It happens every single year. Players who deserve to make the All-Star team don’t, and players who don’t necessarily deserve to make it do. Part of it has to do with stupid or biased fans, part of it has to do with the Player Ballot — a vote of the players, managers and coaches — voting just because they have to, and part of it has to do with the manager being forced to fill a roster with at least one player from every team. As unfair as it may be, all-star voting in sports will probably never change. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t still bitch about players like A.J. Pierznyski and Jake Peavy being left off the team. With the All-Star game actually having meaning (the winner gives its league champion home-field advantage in the playoffs), you’d think that Ron Washington’s formerly coked-out mind and the players’ around the American League would want two of the best players at their respective positions to be a part of their roster. Guess they don’t care as much as we’d like.
As I said a couple of weeks ago in my “White Sox Candidates for the 2012 All-Star Game” post, I knew it would be difficult for Pierzynski to break his six-year all-starless streak, because Rangers fans are all over Mike Napoli’s nuts and made sure he’d (undeservedly) start behind the plate for the American League. Unfortunately, it was the players, and not the fans, who voted for Matt Wieters over Pierzynski to back up Napoli instead. How dumb are they, you ask? Well, Pierzynski has Wieters beat in batting average by 36 points (.287 to .251), slugging percentage by almost 100 points (.524 to .431), hits, home runs, RBIs and runs. It’s not like the second-place Orioles had no one else to send to the game; Adam Jones is a legitimate candidate for AL MVP, and Jim Johnson has been one of the best, if not the best, closers in baseball with an ML-leading 25 saves thus far this season. There’s been a lot of talk about AL manager Ron Washington screwing up by picking Joe Mauer, but I can’t blame him. The Twins needed someone, and if it wasn’t going to be Josh Willingham, then Mauer and his .327 batting average would have to do. Regardless, A.J. was upset with Washington anyways and gave him a good ‘ol “eff you” on Tuesday night with a three-run bomb in the fifth inning of a 19-2 beat down of the Rangers. He should’ve made the team. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
As for Jake Peavy, let’s just say it’s a travesty that he didn’t make the All-Star team this year. Forget the Final Vote – it’s not the fans’ fault that Peavy didn’t make it. Yu Darvish had the entire continent of Asia voting for him. No one else on the final ballot stood even a puncher’s chance. We can blame Washington for whiffing on this one. I don’t mean to take away from the great season that Rangers’ starting pitcher Matt Harrison is having, but this couldn’t have been a more biased pick. Peavy has a better ERA (2.96 to 3.10), WHIP (0.99 to 1.24), strikeouts (101 to 70), K/9 (8.07 to 5.06) and opponents’ batting average (.215 to .263). Pretty much every single pitching category, besides record (Harrison is 11-4 and Peavy is 6-5), belongs to Peavy, so the decision to leave him off the roster is just stupid. Not to mention, the great Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated has Peavy as runner-up to Justin Verlander for AL Cy Young midway through the season. That’s gotta count for something.
After battling injury after injury and almost calling it quits before having experimental shoulder surgery performed on him a few years back, it would have been one hell of a story to see a suited-up Peavy in Kansas City for his third all-star appearance. Instead, like Pierzynski, he’ll be watching the game from his couch like me and you. The difference is they wipe their asses with $1 bills; I wipe my ass with toilet paper and the occasional baby wipe. Pierzynski and Peavy will get over their snubbings if they haven’t already. It just seems ridiculous that the best catcher (statistically) in the AL and a potential AL Cy Young candidate will not be making an appearance at Kauffman Stadium this year.
So about that Jeff Samardzija transformation and “Is Bryan Lahair for real?” argument — what the hell happened? I guess you can call it hometown bias, or maybe just a jinx, but I really thought that Jeff Samardzija had finally turned a corner in his career and Brian Lahair was going to be legit after such a late start to his career in the majors. Whether it’s a coincidence or not that Samardzija was a month-long embarrassment directly following the article I wrote about him and his transcendence, I’m not sure, but before last night’s gem, something was not right with him. And as for Lahair – well, let’s just hope his somewhat surprising All-Star selection gives him the confidence, or mojo, if you will, to perform the way he did in April.
After posting a 2.48 ERA and striking out an incredible nine batters per nine innings in May, there was no denying that Jeff Samardzija was finally becoming the pitcher everyone expected him to become when he was drafted out of Notre Dame in 2006. His control was top-notch, and he had been getting ahead of a majority of the hitters he faced, which made his job a hell of a lot easier. Once June rolled around, though, Samardzija’s season took a turn for the worse. He ended up winless at 0-4 with an abysmal 10.48 ERA, 2.06 WHIP and – get this – a whopping .330 opponents’ batting average. There are honestly no words to describe how bad those numbers really are, but had he not been so dominant and electric in May, he would have easily been sent back down to the minors to work out his kinks.
It’s tough to pinpoint one specific reason for his struggles, but control has to be at the top of the list. Samardzija walked nearly as many batters in June (15 in 23.1 innings) as he did and April and May combined (19 in 64 innings), and he was giving up nearly 13 hits per nine innings. The funny thing about baseball, however, is that you never, ever know what will happen next. Somehow, someway, Samardzija walked into Turner Field in Atlanta on Monday night and went seven strong innings while striking out a career-high 11 batters. I’d like to think that this is a sign of good things to come, and that the atrocity we saw last month was no more than a giant fluke.
As far as Bryan Lahair is concerned, I couldn’t be happier for him. Making the All-Star team can’t be understated, and it’s an incredible accomplishment for a player who had to endure about eight years in the minor leagues before finally sticking to a major league roster at age 29. Nevertheless, Lahair’s torrid rampage throughout the month of April certainly has not carried any momentum whatsoever into July, and his numbers prove it. After cranking five homers, driving in 14 runs, and putting up insane .390/.471/.780 splits in his first 20 games, Lahair has gone ice cold. He drove in a combined 14 runs over the past two months and posted .231/.286/.400 splits during June. For a guy who was called on to be the Cubs’ main run producer and was batting clean up for a good portion of the season, that lack of production just isn’t going to cut it.
All that said, I still haven’t even gotten to the worst part. Against lefties this season, Lahair has a grand total of three hits – I repeat, three hits – in 38 at-bats. That’s good for a .079 batting average to go along with a .186 on-base percentage and .156 slugging percentage. I definitely just threw up in my mouth. And to add to my nausea, Lahair is batting .137 with one home run (three extra-base hits) in 51 at-bats this year with runners in scoring position versus .336 with eight home runs (16 extra-base hits) in 122 at-bats with the bases empty. Simply put, Lahair never could, and probably never will, hit left-handed pitching if his life depended on it, and he’s probably one of the most un-clutch (I completely made that word up just now) hitters in the National League.
Lahair has come back down to earth since that epic month to open the season, so my optimistic view of him being “for real” was simply that – optimistic. If Lahair does happen to turn things around again, he’d make for even better trade bait, especially for an American League club. But if the Cubs do decide to keep him, here’s to hoping that he gets in touch with the April baseball gods and torches through the rest of the summer for a team who so desperately needs him to produce.
If you had told me last winter that the Chicago White Sox would essentially be in first place in the AL Central (only a half game back) and 2.5 games ahead of the pre-season overwhelming favorite Detroit Tigers by late June, I would have considered hosting an intervention for you in which the possibility of sending you to an insane asylum would have been discussed. To think that the Sox would be this good halfway through the season was unfathomable, and I’d bet that most Sox fans would agree. Players who were seeing the baseball as a golf ball last year are seeing it as a beach ball this year. The runs are up, the bullpen ERA is down, and there’s many guys worthy of making the All-Star team. It’s an exciting time to be a Sox fan, and there’s a lot to look forward to over the next few months and beyond. That being said, let’s take a look at who those worthy players are:
Chris Sale, Starting Pitcher
Given the way he has pitched this season, one would have to think that Chris Sale has been pitching at the major league level for years. His path to stardom is well ahead of schedule, as he has looked nothing short of magnificent thus far this season. Sale ranks second in the American League in wins (tied at 8), third in ERA (2.47), fourth in WHIP (1.00), third in opponent’s batting average (.197) and fifth in K/9 (9.19, ranking him ahead of C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander AND Felix Hernandez). He has, without question, been one of the two or three best pitchers in the American League , and I don’t see him slowing down. Don’t be surprised if he not only makes the All-Star team but also starts for the AL come July 10. Clearly, most baseball fans would like to see Justin Verlander take the mound, but if he ends up making a start for Detroit less than five days before the game (or just decides he doesn’t want to pitch), Jim Leyland would have no problem telling him off. That would leave Sale, who deserves the starting nod as much as anyone.
Jake Peavy, Starting Pitcher
You can’t mention Chris Sale without mentioning Jake Peavy these days. The other half of this dynamic duo is in the middle of a coming of age season as he attempts to win the second Cy Young Award of his, what many would consider a very unlucky, and somewhat disappointing, career. After a number of shoulder injuries and a nearly career-ending experimental surgery in which the surgeon had to reattach a key tendon to the rear of his right shoulder, Peavy is finally back to old form. At 6-3, he ranks fourth in the American League in innings pitched (98.2), sixth in ERA (2.74), second in WHIP (0.97), fourth in opponent’s batting average (.198) and ninth in both strikeouts (83) and BB/9 (2.10). Of his 14 starts, 12 (repeat: 12) of them have been considered quality. Coincidentally, those other two are the only two starts in which he has given up more than three earned runs all season long. Amazing.
Peavy’s miracle season has been one of the best stories in baseball this year. After all he has been through over the past few years, making the All-Star team would really be something special.
A.J. Pierzynski, Catcher
I can’t remember the last time A.J. Pierzynski had a bad season in the majors, if ever, but it sure as hell wasn’t while wearing a White Sox uniform. Year after year, the dude just puts up solid offensive numbers across the board and continues to stay vastly underrated. It has been six years since Pierzynski’s made the All-Star team, but this might be the year he finally breaks that streak. He leads all AL catchers in RBIs (41), total bases (110) and runs scored (32 — tied with Minnesota’s Joe Mauer and Texas’ Mike Napoli), and he trails only Mauer in hits with 62 and Boston’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia in home runs with 12. Who knew the 35-year-old backstop still had it in him? With Napoli undeservedly leading the way in voting so far, it’s going to be tough for A.J. to beat out two of three great catchers in Mauer, Baltimore’s Matt Wieters and Saltalamacchia, but stranger things have certainly happened.
Paul Konerko, First Baseman
Just another under-the-radar season for Paulie Konerko. Time and time again, Konerko seems to remind all baseball fans that, although he’s getting older, he has no intentions whatsoever of slowing down. If you sat here and told me that he will continue to hit like this until the age of 40, I’d probably agree. But regardless of how good we think he’ll be in four or five years, right now is all that really matters. Through the first half of the season, Konerko is leading the American League with an incredulous .354 batting average and .426 on-base percentage. He also ranks fourth in hits (81) and slugging percentage (.585), which are both good for first among first basemen. Konerko leads all first basemen in home runs with 13 (Adam Dunn and Billy Butler are designated hitters, so they don’t count in my mind) and total bases (134), and he’s fourth in RBIs (39). It never ceases to amaze me how great this guy continues to be. With Prince Fielder likely to get the starting nod at first base, Rangers’ manager Ron Washington will have slow-starting guys like Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, and Mark Teixeira to choose from in addition to Konerko. I’d like to think that the current AL batting leader will be at the very top of his list.
Adam Dunn, Designated Hitter
Everyone knows the Adam Dunn story by now – he batted .159 last season and sucked beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations. But, 2011 proved to be a fluke, as Dunn has reverted back to old form, smashing baseballs out of any and every ballpark like it’s no one’s business. He leads the majors with 23 dingers and 55 walks. He’s also third in the AL in RBIs with 53 (first among DH), seventh in slugging percentage at .554 and tenth in total bases at 133 (both rank him third among DH). The only thing really holding Sox fans back from bowing down to this beast is his terrible .225 batting average and 109 strikeouts, which is 26 more than the next player. However, a low average, high strikeout totals and a boatload of home runs has been the story of Dunn’s 12-year career, so it just comes with the territory. He deserves to be considered for the All-Star team, that’s for sure, but there’s a lot of competition at DH this year. I smell a candidate for the Final Vote, but only time will tell.
Who I would pick: Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzysnki
There should not even be a debate about Sale and Peavy — they’ve been two of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball this year, and without them, the White Sox would arguably be a last place team right now. They’ve been that valuable.
If it was up to me, Paul Konerko would be starting at first base for the American League in a few weeks. But, seeing as how there are millions of other fans out there voting, my opinion pretty much means jack. Nevertheless, even when Prince Fielders wins the vote, Konerko should easily make the roster as the second or third first baseman. If he’s not, then Ron Washington is clearly still blowing lines during his free time and is only picking players based on name alone.
The most debatable guy on my list is Pierzynski. His stats alone should make him an All-Star, but because Mike Napoli is projected to win the starting gig, one spot gets taken from a guy who actually deserves to make the team. Both teams usually bring three catchers to the All-Star game though, so Pierzynski should still make it because of how valuable he has been to the Sox lineup.
I’m not picking Dunn because, assuming David Ortiz wins the vote for DH, there are still too many other guys at the position worthy of making the team. You have to remember that every team gets at least one All-Star. Coincidentally, the two best options along with Dunn (Kansas City’s Billy Butler and Toronto’s Edwin Encarnacion) have each been the best players for their respective teams this season, so there’s a good chance that one of them makes it instead. Even if Dunn doesn’t make the team, he still has a shot at making Robinson Cano’s Home Run Derby squad and, as I said before, there’s a possibility he makes it to the Final Vote, which would leave his fate in the hands of the fans.
Who will be picked: Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski
Dunn won’t make it for the reasons I just stated. If Pierzynski doesn’t make it, it’s for reasons very similar to Dunn — there must be an All-Star from every team. Because of that, Joe Mauer who, as you know, plays for the horrific Minnesota Twins, should be a no-brainer for the American League staff as the backup catcher and lone Twin to make the team. But, assuming the AL goes with three catchers, Pierzynski should easily get selected over Wieters and Saltalamacchia. If he doesn’t, it’ll just go to show you how truly under-appreciated he is around the league.
Newsflash: the Cubs are bad. Like really bad. With the Crosstown Series officially over until next season, the only things Cubs fans can really look forward to are seeing Anthony Rizzo in white with blue pinstripes and spending Saturday afternoons (or any day of the week for that matter) getting absolutely hammered in Wrigleyville before and after games. Life can be worse, that’s for sure, but having a winning team to root for wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world either.
It makes me sick to think that just four years ago, this was a team that sent a total of eight players to the All-Star Game. Now, we’re struggling to find more than a couple of guys who deserve to even be in consideration. With the Midsummer Classic just three weeks away, baseball fans on the North Side will finally get to watch some legitimate baseball (for one night), and at least one of the players participating in that game will reign from the corner of Addison and Clark. Which Cub deserves to be the team’s likely lone all-star, you ask? Well, let’s break down their top candidates and see who we come up with.
Ryan Dempster, Starting Pitcher
As crazy as it sounds, Ryan Dempster has quietly been one of the five or six best pitchers in the National League this season. His 2.11 ERA ranks him third overall for starting pitchers across the Majors, and nine out of his 12 starts have been considered quality ones (6+ innings pitched, 3 earned runs or less). His WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) thus far (1.02) is the lowest it has EVER been in his 15-year career, which is an amazing feat for a 35-year-old pitcher who has always had some trouble finding the plate and preventing hitters from getting on base.
Unfortunately, Dempster only has three wins to show for his incredible first half (all of which came in his last three starts), but that has almost nothing to do with him and everything to do with the abysmal Cubs hitters, who have failed to score more than three runs in seven of his 12 starts. But wins aside, Dempster has been far and away the best pitcher on the Cubs and will undoubtedly make any contender happy for the last two months of the season when he gets traded. As he sits on the DL with mysterious “back tightness,” one would have to suspect that Dempster’s time in Chicago may be coming to an end sooner than expected. Whether he manages to stay a Cub until July 10 or not remains to be seen, but he definitely deserves a spot on this list.
Starlin Castro, Shortstop
Yes, he ranks second among all every day players in errors with 12 (tied with Giants’ Brandon Crawford and one behind Dodgers’ Dee Gordon). And yes, he ranks 19th among 24 every day shortstops with a .956 fielding percentage. But Starlin Castro is still the best pure hitting shortstop in the National League (and arguably the ML), and that’s really all that matters when it comes to making the All-Star team. He currently leads the Cubs in hits (85), average (.302) and total bases (125), and he’s second on the team in runs scored (33), RBIs (38) and stolen bases (16). The only thing holding him back from true stardom is his inability to walk (he has only six walks with a horrendous .316 on-base percentage), but that’s another conversation for another day.
At the moment, Castro is sitting in third place among NL shortstops in all-star voting (~700,000 votes behind Rafael Furcal for first), making it very unlikely that we’ll see him starting for the National League in a few weeks. It looks as if Castro’s all-star fate will rest in the hands of the players, coaches and managers around the league. With the numbers he has put up so far this season, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Castro gets selected for his second consecutive all-star game.
Bryan Lahair, First Base
Once upon a time, Bryan Lahair was a 32nd round nobody out of St. Petersburg Junior College. Ten years, two short Major League stints, a Pacific Coast League MVP and a whole lot of perseverance later, he has become one of the most pleasant surprises in baseball. With the Cubs in rebuilding mode, Lahair was called upon to be the guy-who-plays-first-base-against-righties-only until Anthony Rizzo came to town. Then, it would be to the bench as a utility player/pinch-hitter or maybe even back to the minors. Clearly, Lahair never got that memo, as he obliterated major league pitching throughout the month of April and made it loud and clear that he is more than worthy of starting every day at the major league level, whether it be playing an unnatural position in right field for the Cubs or playing first base/DH elsewhere. He leads the club in home runs (tied with Soriano at 13), on-base percentage (.375) and slugging percentage (.563), and he’s second on the team in extra-base hits (25).
Due to the departures of Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols from the National League over the past two years, as well as Ryan Howard’s torn achilles tendon, the crop of talent at first base is at an all-time low, which means there’s no better time for Lahair to accomplish something no Cubs fan would have ever expected him to accomplish coming into this season: making the All-Star team. Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman are unquestionably the two best first baseman in the NL right now and are virtual locks to make the All-Star team. But after them, you’d have to make a very strong case to convince me that Lahair is NOT the next best player at his position (Adam Laroche may have more RBIs, but the average and OPS aren’t even close, in favor of Lahair). If the retired Tony LaRussa decided he wanted three first baseman on his All-Star roster, I would like to think that Lahair would be his third guy. After witnessing a journeyman knuckleballer become the frontrunner for the NL Cy Young Award while throwing 41 consecutive scoreless innings and back-to-back complete game one-hitters (that would be R.A. Dickey if you haven’t caught on), nothing in baseball would shock me anymore. And that includes Bryan Lahair becoming an All-Star.
Alfonso Soriano, Outfield
The way Soriano’s career has panned out in Chicago over the past few years, never did I think he’d make it to this list. But here we are, near the end of June, and Soriano leads the team in home runs (13), RBIs (43) and extra-base hits (26), and he ranks second in slugging percentage (.485) and OPS (.800). He has also been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last month (10 homers, 21 RBIs, 18 runs and 61 total bases). Who knew? Whether you think Soriano deserves to be in consideration for an All-Star selection or not, I had to put him on here because, after all the negative things I’ve said about him over the years, he really has been one of the few bright spots for the Cubs this season, and I commend him for it. I understand that there are a plethora of outfielders to choose from, so he probably doesn’t stand a chance at making the team anyways. But for the first time in four years, I am actually proud of Fonsi. That should count for something.
Who I would pick: Starlin Castro
Although all of these guys are equally deserving in my mind (except for maybe Soriano), I would pick Castro because a) as I said before, he has become the best pure hitting shortstop in the NL, and b) there is a severe lack of depth at the shortstop position this season. With Troy Tulowitzki out for the next 2+ months with a torn groin (ouch?), and Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins stinking it up worse than a fat kid’s dutch oven, Castro is easily the best candidate of all (and that’s assuming the mildly overrated Rafael Furcal wins the starting gig). If Castro fails to make the All-Star team, it’ll just be stupid.
Who will be picked: Starlin Castro
If the NL decides to go with two first baseman (or picks Laroche as the third guy), making Lahair the odd man out, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. And because there are so many great pitchers to choose from (R.A. Dickey, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Cole Hamels, Lance Lynn, James McDonald, Johnny Cueto, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, and Johan Santana, among others), the NL can survive without Dempster as well. That, along with my reasoning above, makes picking Starlin Castro the most logical choice. Since the Cubs are so bad, they will almost certainly get only one all-star (if they get more, I’ll be pleasantly stunned). Ultimately, this is how it will probably play out.