This year’s All-Star Game rosters are finally here, and as usual, there were plenty of surprises, snubs, and rightful recognition accompanying the announcement. To spare you from sporting the same flummoxed expression that NL manager Terry Collins wore on ESPN’s selection show, let’s make sense of it all by doling out some superlatives:
Strongest Representation: Chicago Cubs
If you flip on the All-Star Game while the NL’s in the field, you might find yourself wondering if you’re watching a regular Cubs game. After all, Chicago’s entire infield — Anthony Rizzo (first base), Ben Zobrist (second base), Addison Russell (shortstop), and Kris Bryant (third base) — earned starting honors thanks to a system that rewards diligent/insane fans over actual player production. (Nolan Arenado might want to touch base with the Pied Piper dudes to get some recommendations on the best online users to rent). They’ll be joined by starting outfielder Dexter Fowler (if he’s healthy) and pitchers Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. We’d better get used to it, because at this rate, there’s a good chance that Joe Maddon will be managing in next year’s All-Star Game.
Meanwhile, the World Series–winning Royals had just two players reign victorious in the fan vote — Eric Hosmer and Salvador Pérez. Whatever happened to Royals fans rigging the vote for Kansas City players? A few weeks ago, it looked like most of AL’s starting lineup would be composed of Royals, but KC fans’ production dipped more precipitously than Alcides Escobar’s. I wanted to see Orioles fans go ballistic when Cheslor Cuthbert beat out Manny Machado at third base, and Jarrod Dyson over Mike Trout would have been hilarious. I wanted to see Whit Merrifield in the All-Star Game, dammit, but when you have a World Series title, I guess midseason honors ring hollow.
Best Selection for Purely Baseball Reasons: Xander Bogaerts
Yes, Bogaerts had the ever-passionate Red Sox Nation behind him, but it would have been easy for fans to support a household name like Troy Tulowitzki or reigning Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa instead. Nevertheless, Bogaerts was named the AL’s starting shortstop, and deservedly so — he leads all shortstops in batting average and OBP, and he’s already slugged more homers this season (nine) than he did last season (seven). A whopping five teammates will join him in San Diego, including David Ortiz, who we can only hope will make an emotional return to first base (à la Cal Ripken’s move to shortstop in 2001).
Best Selection for Purely Personal Reasons: José Altuve
Don’t get me wrong: Altuve deserved to be the AL’s starting second baseman for baseball reasons (he’s batting .352 and has a 4.4 WAR, for chrissake), but his personality and style of play will make this All-Star Game a more enjoyable television spectacle. I want to see him try like crazy to hit for the cycle, steal hats from befuddled teammates, and relentlessly prank veteran players. Also, the more opportunities for the 5-foot-6 Altuve to take photos with tall dudes (Dellin Betances?), the better, and he’ll fit right in with the kids shagging flies in the outfield at the Home Run Derby.
Most Egregious Snub: Pittsburgh Pirates Duo Gregory Polanco and Starling Marté
With apologies to Altuve’s ASG-worthy teammate George Springer, who had to settle for Final Vote consideration, we’re shifting our attention to the senior circuit for this one. Chicks dig the long ball, and apparently, so do NL players, who chose sluggers Carlos González and Adam Duvall as reserves over the superior duo (according to FanGraphs’ WAR, at least) of Polanco and Marté. Reliever Mark Melancon will be the lone Pirate going to San Diego, and although Marté was named a Final Vote candidate, he’ll have to beat out Ryan Braun and three others just to receive a belated nomination. Even if Marté makes it, he won’t be joined by teammate Andrew McCutchen, who will be missing out on the All-Star Game for the first time since 2010.
Biggest Opportunity for Managerial Bias: Terry Collins and Noah Syndergaard
If the All-Star Game were a total meritocracy, either Madison Bumgarner or Arrieta would start for the NL next Tuesday. Bumgarner and Arrieta boast the second- and third-best Adjusted ERA+ figures in the NL, respectively, and with Clayton Kershaw nursing a back injury, one of them deserves to take the mound first in San Diego. But, as Bruce Bochy has taught us, that’s not how the All-Star Game works — managers wield an inordinate amount of power, and they’re almost always going to favor their own players. Accordingly, there’s a good chance that NL manager Terry Collins will name Mets ace Noah Syndergaard as his starter, even if Thor isn’t the most worthy of the honor.
Of course, Collins could go in the opposite direction and rest Syndergaard completely, given that he’s suffering from a bone spur in his elbow. While perfectly sensible, this would rob fans of the chance to watch perhaps the most exciting young pitcher in baseball — a guy who clocks 100 mph with relative ease and turns grown men into Jell-O when he throws a slider. Plus, with Bumgarner, Trout, and Bryce Harper not participating in the Home Run Derby, excitement will be at a premium next week, and Syndergaard is always appointment viewing.