By Zachary Finkelstein
On Sunday afternoon, Major League Baseball announced its starting lineups, pitchers and reserves for the 83rd All-Star Game, to be held on July 10 at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium.
Although each team is chock full of talent, there were nonetheless players who didn’t make the cut despite stellar first-half statistics. Such is unavoidable in a league with so many stars. But without further ado, let’s take a look at the top Midsummer Classic omissions.
Catcher — A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox: One of baseball’s most polarizing players, Pierzynski is having a sensational season for a first-place team. With 14 homers and 45 RBIs, he has logged more innings behind the plate (556 2/3) than all but four backstops. The White Sox’s tough catcher should have made the team over Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins, who has caught far fewer innings (290) with much less production (four homers, 36 RBIs).
First Base – Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks: Weakened by the losses of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to the American League during the winter, the NL’s first-base crop is not a league strength this season. The Senior Circuit’s starting first-sacker, Joey Votto, has unquestionably been the game’s top player at his position. The field is much murkier after Cincy’s superstar, however. Bryan LaHair of the Cubs, the NL’s first-base reserve, is a great story. At 29 years old, LaHair spent nine years in the Minor Leagues before finally getting his first chance to play every day in the big leagues in 2012. Despite his terrific tale, however, LaHair has not been the second-best first baseman during the season’s first half. That honor belongs to the D-backs’ Goldschmidt, who owns the second-highest average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage among NL first baseman. Furthermore, Goldschmidt has 10 more RBIs than LaHair, who plays for baseball’s worst team this year. With Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro set play in the Midsummer Classic, LaHair – who was recently moved to the outfield when Chicago called up top prospect Anthony Rizzo – was not a necessary selection per the every-team-must-have-one-representative rule.
Second Base – Brandon Phillips, Reds: A three-time Gold Glove Award winner and the best defensive second baseman in baseball, Phillips will not be going to Kansas City despite being tied for first among all second basemen with 46 RBIs. In addition to his defense and production, Phillips is hitting more than 50 points higher than the NL’s starter, Dan Uggla (.285 to .232).
Third Base – David Freese, Cardinals: Having launched his name into the national spotlight last October, when he won the NLCS and World Series MVP awards, Freese has produced very well for the defending champions through June. Despite an underwhelming month of May, Freese ranks second among NL third baseman with 13 long balls, 48 RBIs and a .280 average. Freese is still eligible to make the team as part of the final-player vote, however, as fans have the final say on each roster’s 34th man.
Shortstop – Jed Lowrie, Astros: Lowrie leads NL shortstops in homers (14), on-base percentage (.347) and slugging (.486). The Cubs’ Starlin Castro is a worthy starter, but Lowrie has been slightly better than NL reserve Ian Desmond of the Nationals.
Outfield — Austin Jackson, Tigers: Without question, Jackson is not going to the All-Star Game because he was on the disabled list for roughly three weeks with an abdominal strain. Despite the missed time, Detroit’s leadoff hitter has raked when healthy. Having drastically cut his strikeouts after whiffing 181 times in 2011, the stellar center fielder is triple-slashing .323/.404/.529 with strong production numbers. A virtual lock to score 100 runs, as well, Jackson should be the first outfielder added if any AL outfielders pull out of the game.
Outfield — Josh Reddick, Athletics: Acquired in a trade with Boston during the offseason, Reddick has been one of the nicest surprises in baseball this year. In his first season as an everyday player, Oakland’s outfielder has already belted 18 long balls – a total made more impressive when considering that he plays half his games in a pitcher-friendly stadium.
Outfield — Michael Bourn, Braves: One of the sport’s best base stealers, Bourn has been a complete player during the season’s first half. In addition to his 22 swipes, Bourn has already belted a career-high seven long balls and is on pace to hit a career-high .307 with a solid .355 on-base percentage. Bourn should not be starting the game, but the two-time Gold Glove winner would have been a very strong pinch-runner/defensive replacement option. Similar to Freese, Bourn is one of five players listed on MLB’s Final Vote ballot.
Designated Hitter — Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays: The White Sox’s Adam Dunn is the favorite to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award. After suffering through one of baseball’s most disappointing seasons in 2011, Dunn is sitting in the top-5 in the AL with 24 homers and 58 RBIs. Despite his impressive production totals, the Big Donkey is batting a lowly .210 with an MLB-high 126 strikeouts. High K rates are largely excusable over a long season when a player is producing at an impressive clip, but Dunn is the game’s most likely masher to fan during any given at-bat. And during the All-Star Game – against the NL’s best arms – Dunn would not be the most trustworthy bat to come off the bench in a big spot.
David Ortiz will deservedly start the game with the hometown Billy Butler of the Royals backing him up. The third DH should be the Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion, who is enjoying a career year. Batting more than 80 points higher than Dunn, Encarnacion is on pace to shatter his career-highs with 45 homers and 113 RBIs.
Starting Pitcher — Johnny Cueto, Reds: Cueto, the ace of the first-place Reds, has posted a sterling 2.26 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Allowing a miniscule 0.42 homers per nine innings despite hurling in the homer-happy Great American Ball Park, Cueto has certainly pitched like an All-Star over the past two seasons, posting an MLB-best 2.29 ERA since the start of 2011.
Reliever — Ernesto Frieri or Scott Downs, Angels: Acquired from San Diego on May 3, Frieri joined the Angels’ bullpen absent any fanfare. In 24 1/3 frames since moving to the AL, however, Frieri has allowed zero runs with a whopping 42 K’s. You can’t do better than that. Southpaw Scott Downs has also been superb out of Anaheim’s ‘pen, posting a 0.35 ERA in 26 innings.
*All statistics are current as of July 1.
Zachary Finkelstein is a contributing writer for CBS Local Digital Media and a 2009 graduate of Northeastern University’s journalism program.