On July 16, the best of the best in Major League Baseball will invade Citi Field to do battle in the 2013 MLB All-Star Game.
The winner between the American League and National League will earn home-field advantage in the World Series this fall, so it is certainly more than an exhibition.
With any all-star game in any sport, there is always debate on who is most deserving of making the team. In baseball, the fans are given the opportunity to vote on who they want to see start the game. The player with the most votes at each position, with the exception of the pitcher, gets the starting nod come game-time, assuming they are healthy. After the voting, the manager of each team and players from both leagues collectively vote on and decide who the bench players and pitchers will be.
It may not be the most logical method to use for a game with so much at stake, but that's how it is. You can cast your all-star votes online at mlb.com. You can vote up to 25 times.
Without further ado, here are the players yours truly voted for to star the Mid-Summer Classic:
Catcher: In the American League, Minnesota's Joe Mauer has set the bar offensively for catchers. He is hitting .330 with eight homers and 25 runs batted in. Texas' A.J. Pierzynski (.302, 7hr, 24rbi) and Cleveland's Carlos Santana (.276, 10hr, 32rbi) each deserve consideration for the backup role, but Mauer is the guy you want behind the plate in the AL.
Yadier Molina is my National League pick. He has been the best player for the league's best team, the St. Louis Cardinals, so far this season and is arguably the NL's first-half MVP. He leads the league with a .353 batting average and has also driven in 41 runs. Molina has a knack for delivering clutch hits while shutting down the running game behind the plate. As good a half as reigning MVP Buster Posey (.307, 8hr, 42rbi) is having for the Giants, Molina is the more deserving candidate.
First base: There is an abundance of offensive talent at the first base position in both leagues, so this is a spot bound to create some controversy. Baltimore's Chris Davis came out of the gate on fire to start this season and has been consistent since, hitting .331 with 27 long balls and 70 RBI. Meanwhile in Detroit, Prince Fielder has done a good job of providing triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera protection by slugging 12 home runs and driving in 58. His .277 average hurts his case slightly, when compared to Davis' .331 mark. Veteran stars Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira and Justin Morneau are sure to draw some votes just for who they are, and the lesser-knowns like Adam Lind and James Loney have a case to make for their performances this season, but in the end, it is Davis' race to lose.
There are four candidates in the NL that have a legitimate case to make for starting at first. Cincinnati's Joey Votto is tops in average at .326 and gets on base more than any other player in the league. Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt (.306, 19hr, 65rbi) has enjoyed a big-time breakout year thus far while St. Louis' Allen Craig (.312, 6hr, 58rbi) and Atlanta's Freddie Freeman (.304, 7hr, 48rbi) have each been productive for their respective teams. It's a tough call, but my vote goes to Goldschmidt.
Second base: You think second base in the AL, you think Robinson Cano of the Yankees. This year, however, Mr. Cano has some competition. Howie Kendrick is batting .323 with eight homers and 36 RBI for the Angels, Boston's Dustin Pedroia (.311, 4hr, 41RBI) is back to MVP form and Ian Kinsler has a .305 average at the top of the Rangers' lineup. Pedroia received my vote, but all four are deserving. I wouldn't be surprised if the Tribe's Jason Kipnis gets a look in a reserve role with the AL squad after his latest hot streak.
In the NL, it is a two horse race. Marco Scutaro has a nice average and plays good defense for the Giants, but Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips and St. Louis' Matt Carpenter are the standard right now. Carpenter is impressive because he learned the position this past offseason and has fielded pretty well while also batting .322 and scoring 56 runs in the leadoff spot for the Cardinals. Phillips continues to turn in highlight reel plays on a nightly basis and has also carried the Reds' offense at times, currently sitting at 60 RBI. Again, it's close, but after last year's snubbing, Phillips is my choice.
Third base: In the NL, Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez leads all three-baggers with 19 home runs and 51 RBI but has just a .237 average. New York's David Wright has had the most well-rounded year so far among all the candidates with a .309 average, 12 homers, 41 RBI and 12 stolen bases. He gets my vote because he is deserving and also because it will be great to see the man start in front of his home crowd.
In the AL, two words: Miguel Cabrera.
Shortstop: Compared to the other positions, shortstop is a bit thin. The AL favorite appears to be Detroit's Jhonny Peralta, who is hitting .324 with seven home runs and 24 RBI. Oakland's Jed Lowrie is the only other candidate that has played all year and is hitting above .300. Peralta it is, although you have the option of voting for Derek Jeter who has yet to play an inning this year.
The NL is a little bit stronger at short. Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki (.347, 16hr, 51rbi) is having the best season by far, but a broken rib will keep him sidelined during the all-star game, although you can still vote for him. Milwaukee's Jean Segura is another one to consider, putting up breakout numbers (.336, 11hr, 31rbi). He's also stolen 23 bases. Tulo is clearly the most deserving, but I just can't vote for a guy who isn't going to play anyway, so Segura is my pick.
Outfield: You get to vote for three outfielders in each league, no matter where they actually play in the outfield. In other words, you could have three right fielders starting the all-star game if you so choose.
Surprisingly, there aren't many AL outfielders whose numbers jump out at you. Mike Trout of the Angels probably has the most balanced numbers out of the group. He's hitting .306 with 12 homers, 46 RBI, 53 runs scored, 18 stolen bases and you know about the circus catches he's capable of making. Baltimore's Adam Jones is also playing at a high level with an even .300 average, 15 dingers, 55 RBI, 53 runs and nine bases swiped. They each get my vote. For the third AL outfield spot, I chose Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is hitting a modest .289, has scored 45 runs and driven in 26 more. He also leads the majors with 32 stolen bases and is as speedy as they come in center. In a game that means something, Ellsbury gives you a bonafide leadoff man.
I found four candidates that stood above the rest in the NL: St. Louis' Carlos Beltran (.305, 17hr, 46rbi), Cincinnati's Jay Bruce (.282, 18hr, 54rbi) and Colorado's Michael Cuddyer (.339, 11hr, 43rbi) and Carlos Gonzalez (.300, 21hr, 57rbi).
The odd man out in this group, to me, is Beltran. Cuddyer is third in the league in hitting while Gonzalez leads the NL in extra-base hits, so they belong. It comes down to Bruce and Beltran in right, and Bruce gets my nod for defensive purposes. He has a stronger arm and can move around a little bit better.
There you have it folks. My starting eight in each league. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who disagree with these choices, and that is why you can get online right now and cast your vote. Have a say in who starts the MLB All-Star Game.
For what it's worth, my starting pitchers would be Detroit's Max Scherzer (11-0, 3.05 ERA) and New York's Matt Harvey (7-1, 2.05 ERA).
Jordan Holland is a sports writer for The Marietta Times. He can be reached at 376-5441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.