After a while, the MLB All-Star Game can become, well, kind of boring.
While it's great to see the biggest names in baseball go head-to-head for the right to home-field advantage in the World Series, it doesn't always reflect the players who are having the best seasons—and isn't that what the All-Star Game is all about?
But this year, with annual participants like Derek Jeter and Johan Santana on the disabled list and others, like Justin Verlander and Matt Kemp, having down seasons, there's going to be a flood of first-time All-Stars appearing at this year's Midsummer Classic.
These players won't be relegated to reserve duty either, with a handful of them set to start the game either by way of the fan voting or their phenomenal performances on the mound, leaving their respective team's skippers with little choice but to give them the ball first.
With that said, here's a look at who I think we'll be seeing make their All-Star debuts at Citi Field on July 16.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and current through games of June 28.
2013 Stats: .247/.310/.522, 20 HR, 53 RBI
Pedro Alvarez broke out in 2012, finishing the season with new career highs in multiple categories, including home runs (30) and RBI (85). Now, the 26-year-old finds himself poised to crush those numbers.
While other National League third basemen, like Pablo Sandoval and Ryan Zimmerman, might hit for higher batting averages, none have been a bigger run producer than Alvarez, who leads all National League third basemen in home runs and RBI, trailing only Miguel Cabrera for the position lead in all of baseball.
Without Alvarez's production in the middle of the lineup, Pittsburgh wouldn't be sitting atop the NL Central, 19 games above .500.
2013 Stats: 0-1. 2.03 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 32/12 K/BB, 18-for-18 SV
As long as Grant Balfour continues his streak of successfully saving games for the A's—which he's done 36 consecutive times, four behind Dennis Eckersley for the franchise record—the 35-year-old veteran will make his first appearance in the Midsummer Classic.
Personally, I'd give the spot to Kansas City's Greg Holland, who has more impressive numbers than Balfour (1.86 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 47/11 K/BB), except in saves, where Holland has blown two opportunities and sits 16-for-18 on the season.
2013 Stats: .277/.324/.550, 21 HR, 57 RBI
After two years of failing to live up to even modest expectations, something finally clicked for Domonic Brown. The 25-year-old is finally producing like the All-Star many expected he'd become, leading the senior circuit in home runs while ranking fifth in RBI and sixth in slugging percentage.
He became the eighth player in Philadelphia history to have at least 20 home runs and 50 RBI by the end of June, but he's the youngest to accomplish the feat, besting Chuck Klein (1931), Mike Schmidt (1976) and Ryan Howard (2006), who all pulled it off at the age of 26.
2013 Stats: .305/.382/.418, 4 HR, 24 RBI, 31 SB
For all of the different players who have stepped up in big spots for San Diego during its surprisingly successful first half, Everth Cabrera has been one of the few consistent producers and a table-setter atop the lineup.
Cabrera is second in the league in steals and also ranks second among National League shortstops in hits (84). He is first in on-base percentage (.382), second in batting average and third in OPS (.800) despite having not played since June 16 due to a hamstring injury.
2013 Stats: .317/.394/.464, 6 HR, 31 RBI
Heading into the season, how many people said that Matt Carpenter would have the highest WAR of any second baseman in baseball?
That's exactly what Carpenter has done, according to FanGraphs, with a 3.7 WAR that ranks 10th in all of baseball. His traditional statistics are impressive as well, ranking third in the National League in runs scored (58), eighth in batting average and 10th in walks (34).
And Carpenter has more multi-hit games (32) than anyone else in the National League, one behind Miguel Cabrera, Manny Machado and Mike Trout for the top spot in baseball.
2013 Stats: .269/.328/.481, 11 HR, 27 RBI
When talking about the catching situation in the American League, there's Joe Mauer, Matt Wieters...and everyone else.
But we shouldn't be so quick to lump the rest of the backstops together in one group, for Houston's Jason Castro is closer to Mauer and Wieters than he is to the rest of the field—including Carlos Santana.
Castro, with 33 extra-base hits on the season, has the second-most of any catcher in the majors. His .808 OPS ranks third among all catchers, both overall and in the American League.
Houston only has two viable All-Star candidates: Castro and second baseman Jose Altuve, with Altuve facing much stiffer competition in the middle of the diamond than Castro does behind the plate.
His inclusion, along with that of another first-timer in the AL, will lead to Wieters being left off of this year's squad.
2013 Stats: 9-0, 2.22 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 109.2 IP, 85/29 K/BB
Originally slated to be the team's No. 5 starter, Patrick Corbin has quickly become Arizona's third ace in as many seasons, following in the footsteps of Ian Kennedy and Wade Miley.
While that doesn't bode well for Corbin in 2014, the 23-year-old southpaw has been phenomenal in 2013 and is the National League's only remaining undefeated pitcher who has made at least 10 starts on the season.
One win shy of becoming the first left-handed starter in baseball to start the season 10-0 since Ron Guidry's incredible 1978 season with the New York Yankees, Corbin ranks among the NL leaders in multiple categories, including ERA (fourth), innings pitched (seventh) and WHIP (sixth).
2013 Stats: .318/.357/.470, 8 HR, 62 RBI
While Allen Craig hasn't put up the kind of power numbers that we've come to expect from corner infielders—especially those who hit cleanup like Craig does—the 28-year-old has become one of the best hitters in the National League this season.
My pick to lead St. Louis in RBI heading into the season, Craig has done just that, with the second-most RBI in the National League and fifth-most in all of baseball.
Craig's 96 hits and .318 batting average rank third on the Cardinals and fifth in the NL—a testament to just how good the St. Louis offense has been this season.
2013 Stats: .333/.408/.724, 30 HR, 79 RBI
Even with Miguel Cabrera on pace to shatter his MVP and Triple Crown-winning numbers from a season ago, Chris Davis has been the most dangerous hitter in baseball and the AL MVP in the first half of the 2013 season.
Currently second in the American League in runs scored (59) and second to Cabrera in batting average and RBI, Davis leads all of baseball in home runs and slugging percentage. He is also second OPS.
The overwhelming leader on the American League ballot at first base—he held nearly a 1.4-million-vote lead over Prince Fielder in MLB's last official update on June 22, according to John Schlegel of MLB.com—Davis deserves to make the start for the AL in this year's Midsummer Classic.
2013 Stats: .312/.380/.510, 12 HR, 52 RBI
There's big-time competition at third base in the American League, with at least five players who are worthy of a spot on the league's All-Star team. Oakland's Josh Donaldson is going to get one of those spots.
He's been the best hitter on one of the better teams in the American League. The 28-year-old is among the league leaders in RBI, slugging percentage and OPS while sitting just outside the top 10 in batting average, on-base percentage and hits (98).
2013 Stats: 4-4, 2.98 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 84.2 IP, 84/32 K/BB
Miami needs a representative at this year's MLB All-Star Game, and while Giancarlo Stanton is healthy and playing once again, the outfielder simply doesn't have the numbers befitting an All-Star.
While Jose Fernandez doesn't have overwhelming numbers either, the 20-year-old owns a .203 BAA and an 8.93 K/9—marks that are among the 10 best in the National League. He also sits just outside the NL's top 10 in more traditional pitching categories, including ERA, WHIP and strikeouts.
2013 Stats: .307/.385/.557, 19 HR, 67 RBI
Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt is a lock to join Cincinnati's Joey Votto as one of the first basemen on the National League's All-Star squad this season.
As a matter of fact, Goldschmidt, who leads the NL in RBI and is among the league leaders in multiple categories, deserves to start the game over his veteran counterpart.
He won't get the start, as, according to John Schlegel of MLB.com, the the three-time All-Star and 2010 NL MVP had a fairly sizable lead of just over 400,000 votes, but he should. If Goldschmidt played in a bigger market, there's no way that the gap between the two would be as large as it is.
2013 Stats: .319/.360/.573, 12 HR, 37 RBI, 15 SB
He's hitting for average and power, has plenty of speed and plays Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field.
If there's something Carlos Gomez can't do on the diamond, we've yet to see it. Holding the major league lead with nine triples, Gomez ranks among the National League leaders in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS and stolen bases.
For fans of the WAR statistic, no position player in the National League beats Gomez's 4.3, according to FanGraphs, which is the fourth-highest in baseball.
2013 Stats: 0-1, 1.77 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 35.2 IP, 58/7 K/BB, 26-of-27 SV
It's no surprise that Jason Grilli is pitching well. In his first two years with the Pirates, the veteran reliever pitched to a 2.76 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in middle relief, by far the best stretch of his 11-year career.
That he's raised his game to another level as the team's full-time closer, leading the National League with 27 saves, tied with behind Baltimore's Jim Johnson for the most in baseball, is a bit of a surprise.
The 36-year-old had never served as a team's primary ninth-inning option before—either in the majors or minors—and he had a total of five saves over his first 330 major league games, with no more than two coming in a single season.
What might be even more impressive is that out of all the relievers with at least 20 innings of work this season, only Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman (15.09) has a higher K/9 rate than Grilli, right behind the Cuban flamethrower at 14.64.
2013 Stats: 7-1, 2.00 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 117 IP, 132/24 K/BB
After his latest outing, one that saw him hold Washington to one run and three hits over seven innings, walking none and striking out 11, National League manager Bruce Bochy must give Matt Harvey the start for the National League, especially with the game being played in Harvey's home stadium.
Matt Harvey deserves to start the All-Star game at Citi Field. i dont see a good case against.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) June 29, 2013
— Dwight Gooden (@DocGooden16) June 29, 2013
Heyman nailed it, by the way. There isn't a case that anyone can make as to why the 24-year-old shouldn't start the game. He's been nothing short of dominant this season, leading the National League in ERA and strikeouts while posting the lowest WHIP of any starter in baseball.
2013 Stats: 7-3, 2.42 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 115.1 IP, 101/17 K/BB
Despite allowing four earned runs in each of his past three starts, Hisashi Iwakuma still leads the American League in WHIP and is among the league leaders in ERA (second), innings pitched (fourth) and strikeouts (eighth).
Think about that for a second: Iwakuma has pitched to a 5.40 ERA over his last 20 innings, and he still has one of the lowest ERAs in baseball.
2013 Stats: .316/.346/.475, 5 HR, 41 RBI
Manny Machado might not have had the greatest rookie season in 2012, but Baltimore's shortstop of the future turned third baseman of the present is having a monster sophomore season.
He's quickly become one of the best, if not the best defensive third baseman in baseball, and while his power is still developing, Machado has enough to make the opposition pay when he laces one into the outfield gaps:
Manny Machado has 37 doubles. There are 81 games left. The single-season record is 67: http://t.co/fN8TEOldoX
— MLB (@MLB) June 29, 2013
Among the American League leaders in batting average and runs scored (52), and ranking second in baseball with 112 hits on the season, Machado is one of the bright young stars in the game today.
While he's played only third base since reaching the majors, I wouldn't be surprised to see Machado playing a bit of shortstop in the 2013 All-Star Game, especially if it allows AL manager Jim Leyland to get him and Evan Longoria on the field at the same time.
2013 Stats: 8-6, 2.79 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 93.2 IP, 101/22 K/BB
Despite allowing 13 earned runs in his last 18 innings of work, Shelby Miller is going to be part of the National League pitching staff at the Midsummer Classic.
While the Cardinals certainly had confidence in Miller's abilities, even the team has to be surprised at how good Miller has been this season. He ranks among the National League leaders in strikeouts (ninth) and ERA (10th) and has been an integral part of the Cardinals' success in the first half of the season.
2013 Stats: 0-0, 2.20 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 32.2 IP, 28/2 K/BB, 21-of-21 SV
The ninth inning is typically reserved for strikeout artists, something that Edward Mujica certainly is not, as he's fanned less than a batter per inning over the course of his career.
But Mujica has been terrific as the closer in St. Louis, converting 21 consecutive saves and bolstering a shaky bullpen that lost closer Jason Motte to Tommy John surgery and watched Mitchell Boggs fall apart trying to fill the role.
His 21 saves rank third in the National League, and his 0.73 WHIP is fifth among all closers on the senior circuit.
2013 Stats: 1-0, 2.05 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 30.2 IP, 43/7 K/BB, 20-of-22 SV
When it comes to adding relievers to the American League All-Star team, the competition is fierce.
We can rest assured that Baltimore's Jim Johnson, Texas' Joe Nathan and the legendary Mariano Rivera will occupy three of those spots, which, going by the last time Jim Leyland managed the AL squad, leaves two bullpen spots open.
As we already looked at, Oakland's Grant Balfour is likely to get one of those, leaving multiple candidates for the final relief spot on the squad.
While Toronto's Casey Janssen has a slightly lower ERA and WHIP than Minnesota's Glen Perkins, Leyland is familiar with Minnesota's closer, having seen him multiple times when the Tigers and Twins have met in divisional matchups.
Throw in Perkins' advantage over Janssen in saves and strikeouts, and Perkins seems like a pretty obvious choice to make the club.
2013 Stats: 3-3, 2.40 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 30 IP, 34/5 K/BB, 18-of-21 SV
It's not that Sergio Romo is having a bad season—far from it. But Romo doesn't deserve an All-Star berth over middle relievers like Colorado's Rex Brothers and Pittsburgh's Mark Melancon, both with ERA's below 1.00.
However, with Giants manager Bruce Bochy at the helm, Romo will get in, joining teammate Marco Scutaro in making the first All-Star appearance of his career.
2013 Stats: 6-5, 2.76 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 81.2 IP, 101/23 K/BB
Remember when Detroit re-signed Anibal Sanchez to a five-year, $80 million deal this past winter and the baseball world raised its collective eyebrow, skeptical as to whether the 29-year-old was worth the investment?
So far, so good for both the Tigers and Sanchez.
Currently working his way back from a shoulder injury, Sanchez ranks among the league leaders in ERA and strikeouts, fanning 11.13 batters per nine innings of work—a mark that trails only Yu Darvish (11.99) for the AL lead.
2013 Stats: .269/.378/.462, 10 HR, 34 RBI
While he's cooled off after a scintillating start to the season, hitting only .223 since May 1, Carlos Santana is still putting up the best numbers of his career. He's also becoming an on-base machine, ranking 11th in the American League and fourth among all MLB backstops in OBP.
Every team needs to be represented at the Midsummer Classic, and while a case could be made for players like Jason Kipnis and Justin Masterson, Santana has the clearest path to making his first All-Star appearance in a relatively mediocre group of catchers in the AL.
2013 Stats: 12-0, 3.10 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 110.1 IP, 131/25 K/BB
Detroit's Max Scherzer is enjoying a lot of firsts in 2013.
He's the first pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986 to start the season 12-0, two wins away from tying Clemens' 14-0 start to the season.
Per the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN Stats and Information), Scherzer has accomplished something this season that his far more ballyhooed rotation-mate, Justin Verlander, has never done. He has gone unbeaten to start the year while piling up over 120 strikeouts.
That makes him a lock to be selected to his first MLB All-Star Game.
Scherzer's ERA might be "high" compared to some of the other minuscule numbers that his counterparts in the American League have, but there's no arguing with 12-0 or having the second-lowest WHIP and second-most strikeouts on the junior circuit.
Much like Matt Harvey in the National League, Scherzer has earned the right to start the 2013 All-Star Game for the American League. With his manager, Jim Leyland, having the final say as to which pitchers enter the game when, you've got to like his chances of throwing the game's first pitch.
2013 Stats: .319/.372/.417, 2 HR, 18 RBI
Marco Scutaro caught fire when he joined the San Francisco Giants at last year's trade deadline and has yet to cool off.
Now in his 12th major league season, the 37-year-old infielder has the eighth-highest batting average in the National League and the second-highest WAR among NL second basemen, according to FanGraphs, but he lacks in the power department.
A case could be made for Philadelphia's Chase Utley to get this spot over Scutaro, but with his manager, Bruce Bochy, at the helm of the NL squad, Scutaro will get the nod over his veteran counterpart.
2013 Stats: .330/.363/.517, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 24-of-26 SB
One of two players in the National League to crack triple digits in hits (105), Jean Segura is the likely starter at shortstop for the senior circuit, filling in for the injured Troy Tulowitzki.
The 23-year-old leads the National League in hits (third in MLB), is third in batting average (fifth in MLB), second in stolen bases (third in MLB) and is tied for second in MLB with teammate Carlos Gomez in triples with eight.
2013 Stats: 5-6, 2.85 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 104.1 IP, 75/32 K/BB
The Cubs will be represented at the 2013 All-Star Game by a starting pitcher; it's just a matter of which one, as both Travis Wood and Jeff Samardzija are deserving of the honor.
But you have to give the nod to Wood, who may not have the gaudy strikeout totals of his teammate, but has a lower ERA and WHIP, the latter of which is the sixth-lowest in all of the National League.
More impressive than his numbers is this little fact: No pitcher in baseball has more quality starts than Wood, with all but one of his starts on the season fitting into that category.
2013 Stats: 11-3, 2.28 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 114.2 IP, 80/17 K/BB
The first National League pitcher with 11 wins on the season, Jordan Zimmermann has quietly surpassed both Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg en route to becoming the best pitcher on the Nationals.
Zimmermann has allowed two or fewer runs in 13 of his 16 starts on the season, has thrown three complete games (second Adam Wainwright for the major league lead) and ranks among the NL leaders in ERA, WHIP and innings pitched.
He's not a power pitcher by any means, averaging just over six strikeouts per nine innings of work, but few pitchers have been as effective as Zimmermann has been over the first half of the season.