Rookie sluggers Judge, Bellinger grab All-Star attention
NEW YORK — Time to pick players for the All-Star Game and make those close calls.
Yankees rookie Aaron Judge and Washington slugger Bryce Harper are among the big names who have undoubtedly secured their spots in Miami on July 11. But there’s a logjam at the corners in the National League, and both rosters are smaller now that the Midsummer Classic no longer determines where the World Series begins.
“I’m OK with this,” Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “When you’re combining the attempt to play everybody and win the game for the sake of the National League so you get home-field advantage, there’s a lot going on.”
Online voting for the starters ended at midnight Thursday, so let’s take a swing at sorting it all out — ignoring fan and player balloting. Simply our choices.
Both teams get 32 players, including 12 pitchers. That’s down from 34 last year, with at least 13 pitchers. But all 30 clubs still must be represented, and that’s where it really gets tricky.
For the purpose of these selections, we eliminated players expected to remain on the disabled list through Sunday night, when the rosters will be revealed. That means stars like Mike Trout and Dallas Keuchel, who were having All-Star seasons before they got injured, were left out because it’s unclear if they’ll be healthy enough to participate at Marlins Park.
Banged-up players on the cusp of returning to action within a few days were given full consideration.
Maddon will manage the NL squad after guiding the Cubs to a World Series title last season. Cleveland skipper Terry Francona runs the American League team.
Here we go:
FIRST BASE — The stunning starter is Toronto switch-hitter Justin Smoak, followed closely by another unexpected newcomer: Tampa Bay’s Logan Morrison. Yonder Alonso represents last-place Oakland.
SECOND BASE — Little big man Jose Altuve is a huge reason Houston has been the best team in baseball most of the year. His backups are Baltimore’s Jonathan Schoop and Seattle star Robinson Cano.
SHORTSTOP — Carlos Correa makes it an all Astros double-play combination. Smooth-fielding Andrelton Simmons of the Angels is on the bench.
THIRD BASE — More surprises here, with Cleveland up-and-comer Jose Ramirez getting the start over Minnesota bopper Miguel Sano.
CATCHER — Steady backstop Salvador Perez of the Royals receives his fifth straight nod. Young slugger Gary Sanchez from the Yankees gets his first.
OUTFIELD — Leading off, instant power from George Springer of the Astros. He starts in center field, with the towering Judge in right and Chicago first-timer Avisail Garcia shifting to left. The reserves are Boston’s Mookie Betts, Detroit’s Justin Upton and Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain.
DESIGNATED HITTER — Corey Dickerson of the Rays hits his way to a surprising spot in the lineup. Mariners thumper Nelson Cruz also gets a call.
STARTING PITCHERS — Chris Sale claims starting honors in his debut season with the Red Sox. The other lefty is Jason Vargas, enjoying quite a comeback with the Royals. Dealing from the right side are Houston first-timer Lance McCullers Jr., Minnesota veteran Ervin Santana, Texas ace Yu Darvish, reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer from Detroit, and Cleveland teammates Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Toronto right-hander Marcus Stroman was a tough omission.
RELIEVERS — Boston flame-thrower Craig Kimbrel anchors a bullpen that also features Indians lefty Andrew Miller, Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna and Houston setup man Chris Devenski.
FIRST BASE — So many sluggers to choose from. In the end, Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt gets the starting nod over Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo and resurgent Ryan Zimmerman from Washington. Seems unfair to have to deny Rockies savior Mark Reynolds, putting up magnificent numbers and never an All-Star in 10 previous big league seasons.
SECOND BASE — Daniel Murphy is one of six Nationals selected, most of any team. Pirates dynamo Josh Harrison is the backup.
SHORTSTOP — The starter is 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager from the Dodgers. He edges out Reds first-timer Zack Cozart.
THIRD BASE — Another power-packed position overloaded with deserving candidates. Colorado’s Nolan Arenado wins the start, barely beating out Washington’s Anthony Rendon and reigning MVP Kris Bryant from the Cubs. Somehow, there’s no room for underrated Jake Lamb of the Diamondbacks or Milwaukee newcomer Travis Shaw. Several others warrant a look and can’t even get it.
CATCHER — Giants star Buster Posey is a no-brainer. Cardinals professor Yadier Molina snags second string, a career achievement award at a thin position.
OUTFIELD — Bearded wonder Charlie Blackmon of the Rockies plays center field, flanked by Harper in right and Marcell Ozuna from the hometown Marlins in left. Miami bopper Giancarlo Stanton can start at DH in his home ballpark, with New York’s Jay Bruce, Atlanta’s Ender Inciarte and Los Angeles rookie Cody Bellinger on the bench. Bellinger is playing first base these days due to Adrian Gonzalez’s injury, but he spent plenty of time in left field this season.
STARTING PITCHERS — Nationals ace Max Scherzer, last year’s NL Cy Young Award winner, gets the ball to start. He’s joined by teammate Gio Gonzalez and two other lefties: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) and Robbie Ray (Diamondbacks). The right-handers besides Scherzer are St. Louis’ Carlos Martinez, Pittsburgh’s Ivan Nova and Arizona’s Zack Greinke. Washington’s Stephen Strasburg has the star power and the strikeouts, but not the ERA. Los Angeles lefty Alex Wood is only short on innings.
RELIEVERS — Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen headlines a group that includes Colorado newcomer Greg Holland, Milwaukee strikeout artist Corey Knebel, Padres lefty Brad Hand and Phillies sidearmer Pat Neshek.