AL fans win All-Star battle of votes

Can’t blame the National League if it’s starting to get a bit paranoid.

As if the American League champion winning 12 of the last 18 World Series isn’t enough. …

As if the American League domination in inter-league play, where it went 134-118 this year and is 1,808-1,652 all-time and features the seven teams with the best inter-league records isn’t enough. …

As if having gone 13 consecutive All-Star Games without a win, dating back to a 6-0 victory in Philadelphia back in 1996, isn’t enough. …

Now the fans seem to be doing their best to help the AL extend its inter-league domination.

Check out this year’s All-Star voting.

Cant’ argue with the fans’ selections for the AL’s starting lineup in this year’s game, which will be played in Anaheim on July 13 (8 p.m. ET on FOX). Truth be told, they did a better job with the starting nine than Yankees manager Joe Girardi did filling out the roster.

It would have been one thing if Toronto needed a rep on the team, but given that the Blue Jays have catcher John Buck and center fielder Vernon Wells on the roster, was Jose Bautista really a valid choice?

Yes, his 21 home runs and 52 RBI are impressive, but what about that .229 average? Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko had 20 home runs, 57 RBI and a .297 average. Minnesota’s Delmon Young had only nine home runs, but he did have 54 RBI and a .295 average.

The fans didn’t get caught up in hype when selecting the AL’s starting nine. They ignored Red Sox Nation, selecting Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano over Boston’s Dustin Pedroia, and gave Texas DH Vladimir Guerrero his due over Boston’s David Ortiz.

So why was it so difficult to figure things out in the NL?

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has a big enough challenge trying to end AL domination without the fans somehow deciding to vote Yadier Molina of St. Louis as the starting catcher and Atlanta rookie Jason Heyward to the starting outfield, although he can be replaced if he remains on the disabled list.

Molina might bring a strong defense but there’s no offense – try a .233 average, lowest among 12 NL catchers with at least 200 plate appearances, three home runs, more than only Pudge Rodriguez among those 12, and 30 RBI, which do rank fourth. Oh, and he’s thrown out 46 percent of the runners attempting to steal. Miguel Olivo of Colorado not only leads NL catchers in average, home runs and RBI, he’s also the only catcher in the big leagues who has thrown out more than 50 percent of would-be base stealers.

 

BRAVE OLD WORLD

 

The Texas Rangers owe the Atlanta Braves an All-Star thank-you. What do closer Neftali Feliz and shortstop Elvis Andrus have in common, besides being All-Stars? They were among the package of prospects the Rangers received in the Mark Teixeira trade. Teixeira appeared in 157 games with the Braves before they shipped him to the Angels for first baseman Casey Kotchman. Fifty-four games later, Teixeria became a free agent and signed with the Yankees.

Andrus and Feliz aren’t the only prospects who were traded and became All-Stars. Hanley Ramirez came to Florida from Boston in the Josh Beckett deal; Brandon Phillips was a waiver-claim deal for Cincinnati from Cleveland, which acquired Phillips from Montreal as part of the Bartolo Colon deal. Closer Joakim Soria was a $50,000 winter draft pick by Kansas City from San Diego. And the White Sox acquired Matt Thornton from Seattle for outfielder Joe Borchard.

 

SNUBBED

 

Tampa Bay closer Rafael Soriano must feel like baseball’s Rodney Dangerfield. There’s no respect. First Atlanta, wanting to avoid what turned out to be a $7.25 million salary, dealt him to the Rays for nothing more than journeyman reliever Jesse Chavez in December. Atlanta, looking to pick up draft choices, offered Soriano arbitration after he filed for free agency, then signed closer Billy Wagner and setup man Takashi Saito, only to be surprised by Soriano accepting arbitration, which didn’t fit in Atlanta’s payroll plan.

Soriano has certainly fit into Tampa Bay’s bullpen. He went into Sunday having converted 20 of 21 saves, the best conversation rate in the AL, and with a 1.52 earned-run average, but it wasn’t good enough to earn him an All-Star selection.

 

TRAVELING MAN

 

Olivo was a victim of his transient career. He was hit with the double whammy. The fans voted for Molina, and his peers voted for Atlanta catcher Brian McCann.

The problem for Olivo is image. Originally signed by Oakland, he is in his ninth big-league season and has played for the Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins and Kansas City Royals and now is in his first year with the Rockies.

Even with his .308 start to this year, he’s a career .249 hitter with a .285 on-base percentage, has caught 100 games in a big-league season only four times, and more than 125 games only once – 127 with Florida in 2006.

And remember, managers don’t have the concern about coming up short with catchers because a catcher who is removed from the game is allowed to return if the other catcher is hurt, which allows teams to carry only two catchers.

 

POLLS OPEN

 

The fans have until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday to decide on the final player for each roster.

Konerko, Young, Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher, Texas third baseman Michael Young and Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis are the AL candidates.

Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto, Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, San Diego closer Heath Bell, Atlanta closer Billy Wagner and Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman are the NL candidates.

Give Youkilis the edge in the AL, where voters tend to be big-city oriented. In the eight previous fan votes for the final player, three have come from Boston (Johnny Damon in 2002, Jason Varitek in 2003 and Hideki Okajima in 2007), one from New York (Hideki Matsui in 2004), and two from Chicago (Scott Podsednik in 2005 and A.J. Pierzynski in 2006). Last year, Brandon Inge from Detroit was voted onto the team, and the year before, it was rookie Evan Longoria of Tampa Bay.

In the NL, meanwhile, four of the eight selections have come from small markets – Geoff Jenkins (2003) and Corey Hart (2008), Roy Oswalt of Houston in 2005, and Chris Young of San Diego in 2007.

 

HEY BUDDY

 

Was Manuel trying to curry favor with NL East-leading Atlanta? In addition to Heyward, the Braves’ list of All-Stars includes second baseman Martin Prado, infielder Omar Infante, catcher McCann and right-handed pitcher Tim Hudson. St. Louis also has five selections – Molina, first baseman Albert Pujols, outfielder Matt Holliday and right-handed pitchers Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.

Boston and the Yankees, meanwhile, have six selections each.

The Yankees’ Cano is joined by shortstop Derek Jeter, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, closer Mariano Rivera, right-handed starter Phil Hughes and left-handed starter CC Sabathia.

The Red Sox contingent includes left-hander Jon Lester, right-hander Clay Buchholz, catcher Victor Martinez, second baseman Pedroia, third baseman Adrian Beltre and DH David Ortiz, although Pedroia and Martinez are injured and will be replaced.

 

TOMMY JOHN, REVISITED

 

Four All-Star pitchers have come back from reconstructive elbow surgery, a.k.a. Tommy John surgery in honor of the former big-league pitcher who was the pioneer patient for the ligament transplant operation. Along with Hudson, Cincinnati left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes, Florida right-hander Josh Johnson, and St. Louis right-hander Chris Carpenter returned from the surgery.

 

FOR STARTERS

 

Manuel has a week to decide who will be his starting pitcher. Give the early nod to Johnson. Yes, Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is 14-1, but he is in a funk. In his last three starts he has allowed 17 earned runs in 17 2/3 innings.

He gave up seven runs in the third inning Saturday against the Giants. That’s how many runs he gave up in April and May combined.

Johnson, meanwhile, is only 8-3, but he leads the majors with a 1.82 ERA, and rebounded from giving up seven runs in 10 innings his first two starts to run off 15 consecutive quality starts. His only two losses in those 15 starts were to Philadelphia when he gave up an unearned run in the May 29 game in which Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game, and 2-1 to San Diego on June 26.

Both Jimenez and Johnson will be rested for the All-Star Game.

Johnson’s last start before the break is Wednesday. Jimenez is scheduled to pitch Thursday.

 

LONELY MEN

 

Twelve teams had the minimum one-player selection, and there were four outfielders and four closers among the group. Evan Meek of Pittsburgh was joined by Matt Capps of Washington, Joakim Soria of Kansas City and lefty Matt Thornton of the White Sox. The outfielder quartet was Torii Hunter of the Angels, Marlon Byrd of the Cubs, Michael Bourn of Houston and Chris Young of Arizona.

Other lone reps included starting pitchers Trevor Cahill of Oakland and Fausto Carmona of Cleveland, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez of San Diego and infielder Ty Wigginton of Baltimore.