MLB All-Star Game 2012: Predicting the Starting Lineup for the National League
The National League could be one of the most loaded All-Star teams in recent memory when it rolls into Kansas City for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game on July 10.
Filling out my ballot for the senior circuit was a difficult task, as there are about 15 players who could potentially start for the All-Star team. Of course, that's a good problem to have when only nine players play on the baseball field.
There are some quality players who will be snubbed in the NL, but here's a look at the players who will take the field and start for the National League.
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies
Overall, the Philadelphia Phillies have been a giant disappointment so far in 2012. With the team trying to stay afloat in the National League East without Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay, it speaks volumes to the type of season that Carlos Ruiz is having behind the plate.
Ruiz is one of seven major leaguers to have an OPS over 1 (it stood at exactly 1.000 entering Saturday's games) and has been the one stable force in the Phillies lineup.
For the season, Ruiz is putting up numbers (.356/11 HR/43 RBI) that would make Joe Mauer blush. He has also played solid defensively behind the plate, which keeps him on par with his lone challenger in the National League, Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Both catchers are superb, but Ruiz is having a season that is difficult to ignore and should start the All-Star game.
First Baseman: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
With Matt Kemp nursing a hamstring injury, the title of best player in the National League has been up for grabs over the past month. After Carlos Gonzalez had a brief run with that title, Joey Votto went on a tear and has been the front runner for NL Most Valuable Player in the first half of the season.
Votto's numbers (.354/14/47) have continued to grow throughout the season, and he's on pace to challenge for the National League triple crown if he continues his hot hitting.
There really wasn't any competition for Votto when it comes to this spot, but I have to wonder what could have happened if Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt (.299/11/35) hadn't gotten off to such a lousy start.
Like I said in my American League starting lineup, the best player in that league should be starting in the All-Star game. Votto is that player for the National League.
Second Baseman: Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Arizona Diamondbacks could be poised for a big second half, and one of the reasons why is the emergence of Aaron Hill.
Hill's story is an interesting one, as he put up All-Star numbers just once during his career with the Toronto Blue Jays. Shortly after, Hill suffered a concussion and never regained that form until this season.
The Diamondbacks have to be happy that they acquired Hill for Kelly Johnson at last season's trade deadline because he's currently hitting .302 with 11 home runs and 38 runs batted in at a position that hasn't seen much offense in the National League for 2012.
The exclamation point for Hill's candidacy was his month of June, when he hit .375 with six home runs and 20 RBI along with hitting for the cycle...twice!
Jose Altuve (Houston, .309/5/23) has had a solid first half of the season as well, but Hill's return to prominence deserves a spot in the National League's starting lineup.
Shortstop: Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros
In the offseason, the Houston Astros acquired Jed Lowrie from the Boston Red Sox for reliever Mark Melancon. Whoops.
As the Red Sox continue to struggle to find their long-term shortstop, the Astros have taken Lowrie and seen him explode for a .261 average with 14 home runs and 33 runs batted in.
The biggest thing about Lowrie is that he's stayed healthy all season long, which is something he couldn't do in Boston. Lowrie has been a fixture in the Astros' lineup, as he has played in 69 games and has produced like the Red Sox brass expected him too.
There is one elephant in the room known as Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki (.287/8/27), but he is currently on the disabled list with a groin injury.
With that, the leader among National League shortstops in OPS (.839) should get the call as starting shortstop for the NL.
Third Baseman: David Wright, New York Mets
David Wright's career with the New York Mets was at a crossroads prior to the season. It was anything but assumed that Wright would be able to bounce back after several disappointing seasons and earn a huge payday from the Mets once his contract expired at the end of the season.
However, Wright has proved doubters wrong in his contract year, as he's hit .359 with nine home runs and 50 RBI for a Mets team that has taken advantage of the Philadelphia Phillies having a down season.
There were two other contenders for Wright's spot, but Pablo Sandoval (San Francisco, .313/6/25) has missed a large chunk of the season due to a broken hand, and David Freese (St. Louis, .284/13/48) had a nasty slump in May that saw him bat .211.
Wright has had a season that has earned him the right to start for the National League.
Outfielder: Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
While the Colorado Rockies haven't had a great season, their one bright spot has been Carlos Gonzalez.
Gonzalez had a rough time in 2011 living up to his breakout 2010 campaign, but he's responded by becoming one of the top players in the National League, hitting .338 with 17 home runs and 58 RBI.
With the Rockies out of contention, it will be a shame that Gonzalez won't get the media attention he deserves, but he should at least be the first name chosen when selecting the outfielders for the National League.
Outfielder: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
If you want to see the definition of Most Valuable Player, consider the fact that Andrew McCutchen leads the Pittsburgh Pirates in every offensive category.
McCutchen has lived up to his billing as a five-tool player and has become the face of the franchise for the Pirates. His season totals of .346 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI (to go with 14 steals) have kept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the race for the National League Central lead.
If McCutchen can keep this up, the Pirates may be on their way to their first playoff berth since 1991.
Outfielder: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Some of you are screaming at your computer screen (or smartphone with the Bleacher Report Team Stream App...cheap plug), "Where the hell is Matt Kemp?"
Well, Kemp has only played in 36 games (.355/12/28) for the Los Angeles Dodgers this season and won't be back in time to play in the actual game. Like I said with Troy Tulowitzki, if you can't play, you shouldn't be voted in.
Also keep in mind that Kemp had one astronomical month (.417/12/25 in April), but should he be rewarded for that over guys who have put together an entire season of work like Braun (.310/20/52) and Carlos Beltran (St. Louis, .310/20/61)? I don't believe so.
So that narrows the final spot down to Braun and Beltran. Beltran has driven in more runs for the Cardinals, but Braun has been driving the ball with more authority than Beltran has as evidenced by his lead in slugging percentage (.590 to .576).
For some of you, there may be one major tiebreaker in the wake of Braun's failed drug test last November.
Well, Braun has been putting up numbers that are better than his MVP campaign from a year ago (.320/16/62 at All-Star Break in 2011), and he's probably been tested about three times a day because baseball didn't like the fact his 50-game suspension was overturned in the first place.
Also to be considered is the fact that Braun is playing with a much weaker lineup in Milwaukee that has been decimated by injuries compared to the one Beltran is playing with in St. Louis.
If Braun were to ever fail another test, I'd have a different opinion. But he hasn't, so he deserves to start in the 2012 All-Star Game.
Starting Pitcher: R.A. Dickey, New York Mets
When the New York Mets picked up R.A. Dickey from the Minnesota Twins a couple of seasons ago, I don't think anybody saw this coming.
Dickey has posted an amazing season, going 12-1 with a 2.14 earned-run average that was punctuated by an eight-inning, three-hit, 10-strikeout performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers Friday night.
It's well known that Dickey has been a master of the knuckleball, but this is one that no hitter has been able to figure out so far this season.
With Brandon Beachy out for the rest of the season with a torn UCL, Dickey is the only one who is remotely close to holding his bill as All-Star game starter.
After all, nobody can beat the Mets' Dickey (giggle, giggle), so what makes you think the American League can?
Closing Pitcher: Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
While he doesn't have the statistics that some closers may have, Aroldis Chapman has the stuff and secondary numbers that should make him the closer for the National League.
Chapman had a rough month of June, going 0-4 with a 6.97 ERA and just six-for-nine in save opportunities. However, he still has awesome overall numbers, with a 0.77 WHIP and a .127 opponent batting average to make him seem like the choice to slam the door on the American League.
Besides, how awesome would it be to see Chapman strike out the final batter of the game and break out into his double somersault routine? (It has since been banned by the Reds, but come on! It's the All-Star game!)
Chapman could be a serious threat to any AL comeback late in the Midsummer Classic.
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