The Phillies have star power. Whether they are in first place or last, the names in that lineup are recognizable throughout the baseball world.
While some (most) of the 11 former All-Stars boasted by the club are on the downward slopes of their respective careers, being voted to the All-Star Game is often as much about popularity as it is about performance.
Of the 34 players on the National League roster, though, only the eight starting position players are voted by the fans. The next 16, including five starting pitchers, three relievers and eight backup position players, are voted in by their peers.
The roster is then filled out by the manager—who this season will be none other than Tony La Russa—leaving one spot open for the final fan vote.
While the Phillies haven't been as dominating as fans would've hoped or expected before the season began, they have still had some standout performers who will undoubtedly garner consideration for inclusion in the Midsummer Classic.
Albeit with a good amount of baseball between now and then, it doesn't seem unreasonable to think the Phillies can match last year's total of five All Stars, despite the sluggish start.
With the injuries to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard keeping them away from the team thus far, the continuing decline of Jimmy Rollins, a lack of run support hurting Cliff Lee's numbers even before his disabled list stint and Roy Halladay's sudden and frightening mortality, Papelbon has become the only Phillie who hits all the criteria for a surefire All Star.
Baseball's highest-paid reliever has the stats, the talent and the popularity to make him an easy choice. To date, he hasn't blown a save (he is a league-leading nine-for-nine in opportunities), sports a 0.82 ERA and 0.818 WHIP, and has struck out a batter per inning.
The aura of his dominating early years in Boston has returned. The sight of him jogging from the bullpen is, once again, deflating to the opposing dugouts, and that will be enough for them to vote him in.
The only thing, save an injury, that could derail his campaign would be if the rest of the team falters to a degree that keeps him out of save situations. Closers with low save totals never get as much respect, no matter how dominant they are.
If the season's first month is any indication, though, Papelbon will get his chances, and he will make the most of them.
As great as Pap is, closers can only make an impact when the team has the lead. With respect to the pitching staff, the most valuable player for Philadelphia through the first month-plus of the season has been Carlos Ruiz.
Chooch has been overshadowed offensively in years past by Utley, Howard, Shane Victorino and others, but not this season.
The 33-year-old catcher leads the team in home runs, doubles, batting average, slugging and runs batted in—all while playing an above-average defense at a demanding position.
While the position is stronger than in previous seasons in the National League, with Buster Posey, Brian McCann and Yadier Molina all having terrific seasons as well, Ruiz probably deserves the nod to start so far.
He has been offensively superior to Molina, in a far less potent lineup, and the defense of McCann eliminates him from the conversation in all likelihood. Posey, meanwhile, has driven in only nine runs, compared to Ruiz's 17.
The other thing Ruiz has going in his favor in his effort to make his first All Star Game is his popularity in a major market. Philadelphia fans are smart ones, and you can bet they've taken notice that he has put the team on his back early this year.
Even before his offensive surge in 2012, Chooch has been a fan favorite for years.
Expect him behind the plate in the first inning in July.
Cole Hamels is the only member of the starting rotation who has performed as expected. Vance Worley and Joe Blanton has been better than advertised, Roy Halladay has had more struggles than anyone saw coming and Cliff Lee has battled an oblique strain.
In five starts so far, Hamels is 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA and a 1.082 WHIP. He is fourth in the National League in strikeouts per nine and fifth in walks per nine.
These kinds of numbers have come to be what is expected from the former World Series MVP, but that is no reason to discount them.
Again, players vote for starting pitchers, so that should work in Hamels' favor. It's not that he is unpopular in Philadelphia—he just isn't the rock star that Halladay, Lee and even Worley are. His aloof attitude will not hurt him as it would if he were a position player.
Roy Halladay has had his fair share of struggles in 2012.
Before Wednesday's start in Atlanta, when a six-run lead early turned into a 15-13 loss in a epic display of pitching (and maybe managing) incompetency, Halladay still had a 1.95 ERA and a 3-2 record, despite the unusual erratic control on occasion.
At this point, though, the eight-time All-Star has some questions to answer. Was the outing in Atlanta a sign of a decline? Or was it an aberration, like a similar start in Chicago last July?
All the same, Doc is still vehemently respected throughout baseball, as players and managers alike refer to him as the best pitcher in the game on a regular basis.
Even if he doesn't quite return to his 2011 self, he will probably make the Midsummer Classic on reputation—as long as he hasn't slipped markedly, and doesn't repeat what we saw in Atlanta.
Shane Victorino has proven to be a fan favorite in the past, winning the "Final Vote" in both 2009 and 2011.
The Flyin' Hawaiian still plays with the same passion and energy as always, so his place in the heart of the taxpayer is secure.
He has also been pretty productive so far, especially from the right side. While his averages across the board are a bit down from previous years, and he has yet to triple—a stat he led the league in during each of his All Star campaigns—he has hit .304 with four homers in 23 at-bats against left-handers.
In addition, he has been as solid as ever in center field, perhaps on his way to another Gold Glove, and has swiped eight bases without being caught.
What's working against Victorino, mostly, is the depth at his position in the National League. Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, Andre Ethier, Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Beltran and Jay Bruce all look to have a leg up on him to this juncture.
It must also be considered that all teams need a representative, and Houston will likely send J.D. Martinez, who ranks fifth in the NL in RBI and plays the outfield. Pittsburgh doesn't have an option better than center fielder Andrew McCutchen, either.
Hunter Pence's situation is similar to that of Victorino: he's a proven player who isn't having a particularly good season to this point. His batting average (.260), OBP (.304) and slugging (.396) are all career lows.
He also has to deal with the aforementioned depth of the NL outfield.
So why is this a coin flip? Basically, this is predicated partly on my belief that Pence is about to turn it up—he has been hitting the ball hard and right at people, save for a few bad swings at bad moments—and partly on his popularity.
If he were a part of the final vote, Pence would be a tough guy to beat. His attitude, tools, toughness, and goofy swing all contribute to him becoming one of the most popular players in recent memory.
Vance Worley has been Philadelphia's best pitcher so far, if the numbers don't lie. The 1.97 ERA is pretty shiny, and he would have more than two wins if he had more support during games that he dominated. Win Probability Added (WPA) is a telling stat, and the Vanimal ranks 6th in the NL at 1.0.
If pitchers were chosen by fan vote, I would have put Worley's chances a good deal higher, around 75%. He has been embraced by the city, with his sweet goggles, catchy nickname, and fearless demeanor.
But opponents will have a hard time ranking Vance above Halladay, Lee and Hamels, no matter what the numbers say. If you're the fourth best starter on your team, should you really be in the All-Star game?
The numbers don't say he's the fourth best, but players in the National League might feel that way.
Then again, if he still has a 1.97 ERA in late June, it might be a different story.
It isn't Cliff Lee's fault. If he had more run support—or any—and had avoided the oblique injury, he would be a shoo-in at this point.
Lee's 1.96 ERA and 0.696 WHIP through three starts say it all.
During a Phillies loss in San Fransisco, he pitched ten innings and allowed zero runs, receiving a no decision. His stuff in that matchup was as dynamic as I've seen from anyone this side of Justin Verlander in two years.
On the flip side, you can't make the All Star Game if you have zero wins, which is where Lee sits now.
He has to pitch to get some wins, and the stint on the DL isn't helping his case. If he returns next week and throws together five or six wins before the break in the same dominating fashion we've so far, then he might be an All-Star.
But that's a pretty big "if."
Remember when this guy won the MVP? It was only five years ago!
That seems wrong. I'm going to check it again...
Yeah, that really happened.
Jimmy Rollins is a shell of his former self. The three-time All-Star has zero authority in his swing (.271 SLG), doesn't have the athleticism on the bases or in the field that he once did and just isn't a difference maker in any real way.
It will take a mini renaissance over the next few weeks to get him back to his 2011 level, and back in the conversation.
The only reason I give him a reasonable chance at making it to Kansas City is by fans voting—the kids in Philly love J-Roll—and by the shortstop position not being wildly deep in the National League.
Still, Rollins has no business making it ahead of Troy Tulowitzki, Starlin Castro or Ian Desmond, among others.
Before Thursday, I would have given Joe Blanton about a five percent shot at making the All-Star Game. He had no star power, average stats, a losing record.
A three-hit shutout, though, can do a lot to change perception.
Now the Bulldog has a .500 record, an ERA under 3.00 and a 1.057 WHIP. If you take his ordinary name away from those numbers, it sounds like a guy who deserves consideration for the All Star Game, doesn't it?
Now, he will face a problem similar to the one Worley faces: he's not one of the best starters on his own team.
The only chance he has to make it to Kansas City is to string together a few more games like the one he had Thursday, and really get the "wow" stats to compensate for his lack of notoriety.
Placido Polanco made the team last season after a hot start in the absence of Utley as a big-time run producer. Those days, though, seem like ages ago.
Polly still has his moments, like a big game-winning double on Monday with the Cubs in town, but they are few and far between. He has only three extra-base hits on the season, and that's really not acceptable for someone who gets on base at a .310 clip.
The career .300 hitter could still show some of what he showed early last season, and that, coupled with his solid glove at the hot corner, could get him a look.
But with David Wright, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman and Chipper Jones making him the fifth-best third baseman in the division, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario in which Placido makes it to a second straight All-Star Game.
Juan Pierre: 10%
As a part-time player who doesn't have any power at all, he might have to be batting around .375 to be considered. It's possible, I guess.
Ty Wigginton: 8%
He trails only Ruiz in batting average, and he gets regular time at first and third. Still, he's not an All-Star at either position unless he really starts hitting for power, and soon.
Laynce Nix: 5%
His .971 OPS is the best on the club, but as a platoon player, it would be very difficult for him to get enough support. As an outfielder, it seems impossible.
Freddy Galvis: 5%
As insane as he's been in the field, coupling that with the unexpected occasional big hit isn't enough to ignore his paltry .192 batting average.
John Mayberry Jr.: 2%
If you are a platoon player, you really have to crush who you are intended to crush—in his case, lefties. A .708 OPS against his specialty will not wow anyone.
Pete Orr/Brian Schneider: 0%
Any bullpen arm not named Papelbon: 0%
I can't imagine a scenario in which one of these guys steals a spot.
We've all heard it before: when Chase Utley is healthy, he's one of the best second basemen in baseball.
There was a time when the five-time All-Star was considered a first-ballot Hall of Fame candidate, and that's level he would have to play at if he planned on going to a sixth Midsummer Classic.
The first hurdle, of course, is returning to the field. With no official timetable, that is pretty difficult to project. The general consensus around baseball, though, is that late May is possible.
The real key, however, is his health once he returns. These nagging injuries have not only kept him off the field in recent seasons, but have really affected his power when he has played, too.
For the Phillies, it is obviously more important to get him back healthy than it is to get him back quickly.
Still, if Utley returns at some point this month and is the guy we remember from 2005-2009, being the best second baseman in the NL doesn't seem far-fetched.
Brandon Phillips, Rickie Weeks, Jose Altuve, Dan Uggla and Danny Espinosa are good players, but Chase at full strength is still the cream of the crop.
Ryan Howard will likely be back before Utley, but there isn't as much hope for him to return to his top form, as his decline has not been injury-related. Even at full strength, he can't hit off-speed stuff away, and pitchers figured that out a long time ago.
But if he comes back in two weeks, he could still have enough time to bop enough long balls to put him into the discussion. With the exodus of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to the American League, the only name as big as Howard's at first base is Joey Votto.
I would estimate it would take about 12 or 13 homers to get him into the discussion, and with about a month-and-a-half to do it, at best, that might be a pipe dream.