Predicting the NL All-Star reserves
An All-Star Game without Clayton Kershaw? Without Madison Bumgarner? Without Craig Kimbrel? Without Yadier Molina?
As the kid said to Joe Jackson, Say it ain't so!
OK, it probably won't be so. When the National League's pitchers and reserves are named on the Esurance All-Star Selection Show tonight at 7 ET on ESPN, one -- and maybe two -- of those default options will probably be selected to make the trip to Cincinnati. But getting all four of them onto manager Bruce Bochy's team may depend on how strongly players vote the names, as this hasn't yet been the season anyone expected from Molina, Kershaw and Bumgarner. They're all in the argument, sure, but it won't be a shocker if they're omitted to open the door to newcomers or late bloomers. The competition for spots is fierce, especially among pitchers. Just check Kimbrel, who could easily be squeezed out.
Here's one man's attempt to handicap the NL reserves.
Let's hear it for A.J. Burnett. The guy with the full sleeve and the faraway eyes has won 162 games, thrown 2,672 2/3 innings and earned about $140 million, but he's never been an All-Star. That distinction ends now, as Burnett, who sports a 2.05 ERA, is poised to join Pirates teammate Gerrit Cole, the Dodgers' Zack Greinke and Washington's Max Scherzer as one of four starting pitchers certain to be picked.
It gets tricky after that. For argument's sake, let's say the NL winds up with a 13-man pitching staff, with eight starters and five relievers. The other starters should be Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Jacob deGrom and Cole Hamels.
Bumgarner, Kershaw, Johnny Cueto and Carlos Martinez are in serious danger of being squeezed out, in part because Miller and Hamels line up as the only reps from the Braves and Phillies. If closer Jason Grilli gets Atlanta's spot, that would open a place for one of the bubble guys, but Miller (5-4, 2.20 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) is fourth among NL starters in WAR. It's possible that we see a similar situation with the Mets; Jeurys Familia (1.16 ERA, 22 saves) could get one of the relief spots, and deGrom could stay home in such a scenario. Not only is Hamels (5-6, 3.22, 1.15) fifth in WAR, but with the exception of Kershaw (5-6, 3.08, 1.04) and Bumgarner (8-5, 3.34, 1.08), all the other top starters are right-handers. Picking a lefty or two makes sense.
It's not Aroldis Chapman's fault he hasn't been busy at the back end of games. The Reds' closer has been as dominant as ever and joins Trevor Rosenthal and NL saves leader Mark Melancon among the three closers most deserving to be elected by players. If two other relievers are picked, one should be Francisco Rodriguez, as the Brewers' sole rep, and that leaves one spot between Kimbrel and lefty specialist Javier Lopez, who has been Bochy's October security blanket. You couldn't go wrong with either guy, but let's go against conventional wisdom and take Lopez to honor setup men everywhere.
The infield corners are the deepest spots in the NL -- so deep that the Cardinals' Matt Carpenter probably won't be going to Cincinnati after Todd Frazier passed him at the wire in fan voting. After players and coaches elect a backup at each position, Bochy and the NL staff should use their discretionary picks to add a third first baseman and shortstop, as the DH spot will make it easy to get extra bats into the game.
The Rockies' Nolan Arenado, the Reds' Joey Votto, and the Cubs' Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo deserve to be on the initial NL roster. They've played like All-Stars. You can easily say the same about the Dodgers' Adrian Gonzalez and the Brewers' Adam Lind, but there's not room for every good candidate.
Up the middle, the Giants' combination of Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik deserves to go to Great American Ball Park and finish the game after starters Dee Gordon and Jhonny Peralta exit. They were great last October and have carried that momentum into 2015.
We get an extra spot here, maybe two. Giancarlo Stanton, the Major League leader in homers, with 27, will have to be replaced because of his broken hamate bone. Matt Holliday, another elected starter, is on the disabled list with a strained quad but near the end of his recovery. He hopes to return later this week.
Fan-elected starters who are unable to play due to injury are replaced in the starting lineup by the guy on the players' ballot with the next-most votes at that position. The manager is then tasked with filling the roster spot.
Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson, 2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates and the D-backs' A.J. Pollock are most deserving of the backup spots. I'll guess that the Padres' Justin Upton edges Starling Marte and Ryan Braun to take the spot opened up by Stanton.
Were you wondering about Justin Turner? The Dodgers' primary third baseman at the moment, Turner should be on the squad. He has got the versatility to play wherever you need him, so let's use the hypothetical DH spot to add his bat (11 homers, .944 OPS, 3.2 WAR) in a super-utility role.
Two extra catchers are going to be selected. The Padres' Derek Norris has hit well enough to grab the top reserve spot, and we'll take Molina over the Rockies' Nick Hundley and the Dodgers' Yasmani Grandal as a reward for helping the Cardinals manage the absence of Adam Wainwright. St. Louis still has the best pitching staff in baseball, and Molina has a lot to do with it. It's fitting that he'll be around when World Series home-field advantage is decided.
Tonight at 7 ET, the All-Star reserves, pitchers and Final Vote candidates will be announced on the Esurance All-Star Selection Show on ESPN. Immediately following the show, fans can return to MLB.com to begin voting to select the final player for each League's 34-man roster via the 2015 Esurance All-Star Game Final Vote. Fans can cast their votes from a list of five players from each league until 4 p.m. ET on Friday, July 10.
And the voting doesn't end there. During the Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati on Tuesday, July 14, fans can once again visit MLB.com to submit their choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award. Voting exclusively at MLB.com, online and via their mobile devices in the 2015 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, the fans' collective voice will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that determines the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
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