I'm not one of those baseball fans who believes things were better in the old days. The game now is better than ever, the quality of the athletes is better than ever, the pitchers throw harder than ever, the way we can consume the game is a hundred times better.
The All-Star Game, however, is not better. The whole World Series home-field advantage thing is embarrassing. The managers still worry more about getting everybody in the game rather than trying to win. Plus, the rivalry that once existed between the leagues no longer does. Nothing really wrong with that. Things change. When I attended the 1979 All-Star Game in Seattle, I hated Pete Rose and his bad haircut, and Steve Garvey and his hairy forearms and Dave Winfield and that ugly brown Padres uniform.
Anyway, this isn't a rant against the All-Star Game. One thing about it that is still fun: Debating who should make it! We're about a month away from the game, so it's a good time to see who deserves to start. My No. 1 criteria: Of course you should base your selection on more than just the first half of the season, otherwise you end up with mediocre players who had a few good weeks starting in the All-Star Game. (What, you forgot that Shea Hillenbrand once started an All-Star Game?)
So using some variation of the formula Current Season Stats + Established Level Of Play + Star Factor, here are my NL All-Stars as of June 7:
Catcher: Brian McCann, Braves. He's hitting .302/.371/.472 and will be headed to his sixth straight Midsummer Classic. However, he's never started. So, fans, I challenge you: Vote in McCann to start.
Backup: Yadier Molina, Cardinals. Having his best year at the plate, although his percentage throwing out runners has dropped from a league-leading 49 percent last year to 25 percent.
Third base: Chipper Jones, Braves. A position riddled with injuries to Ryan Zimmerman and David Wright and bad years from the likes of Scott Rolen and Casey McGehee. Call this one a career achievement award for one of baseball's top third sackers of all time.
Backup: Placido Polanco, Phillies. He's hitting .319, but Chipper still has a (slightly) higher OPS.
Shortstop: Jose Reyes, Mets. He has only one home run but has still been one of the best players in the NL. He's hitting .337 and thanks to 18 doubles and 10 triples ranks 11th in the NL in slugging percentage and ninth in OPS. Throw in 19 steals, second to Michael Bourn, and he'd be an MVP candidate if he weren't on the Mets.
Backup: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies.
Left field: Ryan Braun, Brewers. Braun hits over .300, belts game-winning home runs, steals bases, dresses up as the bratwurst for the Brewers sausage race and does the team laundry after games. He does it all.
Backup: Matt Holliday, Cardinals.
Center field: Matt Kemp, Dodgers. The defense may be not great, but when you're hitting .317 with 16 home runs, who notices?
Right field: Lance Berkman, Cardinals. Man, this position is loaded with the likes of Berkman, Jay Bruce, Mike Stanton, Hunter Pence, Carlos Beltran, Andre Ethier and Justin Upton. But Berkman's .329/.444/.599 production is so impressive, it gives him an OPS more than 100 points higher than Bruce's.
Backup: Bruce, Reds.
Designated hitter: Prince Fielder, Brewers. If anyone was a born DH, it's Prince, and he's having a monster season for the Brew Crew.
Starting pitcher: Roy Halladay, Phillies. Anyone want to disagree with this?
Setup relievers: Jonny Venters, Braves; Mike Adams, Padres. Venters has allowed just two runs in 35.2 innings, holding batters to a .140 average. Adams is dominant in relief, allowing just 14 hits and four walks in 26.2 innings.
Closer: Ryan Madson, Phillies. J.J. Putz has been lights out for Arizona, but slight nod to Madson. Will Brad Lidge get his closer job back when he returns from the DL? I think Charlie Manuel would be a little crazy to take the job away from Madson at this point. (Then again, maybe the setup job is more important ... but that's another post.)
There you go. We need only 28 players for our All-Star team ... not the 43 or whatever they put on the roster these days.
Here's my NL starting lineup:
SS Jose Reyes
LF Ryan Braun
1B Joey Votto
RF Lance Berkman
DH Prince Fielder
CF Matt Kemp
C Brian McCann
3B Chipper Jones
2B Rickie Weeks
P Roy Halladay
Power, speed, on-base skills. This lineup has it all. Good luck, American League!