Struggling to keep track of all the comings and goings on the All-Star Game rosters? You’re not alone. I’m having a hard time, too, and that’s part of my job.
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But now that Bruce Bochy and Ron Washington are done making changes — at least, I think they are — we can safely revive a debate that is older than color television.
Who has the better players, the AL or NL?
Here’s a position-by-position look at the starters for each team, plus the starting pitchers, relievers and bench.
CATCHER – Alex Avila vs. Brian McCann
Hard to pick against the reigning All-Star Game MVP. McCann’s bases-clearing double in last year’s Midsummer Classic delivered the National League’s first victory since 1996. He’s having another excellent season, leading all catchers with an .892 OPS. The guy right behind him: Avila, at .876.
FIRST BASE – Adrian Gonzalez vs. Prince Fielder
If Gonzalez hadn’t signed his contract extension with the Red Sox, we might be wondering whether he (and not Fielder) will pose the greatest risk to Albert Pujols’ earning potential this off-season. Fielder has become a viable MVP candidate in his walk year, while Gonzalez is everything the Red Sox hoped he would be. Gonzalez is better defensively, which gives him the slight edge.
SECOND BASE – Robinson Cano vs. Rickie Weeks
Weeks brings excitement. Cano offers reliability. Weeks has a whip-like right-handed swing. Cano has one of the smoothest left-handed strokes in the game today. The other half of the Yankees’ double-play combination has received more press during the first half (and deservedly so), but Cano is again the major-league leader in OPS among everyday second basemen.
THIRD BASE – Adrian Beltre vs. Scott Rolen
The NL is down to its third choice at the hot corner, with both Placido Polanco and Chipper Jones sidelined by injuries. Rolen, a seven-time All-Star, is well-respected throughout the game, but he’s playing through pain this season and his numbers show it. Beltre, meanwhile, has a chance to finish with 40 home runs and 140 RBIs.
SHORTSTOP – Asdrubal Cabrera vs. Troy Tulowitzki
Cabrera has emerged as a true MVP candidate, keeping the Indians in the AL Central race with his timely hits and highlight-reel plays. Tulowitzki’s OPS is a little behind last year’s pace, and he’s battling a right quadriceps injury, but perhaps you’ve heard that Rockies hitters tend to improve in the second half.
LEFT FIELD – Josh Hamilton vs. Matt Holliday
Holliday, as the next choice in the fan and player balloting, was an obvious pick for Bochy to replace the injured Ryan Braun in left field. Holliday’s terrific production throughout June and July is another reason he was a wise selection. Hamilton, meanwhile, is driving in nearly one run per game. You wonder where Hamilton’s numbers would be if he hadn’t missed so much time with a broken bone in his right shoulder.
CENTER FIELD – Curtis Granderson vs. Matt Kemp
We can’t quite call this the best Yankees-Dodgers center field debate since Mickey and the Duke, but Granderson and Kemp are elite talents who are just now achieving their potential. Granderson is on pace to comfortably exceed 40 home runs while also leading the league in triples. Kemp, meanwhile, could become only the second 40/40 player outside of the Steroid Era – while batting over .300.
RIGHT FIELD – Jose Bautista vs. Lance Berkman
Berkman’s resurgence has been one of baseball’s best stories this year, but his production slowed a little prior to the All-Star break. Not so with Bautista, who has 31 home runs and continues to silence any doubter who suggests his performance last season was a fluke.
DESIGNATED HITTER – David Ortiz vs. Carlos Beltran
This is the first All-Star Game in an NL ballpark in which the designated hitter will be used. Big Papi, in the midst of a career renaissance at age 35, should theoretically be more comfortable in the role than Beltran, who was Bochy’s pick. But Beltran has served as a DH in interleague play, and he may have that role on a fulltime basis if he’s traded to an American League club. And during the game, Bochy will have a number of intriguing options – Pablo Sandoval, Andre Ethier, hometown favorite Miguel Montero – when it’s time to replace Beltran.
Jered Weaver leads the majors with a 1.86 ERA – which isn’t easy for an AL pitcher to do – so he’s a very deserving pick to start. But a number of the AL’s other top-echelon starters – Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, James Shields, Felix Hernandez, David Price – aren’t on the active roster. That will be a significant handicap. The NL is in better shape, with ace Roy Halladay making his second career All-Star start. Doc will be backed by a number of elite starters, including Atlanta sensation Jair Jurrjens and ace left-handers Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee.
An All-Star Game without Mariano Rivera? It’s odd to envision someone else on the mound for the AL in the ninth inning. Still, Washington has professed confidence in Rivera’s replacement: Detroit’s Jose Valverde, who is perfect in save opportunities this season. Last year’s NL closer (Jonathan Broxton) has had a forgettable year, but Bochy can pick from two respected NL West relievers (Brian Wilson and Heath Bell) to get the final three outs. Bochy hinted on Monday that he’s likely to go with Wilson – the same guy who closed out three postseason series for him last October.
Jacoby Ellsbury’s speed should become a factor at some point in the game, and Miguel Cabrera isn’t a bad pinch-hitting option for the AL. Meanwhile, injuries to Jose Reyes, Polanco and Jones have thinned the NL’s overall roster.
The AL has better position players. The NL has better pitchers. You know what that means.