My All-Star team: Youth is served and popularity means nothing
Forty-four of my 62 All-Stars (71 percent) are age 30 and younger
Eleven of my 15 starting pitchers are between 23 and 28 years old
Old guard stalwarts such as Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez are out
With only three days left before polling closes, it's time to recognize the players who should be going to the All-Star Game, as if Ben Zobrist and Aaron Hill have any chance of catching Dustin Pedroia in the balloting. My All-Star team is based purely on merit, not on popularity or some archaic rule that every team must send a representative.
Indeed, after picking 62 deserving All-Stars, I discovered five teams were shut out: the A's, White Sox, Nationals, Cubs and Reds. The Mariners, Rays, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Brewers put the most players on my team, with four apiece. Fourteen picks come out of the beastly AL East.
But what struck me most of all about this group of players is the youth. Forty-four of the 62 All-Stars were 30 and younger. I picked 15 starting pitchers, and 11 of them were between 23 and 28 years old, including my picks to start the game, Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum.
What about the old guard? They've moved on to retirement (not always voluntarily) or decline. Alex Rodriguez had made nine straight All-Star Games. Manny Ramirez had a run going of 11 straight selections. No more. Only four players are older than 35: outfielder Raul Ibanez, 37; and three relief pitchers, Ryan Franklin, 36; Mariano Rivera, 39 and Trevor Hoffman, 41.
So here are my All-Star picks that from Aardsma to Zobrist are full of new faces (starters are marked with an asterisk).
Catcher: Joe Mauer*, Victor Martinez. Mauer will take a legitimate run at .400 into July, despite the SI cover jinx sending him into a rare funk. Martinez has split time at first base and catcher, but he deserves a spot on the team and no other regular catcher comes close.
First base: Kevin Youkilis*, Justin Morneau, Russell Branyan. By far the deepest, toughest position to call in baseball. What about Mark Teixeira, Carlos Pena and Miguel Cabrera? They deserve to go, but there is no room.
Second base: Aaron Hill*, Ben Zobrist, Ian Kinsler. Surprise! Combined previous All-Star selections for this trio: one. Hill, 27, and Zobrist, 28, already have set career highs in homers and Kinsler, 27, is just two behind his highwater mark.
Shortstop: Jason Bartlett*, Derek Jeter, Marco Scutaro. Bartlett, a career .276 hitter entering this year, is batting more than 100 points above his career average. Scutaro, the most patient hitter in the league, is having a breakout year at 33 and could join Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken Jr. as the only shortstops in the past 50 years to get 100 walks. And that Jeter guy is still pretty good.
Outfield: Jason Bay*, Torii Hunter*, Carl Crawford*, Adam Jones, Ichiro Suzuki. Hunter turns 34 next month and is having a career season, far outpacing his previous highs for on-base percentage and slugging.
Designated hitter: Adam Lind*. (I'm picking a DH even though one won't be used in the game this year, because it is a regular lineup spot in the AL.) A huge June has helped make for a breakout season for Lind, including an impressive .322 average against left-handers.
Pitcher: Zack Greinke*, Roy Halladay, Kevin Millwood, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee, Jered Weaver, Edwin Jackson, Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, David Aardsma. Heavy on young starting pitchers, the AL staff is light on one ingredient: left-handed pitching. Lee is the only lefty.
First base: Albert Pujols*, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez. A similar story to the AL logjam. Todd Helton, Ryan Howard and Lance Berkman all have good arguments for being All-Stars, but they can't all go.
Third base: David Wright*, Pablo Sandoval, Mark Reynolds. It's been a very weird season for Wright, who has hit just four home runs, including only one on the road, and seen his rate of strikeouts soar -- all while leading the league in hitting (.339).
Outfield: Raul Ibanez*, Brad Hawpe*, Ryan Braun*, Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Hunter Pence. Philly fans already love Ibanez, and why not? In late and close situations he's hitting .415. (Special mention for the injured Carlos Beltran.)
Pitcher: Tim Lincecum*, Matt Cain, Dan Haren, Josh Johnson, Yovani Gallardo, Chad Billingsley, Javier Vazquez, Ryan Franklin, Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, Trevor Hoffman, Rafael Soriano. Only one starting pitcher older than 28. And you thought the AL was light on lefties? Not a single lefty on the staff here. Sorry, Johan Santana.
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