The two best teams squared off Tuesday night in Oakland. The game featured two pitchers who could be in line to start the All-Star Game in Minneapolis in Detroit's Max Scherzer and Oakland's Sonny Gray, plus a slew of other All-Star candidates like Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez of the Tigers and Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes of the A's.
Which gets us to this: We're about two months into the season, deep enough to get those All-Star debates going. People get really worked up about this stuff, so let's dig into the murky waters and see what potential feuds may boil up this year.
FYI: My basic idea on All-Star nominations is that past history counts. While 2014 should be weighted appropriately, you can't overreact to one month of good baseball.
Charlie Blackmon is the perfect example this year. His overall numbers are very good (with help from Coors Field, of course), but he hit .374 in April while hitting .264/.289/.425 in May. One month does not make an All-Star, lest you end up with a bunch of guys like Bryan LaHair.
Here are some thoughts, with all statistics heading into Tuesday's games. And remember that fans vote for the position starters while the players vote for reserves plus five starting pitchers and three relievers.
We'll do the American League tonight and the NL on Wednesday, after vote totals are released.
Likely starter: I have no idea. Joe Mauer started four of the past six games for the AL, but he's now at first base, so the position is wide open. Matt Wieters leads the early voting, but he's injured, and the rest of the crop lacks a big name.
Should start: No clear candidate. Kurt Suzuki of the Twins actually leads all major league catchers in RBIs while hitting a solid .299/.366/.410. This should be Salvador Perez's time to take over, but he hasn't produced at the plate. (What is it about Kansas City?) Maybe Yan Gomes?
Potential debate: Derek Norris of the A's has been outstanding (.316/.416/.513 with more walks than strikeouts) in a part-time role that is expanding to a full-time role. Of course, he hasn't done it before, but the plate discipline is a real skill. He may be for real, and in a mediocre year for catchers, maybe he earns a spot. (Better yet, can we send both halves of the A's catching platoon in Norris and John Jaso and call them one All-Star?)
Likely starter: Miguel Cabrera. The reigning two-time MVP leads the voting.
Should start: Cabrera. This is what we mean by factoring in recent history. Brandon Moss leads AL first basemen in WAR, and while he's a worthy All-Star candidate, Cabrera is the kind of guy who should go to the All-Star Game every year, the kind of player who defines what All-Star means.
Potential debate: Here's where things get confusing/interesting. Moss and Edwin Encarnacion are actually listed on the ballot as designated hitters, so that presumably opens the door for an Albert Pujols-Jose Abreu debate. The numbers are pretty similar, especially with Abreu currently on the DL, so I'd give the edge here to Pujols.
Likely starter: Dustin Pedroia or Ian Kinsler. Pedroia isn't playing up to his usual standards, but with Robinson Cano losing the Yankees vote, it probably comes down to Pedroia or Kinsler in the fan voting.
Should start: Cano isn't hitting for power, but he is hitting (.332, 30 RBIs) and has been one of baseball's best players in recent years. Kinsler is hitting .330 and has a few more extra-base hits, but Cano is the bigger star in this equation.
Potential debate: If Kinsler ends up starting and Cano is the backup, does a third second baseman make the team? Would Red Sox manager John Farrell go with his own guy, or will he consider Brian Dozier, Howie Kendrick or Jose Altuve, all having strong years? Again, this is where I defer to the fact that it's an All-Star Game, emphasis on stars. I'm still good with Pedroia getting the nod, as terrific as Dozier has been.
Should start: Donaldson. He leads the AL in both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs WAR.
Potential debate: Longoria versus Beltre as the backup.
Likely starter: Derek Jeter.
Should start: Jeter. Based on merit? Of course not. But considering there's no Troy Tulowitzki in the American League, I'm OK with giving Jeter a send-off as an All-Star starter.
Potential debate: This will surely be a hot topic if Jeter continues to outpoll Alexei Ramirez in the fan balloting, which I predict he will. Ramirez is off to a terrific start, batting .320/.355/.483 with good defense. He's probably been one of the top 10 players in the AL so far. He's also Alexei Ramirez.
Likely starters: Mike Trout, Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury. Just guessing here, especially on Ellsbury, that those are the three leading vote-getters so far and there isn't a strong third guy behind Trout and Bautista, so I'll go with the large Yankees base and name recognition getting Ellsbury a spot.
Should start: Trout, Bautista, Shin-Soo Choo. You could also make a case for Choo's teammate Alex Rios, or Michael Brantley or Melky Cabrera. But Choo leads the AL in OBP and has helped keep the Texas offense afloat while Prince Fielder and Beltre struggled early on. AL RBI leader Nelson Cruz is actually listed as a DH on the ballot, although I presume he could be included as an outfielder when Farrell names his reserves.
Potential debate: It could get ugly here as several outfielders are having good seasons. I imagine the most contentious debate will come with Cabrera and his PED past. Also in the mix would be three-time All-Star Adam Jones (who started with Trout and Bautista last year) or defensive whiz Brett Gardner, who's having a nice year at the plate.
Likely starter: David Ortiz. His lead over Cruz in the early balloting was slim, however.
Should start: You have five players listed on the ballot as DHs having All-Star-caliber seasons: Victor Martinez (first in the AL in wOBA), Cruz (second), Moss (fourth), Encarnacion (sixth) and Ortiz (15th). I'd probably give the nod to Martinez, but I'd like to find room for all these guys. If Cruz keeps this up, you can add him as an outfielder and you could add Moss or Encarnacion as a third first baseman (and Moss can play the outfield as well). My guess is either Moss or Encarnacion loses out in the numbers game.
Potential debate: I'm sure many will complain if Ortiz gets voted in as the starter, but you can't blame the fans too much if that happens. It's not like the guy is putzing along like Jeter.
Likely starter: Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish or Max Scherzer or Felix Hernandez or Mark Buehrle or Sonny Gray. In other words, it's too early to tell and it may depend on who is lined up to start based on when they last pitched. That list doesn't even include Chris Sale and Hisashi Iwakuma, two of the AL's best starters who are back after missing time on the DL.
Should start: Hey, Dallas Keuchel actually leads the AL in Baseball-Reference WAR (and is sixth in FanGraphs WAR) and Corey Kluber leads in FanGraphs WAR. I wouldn't nominate either of those two guys, but you can make a strong case for a half-dozen others.
Potential debate: Honestly, most worthy starters make it these days since so many pitchers are named as some pull out because of injury or others can't pitch if they started on the Sunday before the All-Star Game. A guy like Kluber or Garrett Richards could potentially find themselves on the short end of the stick if you need a rep from the Royals (like James Shields) or Rays (David Price?).
Likely to make it: Greg Holland, Koji Uehara, Glen Perkins. The players vote for the top three relievers, so I'm just spitballing here. You never know. Last year they voted for Jesse Crain. But more than three relievers will end up on the final roster.
Should make it: Sean Doolittle deserves consideration with that nifty 33-1 strikeout-walk ratio. Every year, some reliever out of nowhere makes it. (Remember Toronto's Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar last year?) This year's candidate: Dellin Betances of the Yankees with that imposing 51 strikeouts and nine walks in 30 1/3 innings, with a 1.48 ERA.
Potential debate: They're relievers. Don't get too worked up over who had the best 30 innings in the first half.
Prediction for biggest snub
I'll go with Brandon Moss, expecting Farrell to select hometown boy Brian Dozier as a backup second baseman.