek Jeter | NL: Hanley Ramirez
Third base: AL: Evan Longoria | NL: Mark Reynolds
Outfield: AL: TBA | NL: Ryan Braun, Raul Ibanez, Justin Upton
Pitcher: Wednesday, July 1