With the 2011 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Arizona fast approaching, every baseball fan enjoys analyzing the projected starters for the American and National League teams, as well as trying to figure out which one player from the worst teams gets to represent his franchise at the Midsummer Classic.
The Baltimore Orioles, unfortunately, once again fall into that "one player to represent the team" category.
Unlike the past few years, though, the Orioles do have more than one player who deserves to be on the AL team.
Five, to be exact.
All of these potential All-Stars seem to be having great seasons under the radar. Let's take a look at how they've played this far, as well see how they rank among the best options on the O's 25-man roster to head out to Arizona.
Koji is having a stellar year thus far with the Orioles, pitching to a 2.13 ERA over 38 innings pitched.
He's walked only eight (one was intentional) while racking up 50 K's. Opposing batters are hitting a mere .164 against him.
He won't make the All-Star team, though, due to his role as mainly a middle-reliever/set-up man. Very rarely do you see a reliever who isn't a closer make an All-Star team.
That, and Uehara isn't very durable. He can hardly pitch on back-to-back nights, and when he does pitch, it isn't often that you see him throw over one inning.
Those two facts aren't very appealing to a manager who is putting together an All-Star bullpen.
Johnson gets the edge over Uehara because he's been pitching well for more innings than Uehara has this season, as Johnson has thrown 49.1 innings through Sunday's action.
While he's been stretched into a set-up guy who can throw two innings if need be, Johnson is 5-1 with a 2.37 ERA.
He's not as great a strikeout threat as Uehara, having punched out 33 men so far, but he doesn't walk many either. He's matched Uehara's walk total with eight on the year.
The BAA on him isn't as appealing as Koji's, as Jim has a .253 average against him, but with his heavy sinker, he's good at inducing ground-ball double plays.
Like Uehara, however, Johnson wasn't a likely candidate to make the All-Star squad due to him being a bridge reliever and not a closer.
At the time of his announced All-Star berth, Wieters was batting .262 with 13 doubles, seven homers, and 33 RBI in 71 games.
Those numbers don't exactly impress, which is why he wasn't selected for them.
He was selected for being the best defensive catcher in the majors.
The big man behind the plate leads all major league catchers in runners caught stealing with 23 and fielding percentage (.998, one error). He's also the only catcher with more than 40 starts who hasn't allowed a passed ball.
He's caught the second most innings in the American League with 602 1/3, and he's batting a massive .426 with runners in scoring position. If there are RISP and two outs, he's hitting .357.
That kind of clutch hitting is certainly needed in the Midsummer Classic.
Hardy has made quite a splash after being traded to Baltimore from the Minnesota Twins in the offseason.
The former Milwaukee Brewers star is hitting .295 with 11 homers and 30 RBI through Sunday, and has an OBP of .356 on the year.
He's filled in very nicely at the top of the order for the injured Brian Roberts, and is making a strong case to be the AL Comeback Player of the Year.
His defense has also been top-notch, as he's committed only one error on the season.
Don't expect to see Hardy in Arizona on July 12. It's too bad that New York Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter was undeservedly voted in as the starter, because Hardy deserves to be on the team as the backup to Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera.
Jones, the man most people believed to be the shoo-in as the O's lone All-Star representative, is on the Final Vote ballot with a chance to take the final AL roster spot.
Batting .283 on the year, Jones has knocked 13 balls out of the park while driving in 46. His defense in center has been of the Gold Glove caliber, and it's debatable that he's been the team's best all-around player halfway through the year.
If he were to win the AL Final Vote, it would mark his second career All-Star appearance in four full major-league seasons, all in the orange and black.
More than likely, Wieters will be the Orioles' only representative at the 2011 Midsummer Classic.
If that in fact becomes reality, it will be the sixth straight year the O's have had only one player appear at the MLB All-Star game.
What do you think of my ranking? I'd love to read any comments and/or debate any other player's worthiness to have made this list.
Matt Wieters for the 2011 All-Star game MVP!