Tag Archives: All-Star Game

MLB All-Star Game Final Vote: Who deserves to make the teams?

The American League and National League rosters for next Tuesday’s All-Star Game were announced yesterday but, as has become customary in recent years, there is one spot left in each league for fans to vote on who they think deserve it. There are five candidates for each league’s Final Vote, and here is who I think should make the cut.

American League

Given the size of their teams’ fan bases, I think either Benintendi or Stanton will win the vote, probably Stanton, but I don’t think either of them deserves it. My vote goes to Rosario, but playing for the Twins will hurt his case.

National League

This is a tough call. I think Muncy will get a lot of votes because he’s a bit of a feel-good story, hitting 20 home runs already after not playing at all last season and having just 215 at-bats in Major League Baseball prior to this season. But he’s not the best candidate in my opinion. My vote goes to Aguilar, who has a couple more home runs and a batting average that is more than 30 points higher than Muncy’s. Out of the 10 players in the Final Vote between the two leagues, I think Aguilar is the one who most deserves to be in the game.

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MLB All-Star Teams: Altuve leads the pack, Markakis gets his first nod

All the votes have been counted and the 2018 MLB All-Star starters have been announced. Reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve led all players with 4.84 million votes. It is his sixth All-Star selection, including five in a row. The top votegetter in the National League was Braves 1B Freddie Freeman, with more than four million votes cast for him, his third selection. Freeman’s teammate, OF Nick Markakis, is among the notable players selected to start. The veteran will be appearing in his first All-Star Game in his 13th season in the majors.

Here are the full rosters for both leagues, with some analysis:

STARTERS

C Wilson Ramos, Rays: He had a late push to get past the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez, which was the right call by the fans. Ramos was my vote.
1B Jose Abreu, White Sox: He’s one of the few bright spots on one of the worst teams in the majors. I voted for Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox, but you can’t argue with Abreu.
2B Jose Altuve, Astros: He’s the best second baseman in baseball and plays for one of the best teams in the league. No-brainer.
SS Manny Machado, Orioles: He may not be on the Orioles by the end of July, but he’s having a season worthy of being on the All-Star team.
3B Jose Ramirez, Indians: He’s putting up good offensive numbers for a team that is likely going to be a division winner.
DH J.D. Martinez, Red Sox: He is one of the keys to the Red Sox success this season. The only real choice at DH.
OF Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Aaron Judge, Yankees; Mike Trout, Angels: No surprises or arguments to be made with these three selections.

RESERVES

C Salvador Perez, Royals
1B Mitch Moreland, Red Sox
2B Gleyber Torres, Yankees
SS Francisco Lindor, Indians
3B Alex Bregman, Astros
OF Michael Brantley, Indians; Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers; Mitch Haniger, Mariners; George Springer, Astros; Nelson Cruz, Mariners

The American League reserves are outfield-heavy. One of the biggest snubs here in my opinion is Astros DH Evan Gattis, who has been crushing the ball since the end of May. Torres is on the DL and isn’t expected back until after the All-Star Game so will likely be replaced on the roster.

PITCHERS

SP Trevor Bauer, Indians; Jose Berrios, Twins; Gerrit Cole, Astros; J.A. Happ, Blue Jays; Corey Kluber, Indians; Chris Sale, Red Sox; Luis Severino, Yankees; Justin Verlander, Astros
RP Aroldis Chapman, Yankees; Edwin Diaz, Mariners; Joe Jimenez, Tigers; Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox; Blake Treinen, A’s

Bauer was chosen as a replacement for Verlander, who is scheduled to pitch Sunday and will be unavailable for the game. Availability may require other pitching replacements to be made as well. Hopefully that includes Rays SP Blake Snell making the team. He’s having a breakout year and is probably the biggest snub in either league. He’s probably more deserving than Berrios or Happ, but those players are both on the team because their teams each needed a representative. There are a few good candidates to start the game. I would lean toward Cole, but it could also be Kluber or Severino.

STARTERS

C Willson Contreras, Cubs: He surpassed the Giants’ Buster Posey in voting and is having a good year, but I voted for the Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto, who I still think should have gotten the nod here. He’s having a better season than Contreras, but playing for a team with a pretty small fan base obviously hurt Realmuto in the voting.
1B Freddie Freeman, Braves: He got the most votes in the National League, and he is deserving of being selected for the team.
2B Javier Baez, Cubs: Like his teammate, Contreras, he made a late push, overtaking the Braves’ Ozzie Albies in the voting. I voted for the Reds’ Scooter Gennett.
SS Brandon Crawford, Giants: He got my vote, and is the right call at the position.
3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies: He’s having the type of season people have come to expect from him. Another no-brainer pick.
DH Fans don’t vote for a DH in the National League
OF Bryce Harper, Nationals; Matt Kemp, Dodgers; Nick Markakis, Braves: At the start of the season, only Harper would have been expected to be on the team. Kemp and Markakis are surprises, but are both deserving of the honors. All three (eventually) got my vote.

RESERVES

C Buster Posey, Giants; J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; Joey Votto, Reds
2B Ozzie Albies, Braves; Scooter Gennett, Reds
SS Trevor Story, Rockies
3B Eugenio Suarez, Reds
OF Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; Lorenzo Cain, Brewers; Christian Yelich, Brewers

Despite being a last place team, the Reds have three reserves on the team. It’s good to see that Realmuto and Gennett made the team after being snubbed in the voting. Dodgers OF Max Muncy has hit 20 home runs, coming out of nowhere this season, and should be on the team. He is a final vote candidate so still has a chance to make it.

PITCHERS

SP Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks; Jacob deGrom, Mets; Mike Foltynewicz, Braves; Jon Lester, Cubs; Miles Mikolas, Cardinals; Aaron Nola, Phillies; Max Scherzer, Nationals
RP Sean Doolittle, Nationals; Josh Hader, Brewers; Brad Hand, Padres; Kenley Jansen, Dodgers; Felipe Vazquez, Pirates

Scherzer should get the start for the National League, based on the numbers he’s putting up this season and the fact that the game is in his home park this season. DeGrom is among the best pitchers in the majors this season and gets the Mets’ obligatory spot on the roster.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the five final vote candidates in each league and make my selections.

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The latest MLB All-Star Game voting results: Are the fans getting it right?

Voting for the All-Star Game has been open for a few weeks now and with the game just under a month away, MLB has released has released its second weekly update at where the voting stands in both the American League and National League. The league made some changes to the voting process this season, notably opening the voting later than usual and greatly reducing the number of votes each person can cast, limiting it to 35 votes per email address. And it appears that those changes have led to the voting being more reflective of who actually deserves to get in the starting lineups for the All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., on July 17.

Here are the latest polling numbers, as of Monday (June 18) and Tuesday (June 19) for the National and American leagues, respectively.

National League

C Despite not having the type of season we’ve come to expect from him, with just four home runs so far in 2018, Buster Posey is leading NL catchers, with about a 90,000-vote lead over the Cubs’ Willson Contreras. I voted for J.T. Realmuto of the Marlins, who has a higher average than Posey and has hit more than twice as many home runs as the Giants’ backstop in fewer at-bats. Playing for a bad team like the Marlins, though, Realmuto isn’t getting the recognition he deserves and isn’t even in the top five in the voting.
1B The Braves’ Freddie Freeman is running away with the voting here, earning nearly 900,000 more votes than Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs. You can’t argue with the fans here, as Freeman is putting up MVP-type numbers for a first-place team that is exceeding expectations. Freeman got my vote.
2B Another Brave is getting the nod here; this time it’s Ozzie Albies, who isn’t hitting for average but does have 16 home runs on the season. It was Albies’ relatively low average that kept me from voting with him. I went with the Reds’ Scooter Gennett, who sits at third in the voting with nearly 150,000 votes to make up and Javier Baez of the Cubs sitting between him and Albies.
SS Brandon Crawford is playing for a sub-.500 Giants team, but his .315 average and eight home runs are enough for him to get enough votes to hold about a 550,000-vote lead over another Brave, Dansby Swanson, at shortstop. Crawford was my pick on my ballot.
3B Nolan Arenado of the Rockies has over a million votes, giving him a lead of nearly 450,000 votes over his closest competitor, 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant of the Cubs. I think the voting could be closer than that, but Arenado deserves to win the vote, and he was on my ballot, edging out Bryant.
DH With no DH in the National League, fans don’t get to vote for one.
OF Not only is Braves veteran Nick Markakis in the top three of outfield voting, but he is the leading votegetter at the position and second to only Freeman in the National League. He is joined atop the outfield voting by the Nationals’ Bryce Harper and the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp in second and third place, respectively. Markakis leads the National League with 92 hits, giving him a .327 average that puts him on pace to set a career high. It’s Markakis’ 13th major-league season and it looks like he’ll make his first All-Star appearance, and it’s deserved based on the season he had. Having said that of the top three in voting, only Kemp got a vote on my ballot. I had the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon and A.J. Pollock of the Diamondbacks, who is currently on the DL, on my ballot. Blackmon is currently fourth in the voting and Pollock isn’t in the top 15. I have no argument with Kemp being in the top three, but Harper isn’t deserving of it. He has 19 home runs, but he’s hitting just .212. The game is in his home ballpark, though, and he’s one of the bigger names in the sport so he’s getting votes, for better or worse. If I were to redo my vote now, I’d replace Pollock with Markakis.

American League

C This is probably the most surprising result to me — in a good way. Yankees C Gary Sanchez led the voting at the time of the first update last week, despite a sub-.200 average, but he has now been overtaken by the Rays’ Wilson Ramos, who is hitting .286 with nine homers. Ramos, who leads by about 60,000 votes, got my vote and will hopefully hang on to the lead throughout the balloting.
1B Jose Abreu of the White Sox sits atop the voting at first base, with about 160,000 more votes than Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox. They have very similar numbers at this point of the season. Abreu has a slightly better average and one more home run. I think he has a more recognizable name than Moreland, which helps him in the voting, but I put Moreland on my ballot.
2B The Astros’ Jose Altuve in this second voting update has taken over the overall lead in both leagues, with more than 1.5 million votes. The reigning AL MVP is more than a million votes ahead of the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres. While Altuve’s power numbers are down this year, he is the only player in the majors to surpass 100 hits so far this season, with 102. And his .342 average is the best in MLB. He got my vote.
SS The Orioles have the worst record in the majors, but that isn’t stopping people from voting for Manny Machado at shortstop. And that is understandable with a .310 average and 18 home runs for a player who could be traded before the trade deadline. The Astros’ Carlos Correa is behind Machado in voting, almost 145,000 votes back. It’s surprising that Correa is ahead of the Indians’ Francisco Lindor, who’s in third place. Machado got my vote.
3B The Indians’ Jose Ramirez leads the voting at third base, which isn’t surprising since he’s hitting .289 with 21 home runs, but the player in second place is surprising. The Yankees’ Miguel Andujar is ahead of the Astros’ Alex Bregman. It doesn’t matter, though, since Ramirez has a lead of nearly 400,000 votes and should end up as the starter. He was on my ballot.
DH There’s no surprise here, with Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez leading the voting. He’s having a terrific first season in Boston, hitting .315 with 22 homers. He got my vote, and he’s really the only viable choice at DH.
OF There are three big names in the top three outfield spots, and they’re not very surprising. Mookie Betts of the Red Sox is leading at the position, fewer than 4,000 votes behind Altuve for the overall lead, with the Angels’ Mike Trout and Yankees’ Aaron Judge also in position to start in the All-Star Game alongside Betts. They are the only three outfielders in the AL with more than a million votes. The Indians’ Michael Brantley and the Astros’ George Springer round out the top five, but they’re both about half-a-million votes behind Judge. The three outfielders who currently lead the voting are also the three who I had on my ballot a couple weeks ago.

Starting pitchers are not on the ballot and are chosen by the all-star managers, but I’m sticking with the matchup of the Astros’ Justin Verlander and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer that I chose in the post that I revealed my ballot.

The only real issue I have is Posey over Realmuto at NL catcher and the other positions where I disagree with the voting, an argument can be made for the current leader. And the fans are getting it right at AL catcher, with Ramos taking the lead away from Sanchez.

The next voting update is scheduled for next week, with voting running through July 5.

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My 3rd annual way-too-early MLB All-Star Game ballot

Over the last couple of years, I’ve written about some things I don’t like about the balloting for the MLB All-Star Game, and the league has made some changes this year that improve the process, in my opinion. First, the ballot was released on Friday, nearly a month later than voting has started in the past, and there are fewer votes allowed per email address. My big beef the last two years was the league allowing people to vote up to 35 times per day per email address. This year, they’ve changed the voting to allow for five ballots per day per email address, with a total of 35 ballots cast per email address throughout the voting period. This change will hopefully allow for less ballot-box stuffing and increase the likelihood of deserving players getting voted into the starting slots.

Despite the later start to the voting, I’m continuing with the tradition of calling my first ballot “way-too-early” with additional updates during the voting period, which ends on July 5, which is 10 days before the game is set to be played in Washington, D.C., on July 17.

American League

1B Mitch Moreland, Red Sox: Moreland is getting a chance at regular playing time and is doing well enough that the Red Sox were willing to release DH Hanley Ramirez, who had been platooning with Moreland. With an average around .300 and nine home runs, I’m giving Moreland the nod over a guy like Jose Abreu, of the White Sox, who is putting up comparable numbers.
2B Jose Altuve, Astros: Altuve’s power numbers are down compared to last season, but he’s still near the top of the American League with a .332 batting average. The only other AL second baseman who’s hitting better than .300 is Yankees rookie Gleyber Torres. An argument can be made for either player, but the reigning MVP — who leads the AL in hits — gets my vote.
SS Manny Machado, Orioles: Machado and the Indians’ Francisco Lindor are both having great seasons, but Machado is hitting about 20 points better, with more homers and RBI on the season so he’s the choice to make here. Lindor would still make the team as a backup, but Machado is having the better season and gets my vote.
3B Jose Ramirez, Indians: A Cleveland infielder is getting my vote here as Ramirez is the only player at the hot corner in the AL who’s hitting both for average and power. He’s hitting around .300 and is leading the position in home runs and RBI, making him an easy choice for my ballot.
C Wilson Ramos, Rays: The veteran catcher is hovering around a career-high with a .301 batting average entering Sunday with seven homers. There are other catchers — including the Royals’ Salvador Perez and the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez, who have more home runs but aren’t close to Ramos in average, making him the AL’s best overall catcher in terms of offensive stats.
DH J.D. Martinez, Red Sox: The biggest offensive hole the Red Sox had last season was hitting the fewest home runs in the AL. Martinez, who signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in the offseason, is helping to change that with a MLB-best 19 home runs to go along with 50 RBI, which also leads the majors. He’s easily the best choice to make at DH.
OF Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Aaron Judge, Yankees; Mike Trout, Angels: Betts just went on the DL this weekend, but he is having one of the best seasons of all hitters in the American League, leading the league with a .359 average, in addition to 17 home runs and 37 RBI. I expect him to be back in action in time for the All-Star Game, but even if he’s not he gets my vote. There’s no sophomore slump for Judge, who is putting up similar numbers to what he did last year, when he finished as the runner-up to Altuve in AL MVP voting. And Trout is having a typical Mike Trout season, hitting .313 with 19 home runs — tied with Martinez for the major league lead — here in early June.

My first AL all-star ballot of 2018

National League

1B Freddie Freeman, Braves: Some rookies have helped the Braves get out to a surprisingly strong start in the NL East this season, but the veteran Freeman is doing his part as well, hitting .335 with nine home runs and 40 RBI.
2B Scooter Gennett, Reds: Gennett is one of the few bright spots for a Reds team that has the second-worst record in the National League. His .340 average and 11 home runs gets my vote over the Braves’ Ozzie Albies and Cubs’ Javier Baez, who are also having good seasons thus far.
SS Brandon Crawford, Giants: There’s not a standout candidate among NL shortstops, so I’ll give it to Crawford, who is hitting over .300 with six home runs.
3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies: Arenado is always in contention to get a start in the All-Star Game, and this year is no different with a .325 average and 12 homers entering Sunday. He edges out the Cubs’ Kris Bryant to get my vote at the position.
C J.T. Realmuto, Marlins: Realmuto began the season on the DL, but he has put up good numbers since taking the field, hitting over .300 with six home runs at a position where offense isn’t easy to come by. The Giants’ Buster Posey is having a bit of a disappointing season, by his standards, giving Realmuto a chance to get a vote on my ballot.
DH With no DH in the National League, fans don’t get to vote for one.
OF Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks; Matt Kemp, Dodgers: Two of the three choices here are the same as on my way-too-early ballot last season, with the Nationals’ Bryce Harper the one who didn’t get the repeat vote. He has 18 home runs, but is hitting just .233 — a far cry from his .319 average in 2017 — which kept him off my ballot. Pollock, who is hitting .293 with 11 homers, gets my third outfield vote instead. Kemp currently has the highest average of this threesome, at .347, and Blackmon is hitting .285 with 12 home runs.

My first NL all-star ballot of 2018

Starting pitchers are not on the ballot and are chosen by the all-star managers, but I like to choose them, too. In the American League, the only choice is the Astros’ Justin Verlander, who has an impressive 1.24 ERA and 104 strikeouts through 13 starts, with the Nationals’ Max Scherzer getting my vote in the National League. Scherzer is 9-1 with a 1.92 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 12 starts.

I’ll be updating the ballot as the All-Star Game approaches, so keep checking back in for updates.

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World Series preview: Houston Astros vs. Los Angeles Dodgers — Another title drought ends

For the second straight season, we have a World Series consisting of two teams who have not won a championship in decades, with one team that has never won the Fall Classic. The Houston Astros, who are representing the American League after shutting out the New York Yankees 4-0 in Game 7 of the ALCS, have never won the World Series since entering the league in 1962 (as the Colts .45’s). This is just their second World Series appearance, having been swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005. On the National League side the Los Angeles Dodgers are playing in their 20th World Series, but it’s their first since 1988 when they won their sixth title. They advanced to the World Series with a 11-1 win over the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs in Game 5 of the NLCS.

Both teams finished the regular season with two of the three best records in MLB during the regular season. The Astros won 101 games, which was the third-highest total in the league, three behind the Dodgers’ MLB-best 104 wins. This is the first time since 1970 (and eighth time overall) that two teams that won more than 100 games during the season are meeting in the World Series. For the first time, the team with the better record has home-field advantage, giving the Dodgers Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at home. If the old rule — the winning league in the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage — was still in effect, the Astros would have home-field thanks to the AL’s win in July.

Games 1 and 2 are at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday and Wednesday with first pitch scheduled for 8:09pm. After a travel day Thursday, the series moves to Minute Maid Park in Houston for Games 3-5 set for Friday through Sunday. First pitch for Games 3 and 4 is at 8:09pm, with Game 5 (if necessary) set to begin at 8:16pm. If the series goes beyond five games, Games 6 and 7 are back in Los Angeles on October 31 and November 1, respectively. First pitch of Game 6 would be 8:09pm with Game 7 getting underway at 8:10pm, if it’s played. All games are on Fox in the U.S., and all times are Eastern.

How did they get here?

After winning the AL West by 21 games, the Astros began their postseason run by beating the AL East champion Boston Red Sox, 3-1, in an ALDS before beating the East’s second-best team, the Yankees, in an ALCS that went the distance, with the home team winning all seven games. The Dodgers ended the regular season as NL West champions, winning the division by 11 games, then swept the division-rival Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-game NLDS. They then beat the defending World Series champion Cubs, 4-1, in a NLCS that was a rematch of last year’s series. Through their first two series of the postseason, the Dodgers have played just one game over the minimum.

Pitching

Some of the game’s best pitchers are in this series, with two of them scheduled to kick off the series on Tuesday. The Astros send 14-game winner Dallas Keuchel to the mound in Game 1 to face potential NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who went 18-4 during the season. Game 2’s pitching matchup has Justin Verlander — who has been stellar since the Astros acquired him from the Detroit Tigers on August 31 — going up against Rich Hill for the Dodgers. The teams haven’t announced their starters yet beyond that, but the Astros are expected to go with Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. for their other two starters, with the Dodgers expected to use Yu Darvish, who they acquired at the July 31 trade deadline, and Alex Wood.

I give the Astros a slight advantage in starting pitching. Kershaw may be the best pitcher of the bunch — though Verlander’s 9-0 record and 1.23 ERA (including the postseason) since joining the Astros may have something to say about that — but I think the Astros have the better rottion overall. Verlander and Keuchel are a strong 1-2 at the top and the way McCullers pitched in the ALCS makes it seem like he’s healthy and has his stuff back, making him a better No. 3 in my mind than what the Dodgers have. Morton could be an X-factor. If he can have another start like he had in Game 7 against the Yankees, he would be a solid No. 4 for the Astros.

There’s no question the Dodgers have the advantage in the bullpen. During the season, they had the fourth-best ERA in the majors at 3.38, while the Astros ranked 17th with a 4.27 ERA. The difference is even more distinct in the postseason, with the Dodgers bullpen leading the pack with a 0.94 ERA. The Astros’ 5.03 ERA out of the bullpen ranks seventh out of the 10 postseason teams. Having RP Kenley Jansen in the closer role at the end of the game should give the Dodgers more confidence he’ll be able to close out games than the Astros have in their closer, RP Ken Giles.

Offense

The Astros had the best offense in the majors during the regular season. Among the offensive categories in which they led MLB were hits (1,581), doubles (346), RBI (854), average (.282), OBP (.346), slugging percentage (.478), OPS (.823), OPS+ (127) and strikeouts (1,087). They were also second to the Yankees in home runs. 2B Jose Altuve, who I think should win the AL MVP award, led the majors in hits for the fourth straight year and batting average for the third straight season. He also had 24 home runs, which tied his career high. Overall, the Astros had 11 players with double-digit home runs. OF George Springer led the team with 34, and SS Carlos Correa and utilityman Marwin Gonzalez — who led the team with 90 RBI — also had more than 20 home runs. The offense did go through a bit of a slump in the ALCS, including OF Josh Reddick going hitless until Game 7, but they scored 11 runs in the final two games of the season and it appears as though they are back to how they were during the regular season. In 11 games this postseason, the Astros are hitting .247 with 12 home runs.

The Dodgers didn’t have nearly as potent of an offense during the regular season, finishing outside of the top 10 in home runs and in the bottom third of the majors with a .249 average. Rookie 1B Cody Bellinger led them with 39 home runs, with OF Yasiel Puig behind him at 28. Their power was more top-heavy, with eight guys hitting at least 10 home runs and six of them at 21 or more. 3B Justin Turner led the team with a .322 average and 1B Chris Taylor was at .288 during the season; Turner and Taylor each hit 21 regular-season home runs. In the postseason, the Dodgers are hitting .273 with 13 home runs in eight games.

Now that it appears the Astros are out of their slump they were in at the start of the ALCS, I think they have the offensive advantage.

Defense

Although the Astros made some nice plays in the ALCS, the Dodgers are a better defensive team statistically. During the regular season, the Dodgers made 88 errors compared to 99 for the Astros. In the postseason, the Dodgers’ two errors are half of the four committed by the Astros.

Managers

A.J. Hinch, the 2015 AL Manager of the Year, is in his third season managing the Astros and fifth season overall as a manager. The 2016 NL Manager of the Year Dave Roberts is in his third season as a major-league manager, second with the Dodgers. Both are managing in their first World Series.

Prediction

I expect this to be a close series. One concern for the Dodgers is SS Corey Seager, who was left off of the NLCS roster as he dealt with a back injury. He is expected to be on the World Series roster and ready to play in Game 1 on Tuesday, but you have to wonder if he is at full health. I think the Astros have the advantage in starting pitching — assuming McCullers can pitch as well as he did in the ALCS — and on offense, where there’s no easy spot in the lineup for opposing pitchers to face. I’m going against the “pitching beats offense in the postseason” adage and the Dodgers having home-field advantage, but I think the Astros offense will be able to put runs on the board against Dodger pitching and will fulfill the prophecy predicted by Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter in 2014.

Astros in seven.

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MLB Weekly: Midseason analysis, All-Star Game preview

Looking Back

The MLB Weekly takes a look at what teams are underperforming and overperforming at the all-star break and previews the All-Star Game.

With the all-star break upon up this week, we’ve reached the unofficial halfway point of the 2017 MLB season, even though all 30 teams have played more than half of their 162 games. So this is a good time to take a look at what the standings look like and see what teams appear to be contenders for playoff spots and which teams seem to be just playing out the string for the remainder of the regular season.

The Astros and Dodgers hold the best records in the American and National leagues, respectively. The Astros have a seemingly insurmountable lead in the AL West, 15.5 games ahead of the second-place Rangers entering Sunday. I picked the Astros to win the division  in my preseason preview but didn’t expect them to perform this well. I thought they would win around 90 games, but they’re already at 59 wins with 74 games remaining. If they just go 32-42 the rest of the way, they’ll surpass that 90-win prediction. And they’re doing it all with their ace Dallas Keuchel on the disabled list for the past month. He is expected back shortly after the break and, if healthy, can provide a major boost to a team that is already one of the best squads in the majors. The Astros are for real and barring any major injuries the rest of the way should be able to play deep into October.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, hold a 6.5-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the NL West. They have come on strong in recent weeks as the D-backs and Rockies have faltered after fast starts. The play of rookie OF Cody Bellinger has helped propel the Dodgers to the top of the division. He has hit a team-best 25 home runs in 69 games since being brought up from the minors. Meanwhile 3B Justin Turner is hitting .375 on the season. In addition to getting strong pitching from perennial Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers are getting a surprisingly good performance out of SP Alex Wood this season. He is having a career year with a 10-0 record and a 1.67 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 80.2 innings. While there is more competition in the National League than the American League, the Dodgers look like they have the type of offense and pitching and could set them up for a long playoff run.

Perhaps the most surprising division is the NL Central, where the defending World Series champion Cubs are a game under .500 and 4.5 games behind the division-leading Brewers, who won 34 fewer games than the Cubs last season. 1B Eric Thames is having a breakout season, with 23 home runs so far. On the mound, the Brewers aren’t getting particularly strong pitching out of their rotation, but closer Corey Knebel has posted a 1.76 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 41 innings while recording 13 saves. For the Cubs, they are getting disappointing seasons from guys like 3B Kris Bryant and 1B Anthony Rizzo who were among the key pieces that led to ending the team’s infamous championship drought in 2016. And the disappointments extend to the starting rotation, with SPs Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta sporting ERAs of 3.94 and 4.35, respectively. The Cubs clearly aren’t a 108-win team like they were last season, but they’re also better than being around a .500 team so you can expect them to improve their record in the second half of the season. The question is will they be able to make up the deficit the Brewers have opened up. And the Cardinals are also lurking, currently just a game back of the Cubs. If the Brewers don’t add a starting pitcher before the trade deadline, I think they can be caught in the second half, especially if the Cubs get their act together.

The AL Central is essentially a three-team race, with three games separating the first-place Indians from the Twins and Royals. Of those three, I think the Indians are by far the best team and will likely hang out to win the division. The Twins were outperforming everyone’s expectations early in the season, but I think they’re going to fall further behind the Indians. And I don’t think the Royals have enough to keep up with the Indians through September. I don’t think the Indians have a good enough team to return to the World Series, though.

The Nationals hold an 8.5-game lead over the Braves in the NL East and, barring a major collapse, they should easily win the division. They’re similar to the Dodgers in that they have a couple of big hitters and OF Bryce Harper and 2B Daniel Murphy and good starting pitching with SPs Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg, but their Achilles heel is the bullpen. The ineptitude of the Nats’ relievers has been well-documented this season and if they don’t make a trade for a good closer, the bullpen could prevent them from going far in the postseason. If they had a top-end closer, they would probably be my pick to make it to the World Series in the National League, but with the bullpen as it stands now that’s not the case.

The Red Sox lead the AL East with the Yankees and Rays 3.5 games and 4.5 games behind them, respectively. The Yankees have been falling in the standings over the last couple of weeks while the Red Sox are rolling. Yankees OF Aaron Judge is a star, but I don’t think the Yankees have enough pitching to catch the Red Sox. No Yankee starter has a sub-3.50 ERA and RP Dellin Betances has not looked good in recent appearances. If the Yankees don’t trade for a starting pitcher who can slot into the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the rotation, they’ll be out of the race in the division. And I don’t think the Rays are for real. They’ll likely fall back in the standings over the coming weeks. I expect the Red Sox to ultimately win the division.

As for the wild cards, I think the Yankees and Royals are the frontrunners in the American League, while both National League wild cards will almost surely come out of the West. With the Dodgers looking like favorites to win that division, I think the Diamondbacks and Rockies get the wild cards. All the other contenders in the NL are too far back and have too much ground they would have to make up.

The Week Ahead

Stanton HRD

After Sunday’s action, there are no regular-season games until Friday after the all-star break ends. Before then, there’s the Home Run Derby on Monday and the All-Star Game on Tuesday so let’s break down those exhibitions.

They’re using a bracket format for the derby, with defending champion Marlins OF Giancarlo Stanton as the top seed in his home ballpark. He’ll face Yankees C Gary Sanchez in the first round. Other first-round matchups include Royals 3B Mike Moustakas taking on Twins 3B Miguel Sano, Bellinger against Rockies OF Charlie Blackmon, and Judge facing Marlins 1B Justin Bour. I expect Stanton, Sano, Bellinger and Judge to get past the first round.

That would set up semifinal matchups of Stanton against Sano and Bellinger versus Judge. I would give Stanton and Judge the advantage in those matches, giving us the finals that most people want to see — No. 1 seed Stanton versus No. 2 seed Judge. Both of those guys can hit the ball out of the park, but I think Judge would end up winning.

As for the All-Star Game itself, I think the American League has the better starting lineup as far as position players go, with the likes of Judge and Astros 2B Jose Altuve and OF George Springer, but I give the edge in pitching to the National League. With Kershaw, Scherzer and Strasburg leading the starting pitchers on the roster and two of the season’s best closers in Rockies RP Greg Holland and Dodgers RP Kenley Jansen, that pitching staff will be hard to beat. Good pitching typically beats good hitting, so I’ll take the NL to win the game.

And looking ahead to next weekend, the top series to look forward to when MLB resumes regular-season games on Friday are the Orioles hosting the Cubs in a battle of teams looking to stay alive in their divisions, the Yankees visiting the Red Sox in an important AL East battle.

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My updated MLB All-Star Game ballot at the end of May

We’ve reached the end of May, which is sometimes considered the first checkpoint of the Major League Baseball season, as it is now about a third over. It has also been nearly a month since the league opened up balloting for this year’s All-Star Game. When the ballot was released, I posted my way-too-early selections for the all-star teams, but as we now have another few weeks of stats to look at, it’s time to take a second look at who should play in Miami on July 11.

Some of my selections have changed since last time, and for those positions I have noted in parentheses who I originally picked at those positions. Now, here are my picks for the American League and National League all-star teams. All stats are through Tuesday and don’t include Wednesday’s games.

American League

1B Yonder Alonso, A’s (Miguel Cabrera): I switched from the Tigers’ Cabrera, who’s not having a typical season that we have come to expect from him, to Alonso because the 30-year-old is having a career year. He is hitting nearly .300 and has already surpassed his career home-run total, crossing over into double-digits for the first time.
2B Jose Altuve, Astros (Jonathan Schoop): I gave the Orioles’ Schoop the nod early on because Altuve got off to a relatively slow start, but he has since put some distance between the two of them in batting average, hitting more than 40 points better than Schoop. It was a close call between Altuve and the Yankees’ Starlin Castro, but Altuve gets the nod because I think he’s more likely to keep it up as the season goes on.
SS Carlos Correa, Astros (Francisco Lindor): Yet another switch here. You can’t go wrong with either Correa or the Indians’ Lindor, but again it’s the batting average difference that gives Correa the edge to me. He’s well above .300, compared to Lindor being around .275. Lindor has a slight edge in home runs, but it’s not enough to make up the difference in average.
3B Miguel Sano, Twins: I’m sticking with Sano here. He is having, by far, the best season at the position, hitting close to .300 with 12 home runs for a team that is outperforming most people’s expectations.
C Salvador Perez, Royals: Offensive expectations are lower at catcher than other positions, and Perez is having a good season at the plate, with one of the higher batting averages at the positions and leading the group in home runs.
DH Corey Dickerson, Rays (Nelson Cruz): The Mariners’ Cruz is having a good season, but Dickerson’s average is significantly higher in more at-bats than Cruz has had this season. Dickerson’s average is bound to come down closer to his .288 career number, but he’s hitting now so I’ll give him the credit for what he’s done.
OF Aaron Judge, Yankees; George Springer, Astros; Mike Trout, Angels (Khris Davis): Springer replaces Davis, of the A’s, because Davis’ batting average is too low to continue getting my vote. He has 16 home runs but is hitting just .226. I’ll take Springer’s .265 with 13 home runs over that. Judge is continuing the torrid pace of his rookie season, hitting well over .300 with 17 home runs. Trout was having another good season until he broke his thumb sliding into second base over the weekend. He’s on the DL for the first time in his career and will be out six to eight weeks, which means he won’t be able to play in the game. I’ll keep him on my ballot anyway since he deserves it — to this point — but that’ll likely change next time I make my picks.

al-allstars2

My second ballot for the American League all-star team.

National League

1B Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals: Zimmerman is continuing to rake while the Brewers’ Eric Thames‘ power production has tailed off. Zimmerman is having a great season, and he is definitely deserving of the vote here.
2B Daniel Murphy, Nationals: I’m sticking with Zimmerman’s teammate here because he’s hitting .326 and leading the league in home runs among second basemen. He’s the top choice here.
SS Zack Cozart, Reds (Corey Seager): There’s no standout here, but I switched away from the Dodgers’ Seager because Cozart is having the better overall season at the plate. They have the same number of home runs, but Cozart’s average is much higher than Seager’s.
3B Jake Lamb, Diamondbacks: Lamb continues to have the best season among NL third basemen, leading the group with 14 home runs and batting .283, which is among the best averages at the position.
C Buster Posey, Giants (Jett Bandy): I went away from the unexpected candidate in the Brewers’ Bandy to the perennial all-star contender in Posey because the latter is having a better season. Its close in home runs, but Posey has the definite edge in batting average.
DH With no DH in the National League, fans don’t get to vote for one.
OF Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; Bryce Harper, Nationals; Marcell Ozuna, Marlins (Matt Kemp): Ozuna slots into the spot where I had the Braves’ Kemp on my original ballot. While Kemp is keeping his numbers up better than I expected, Ozuna’s extra power gives him the edge in my opinion. Harper is an obvious choice, hitting .328 with 15 home runs, and Blackmon is having one of the best offensive seasons in the NL, regardless of position.

nl-allstars2

My second ballot for the National League all-star team.

Starting pitchers are not on the ballot and are chosen by the all-star managers, but I’m sticking with the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel in the AL and switching from Gio Gonzalez to Nationals teammate Max Scherzer in the NL.

Stay tuned for more ballot updates as the season progresses.

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