How the All-Star starting lineups ought to look
As it should be for an exhibition event in a country with democratic ideals, MLB's All-Star starting spots are determined by fan vote.Certainly, this is a matter that rubs some the wrong way, given the import attached to the World Series advantage that is on the line at the Midsummer Classic. But as long as many of those said starters are still leaving the ballpark and headed to the airport well before the last out, this is an exhibition, through and through. So as far as I'm concerned, let the people's punches and clicks be heard. And they'll be heard Sunday, when TBS televises the 2012 MLB All-Star Game Selection Show and reveals the starting lineups and rosters for the July 10 game in Kansas City. Recognizing, however, that democratic outcomes are not always idyllic, it's worth the effort here in these final moments of the first half to construct All-Star squads based on mere merit and not pure popularity. Here, then, is a position-by-position look at the lineups of what I'll aggressively call the Actual All-Stars. All stats are through Wednesday's play. FIRST BASE AL: Paul Konerko, White Sox (.333 average, .961 OPS, 13 homers, 39 RBIs) NL: Joey Votto, Reds (.353, 1.121, 14, 47) Comment: The under-appreciation of Konerko continued with this week's balloting update, in which he trailed Prince Fielder by more than a half-million votes. Where the ageless Konerko didn't trail is in the batting average, home run and OPS tallies. Paulie's a pretty easy pick, but Votto is a total no-brainer. His chokehold on the starting spot and his top spot overall in the voting is well-deserved. SECOND BASE AL: Robinson Cano, Yankees (.308, .953, 18, 41) NL: Jose Altuve, Astros (.309, .803, 12 stolen bases) Comment: Cano has come a long, long way from a season-opening slump to once again emerge as the class of a competitive position in which the Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia, the Rangers' Ian Kinsler and now the Indians' Jason Kipnis all warrant consideration. But at last count, Cano (3,559,290 votes) was in a dogfight with Kinsler (3,462,367) in the fan ballots. It's more of a toss-up in the NL. The Braves' Dan Uggla was leading the fan vote at last count, and with 11 homers and 42 RBIs, he's as deserving as anybody. The Reds' Brandon Phillips, the D-backs' Aaron Hill and the Marlins' Omar Infante also present strong cases. But what can I say? I'm a sucker for the small guys, and the 5-foot-5 Altuve is having a breakout season on a bad team. SHORTSTOP AL: Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians (.289, .842, 9, 34) NL: Jed Lowrie, Astros (.266, .855, 14, 33) Comment: Derek Jeter is, naturally, the leading vote-getter, and his return to his .300-hitting ways of old makes that standing more appropriate than it was a year ago. But the Rangers' Elvis Andrus and Cabrera are perhaps even more deserving -- Cabrera for his power, Andrus for his speed and defense. You can't go wrong with any of them, but I'll give Cabrera the nod for his superior on-base and slugging percentages. Crazy as it might seem, given the fortunes of their team at large, a pair of Astros make up my middle infield. In a down year for Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes, I'm giving Lowrie the slight nod over the Cubs' Starlin Castro, though we're in coin-flip territory here. Lowrie leads all big league shortstops in OPS and homers. THIRD BASE AL: Adrian Beltre, Rangers (.333, .903, 13, 49) NL: David Wright, Mets (.357, 1.008, 8, 47) Comment: Give Miguel Cabrera credit for not being the total train wreck at third that so many expected him to be (and, of course, while maintaining monster numbers), but Beltre's still the best at the hot corner. As far as the NL is concerned, you'd be hard-pressed to pick anybody other than Wright, who has been a wrecking ball. OUTFIELD AL: LF Josh Hamilton, Rangers (.312, 1.022, 24, 67); CF Mike Trout, Angels (.344, .934, 7, 30); RF Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (.237, .898, 25, 58) NL: LF Ryan Braun, Brewers (.311, .988, 20, 52); CF Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (.342, .984, 14, 48); RF Carlos Beltran, Cardinals (.312, .982, 20, 59) Comment: The All-Star ballot does not differentiate between outfield positions, but I'll take a little more strict approach with the Actual All-Stars. Hamilton splits his time between left and center, so we'll stick him in left to make room for the 20-year-old Trout, who was not on the All-Star ballot but has had an unbelievable impact on the Angels the past two months. You are hereby free to gripe about the absence of Austin Jackson, Adam Jones and Curtis Granderson, each of whom is also deserving. And in right field, though tempted to include another Angel in Mark Trumbo (.313, .975, 18, 50), Bautista plays the position every day and is once again hitting homers at a profound pace. And it's a shame I'm being a stickler for positioning, because that makes for an inordinately tough call in left field in the NL, where Braun and Carlos Gonzalez (.333, .995, 17, 54) are both having incredible years. Please forgive me, CarGo. Meanwhile, McCutchen doesn't get enough credit for what he does for a living, and Matt Kemp's absence essentially since mid-May pulls him out of the picture. Beltran has effectively replaced Albert Pujols' middle-of-the-order presence for the Cards. CATCHER AL: Joe Mauer, Twins (.321, .848, 3, 34) NL: Carlos Ruiz, Phillies (.364, 1.021, 11, 43) Comment: Nice to see Mauer healthy and productive again, even if his power is still absent. And Chooch has put together a sensational first half that edges that of Yadi Molina and Buster Posey. DESIGNATED HITTER AL: David Ortiz, Red Sox (.309, 1.028, 21, 53) NL: N/A Comment: A case can certainly be made for Adam Dunn, who is back to being The Big Donkey of old, but nobody does the DH duties better than Big Papi. Were the Actual All-Stars forced to play a fictional game, CarGo would be the go-to for the DH spot, though I'd be tempted to put the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton in there and hope he smacks a scoreboard-breaking, 500-foot homer. STARTING PITCHER AL: Justin Verlander, Tigers (8-4, 2.52 ERA) NL: Matt Cain, Giants (9-2, 2.27) Comment: Jered Weaver and Chris Sale are among those in the mix, but I don't know how anybody could say Verlander is not the best pitcher in the AL and maintain a straight face. The perfect game alone didn't earn Cain this NL nod; six seasons of innings-eating dependability despite lackluster run support did. While R.A. Dickey's achievements are amazing and Stephen Strasburg is always must-see TV, Cain's steady success in what has been a career year currently gives him the edge over the whims of the knuckleball and the 100-mph heat. Feel free to list your Actual All-Stars in the comments section below.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.