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La Russa aims to continue NL's momentum

MILWAUKEE -- For the first time since 1997, when Chipper Jones was a 25-year-old in his third big league season, the National League All-Stars will take the field aiming to extend a winning streak over their American League rivals.

Considering that home-field advantage in the World Series is at stake, NL manager Tony La Russa takes this seriously.

"I've been so excited about the opportunity that literally ... I was watching by the first week in April, I was already starting to see who was hot and who was not," La Russa said on Sunday, when rosters for the 83rd All-Star Game were unveiled.

La Russa will manage his sixth All-Star Game from a unique perspective: He retired from his post with the Cardinals after winning it all last fall.

But he has been busy in recent days putting the finishing touches on an NL squad that will try to extend a two-game winning streak in Midsummer Classics that ended a long run of AL dominance. La Russa's famously competitive juices will be flowing again on July 10 in Kansas City.

The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 7:30 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.

Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2012 All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on

La Russa's NL club has 13 pitchers -- eight starters and five relievers -- plus three catchers, nine infielders and eight outfielders. Fourteen of those players are first-time All-Stars, and only nine have enjoyed the honor more than twice.

Eight were elected starters via the fan ballot and 16 via the player ballot, leaving nine selections for La Russa.

That's where it got complicated.

La Russa made his picks in conjunction with Major League Baseball, ensuring on one hand that each of the 16 NL clubs was represented and on the other hand that he will have roster flexibility to manage a game with a tangible result -- La Russa's own Cardinals benefited from home-field advantage last season, when St. Louis came back from a 3-2 Series deficit against the Rangers to win the final two games at Busch Stadium.

La Russa selected Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz for depth behind the dish, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond for versatility on the infield, outfielders Jay Bruce of the Reds and Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins for prodigious pop at the plate, plus pitchers Cole Hamels of the Phillies, Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, Wade Miley of the D-backs, Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies and Huston Street of the Padres.

Hamels, Kershaw and Miley are starters; Papelbon and Street are closers.

Filling out the pitching staff was "difficult," La Russa said.

"I think, right now, there's a lot of starters that are really turning it loose," he said. "If it's one year you've got more depth in the bullpen, you may take that extra reliever or two. I thought, this year, with what's happening with the starters, [we took more starters]."

La Russa, a master of bullpen management, wound up with seven true relievers on the team, only one of them -- the Reds' Aroldis Chapman, selected via the player ballot -- a left-hander.

"On the position side, there's always some guys with stats [who were left out]," La Russa said. "I don't know, Matt Holliday was one that has really been hot and is having another really good year. It was tough leaving him out, especially since we have history. It's a tough process, but it's not as tough as it used to be. You get 24 players and then the [Final Vote], so that's 25. So all you really have to do is pick nine guys."

More decisions remain. Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp is likely to miss the All-Star Game because of a hamstring injury, so the Brewers' Ryan Braun would start, and La Russa would select another player for the roster. He will also choose a designated hitter, since the game is being played on AL turf.

Other players could withdraw because of injuries, and pitchers who start next Sunday can petition to pitch two days later in the All-Star Game under a fixed pitch count. In either instance, La Russa would select replacements in conjunction with MLB.

La Russa will then have to select a starting pitcher -- R.A. Dickey of the Mets is a candidate. Dickey plans to take an oversized catcher's mitt to Kansas City in case Giants catcher Buster Posey gets a crash course in catching a knuckleballer.

"For me, it's something to be shared," Dickey said. "It's not an honor just for me. It's an honor for every person that's ever poured into me and helped me along the way, every fan that believed that special things could happen if you apply yourself. So it's neat to be able to celebrate that with a network of people."

Said Mets teammate David Wright, an NL reserve: "I think nobody deserves more than him to have that ball to start that game. So I'm really happy for him, and hopefully his whole family and probably half of Nashville ends up going to Kansas City with him."

Besides that decision, La Russa will also have to set a batting order.

"I've been wanting to do it for a while, but it's been so flexible with the voting," he said, referring to fan balloting that just ended Thursday night. "I'll start playing around. Obviously, the starters are given to you, so one of the things you think about is who you want to look at, at the end of the game. We do get to choose one guy to DH, so there's an extra guy that [will be in the lineup].

"You start playing around now [that] you know for sure, but I think the end of the game, trying to have an idea of when and where, if there's a way to get a lot of guys in there."

In other words, he must balance the desire to give players a taste of the All-Star Game against the ultimate goal -- to win.

One decision remains pending, and is out of La Russa's hands. Fans will select one of five NL Final Vote candidates from a pool that includes the Braves' Michael Bourn, the Cardinals' David Freese, the Nationals' Bryce Harper, the D-backs' Aaron Hill and the Braves' Jones.

Leaving Jones off the original team was tough, La Russa conceded.

"You've got a great career, Chipper, [who] deserves to be there, then you have some young guys, like Harper, making a big impression," La Russa said. "So let the fans decide, but ... there are five legitimate guys in there. Any one of the five would really help our club and each guy has a different story.

"I'm an old veteran, so I'd probably lean towards Chipper, but as you can see from the look of our club and some of the guys I selected, we're going young, so I like young guys, too."