The All-Star Game is for stars. That's good, and it's right. We should never get too bogged down in who the fourth middle infielder is as long as the game's very best players get to go to the Midsummer Classic.But there's also something very fun about first-time All-Stars, about the
The All-Star Game is for stars. That's good, and it's right. We should never get too bogged down in who the fourth middle infielder is as long as the game's very best players get to go to the Midsummer Classic.
But there's also something very fun about first-time All-Stars, about the guys nobody expected to be there. It's an opportunity of a lifetime for many of them. And besides, with the way the game goes, it's often those less-heralded All-Stars who often end up deciding the game in the late innings.
• VOTE: 2018 Camping World MLB All-Star Ballot
With that in mind, here's a look at some under-the-radar candidates from the National League East who could earn All-Star berths this summer.
Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz
The case for him: The Braves' young, fun offense has made the headlines as Atlanta has reached postseason contention a bit earlier than some expected. But they've also gotten some nice rotation work, especially from Foltynewicz, who may finally be developing into the front-of-the-rotation starter that the Braves always hoped he'd be.
His low win total could hurt him, since players often seem to vote based on traditional stats, but his 2.31 ERA and sky-high strikeout rate (10.7 Ks per 9 innings) tell more about how he's pitching. If you want to boil it down to three weeks, you can do that, too. Foltynewicz posted four consecutive strong starts against top-level competition -- Cubs, Phillies, Red Sox, Nationals -- and that's one of the biggest reasons for optimism regarding the Braves.
Marlins: RHP Kyle Barraclough
The case for him: His microscopic ERA (1.37) and low WHIP (0.91) give you an idea of what the Marlins see: a pitcher with overwhelming power stuff. He's moving into the closer's role, but probably not soon enough to garner enough saves to be selected as an All-Star.
Barraclough has been impossible to hit, though, and a desperately needed source of stability in the late innings for Miami. His control still comes and goes at times, but there's a reason he's pitching the ninth inning. At his best, he's dominant. Would you want to be a right-hander coming off the bench to try to get a hit off him in the seventh or eighth?
Mets: OF Brandon Nimmo
The case for him: You could also make a nice case for Asdrubal Cabrera, but it won't be shocking if Cabrera gets some significant consideration anyway. His numbers are more obvious, especially for a middle infielder. Nimmo is a write-in candidate, which makes him exactly the sort of guy an exercise like this is made for.
Nimmo is doing it all offensively. He's combined his vaunted strike-zone judgment with newfound power, and he's even been stealing bases. He's been easily the Mets' best hitter in limited playing time, and besides that, he's fun to watch.
Nationals: 1B Matt Adams
The case for him: Adams has been a godsend for a team that has done without one key hitter after another. Adam Eaton, Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Wieters have all been out for extended periods of time. Daniel Murphy has yet to play. Anthony Rendon did a DL stint. But all the while, Adams has plugged along as a source of power and on-base ability.
First base is, of course, a position with a high barrier for All-Star entry, so Adams' chances may be slim. But on a team known for its slew of MVP- and Cy Young-caliber stars, the quietly effective Adams has been absolutely critical.
Phillies: 2B Cesar Hernandez
The case for him: In short, Hernandez may be the most underrated player in baseball, an all-around player who does one thing after another to help the Phillies win. First and foremost, he's the definitive leadoff hitter: an on-base machine who has become a high-percentage basestealer. He's even made himself into a pretty decent second baseman.
That all adds up to a terrific ballplayer, but when you don't hit for average, hit a lot of home runs or fill up the highlight reels, you don't get a lot of attention. That's a shame because there aren't many better all-around second basemen than Hernandez, and there's almost certainly none more consistent.
Matthew Leach is the National League executive editor for MLB.com.