|2011 All-Star Game|
The strength of this divisional All-Star team is going to be mitigated by the fact that we're only picking one starting pitcher, one non-closing reliever and one closer, because this sucker is stacked with pitching. The lineup is no slouch either, in what is probably the second-best division in the majors, if not better than the vaunted AL East. I would have said the NL East was better top-to-bottom if it wasn't for that dreadful June by the Marlins. Anywho, let's get to it.
C Brian McCann, Braves: It's an easy choice, but that doesn't mean the other guys suck. Not by any stretch. Carlos Ruiz, Ronny Paulino, John Buck and Wilson Ramos are admirable backstops to varying degrees, but McCann is the best catcher in baseball this season, hands down. He's hitting .314 with 14 homers and an OPS over .900, not to mention he calls the games for one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.
1B Gaby Sanchez, Marlins: Before freaking out, Phillies fans, remember we're using DHs in this little exercise (wink, wink). We're also going to set Michael Morse aside for later and Ike Davis is injured. So it boils down to Freddie Freeman and Gaby Sanchez. Freeman's been hot of late and is hitting .279 with 13 homers, 42 RBI and a .354 OBP. Sanchez is hitting .290 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and a .370 OBP. He's also superior defensively be several metrics, so it's Sanchez in a close call.
3B Placido Polanco, Phillies: We'd be a lot stronger here if David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman and Chipper Jones were completely healthy and hitting up to their full potential, but things haven't gone that way. Jones is in obvious age decline, Zimmerman has struggled -- until very recently -- after a lenghty stint on the DL and Wright has been on the shelf for all but 39 games. Polanco, on the other hand, has provided steady defense for the Phillies at the hot corner and is hitting .274 with a .331 OBP.
SS Jose Reyes, Mets: Back in early April, we may have thought this would be a three-horse race between Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins and Reyes, but it's not even close. Ramirez had been awful up until the past few weeks and while Rollins is good, Reyes has been an MVP candidate -- at least until he fell injured a few days ago. Reyes leads the majors in hits, triples and batting average while also leading the NL in runs scored.
LF Michael Morse, Nationals: Hey, he's played 27 games in left, even though he's primarily a first baseman now. I'm using him here because we wanted to put together the best possible lineup and the other choices out in left in this division weren't great. Logan Morrison was the next best choice, while Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay are simply far overpaid at this point. Morse, however, has been tearing the cover off the ball since the beginning of May. He's hitting .303 with 15 homers, 48 RBI and an .887 OPS.
CF Shane Victorino, Phillies: The All-Star is really the only choice here. Angel Pagan was injured for a while Victorino has far exceeded the production of Roger Bernadina. Victorino's hitting .303 with a .376 OBP, 53 runs and 13 steals. He also plays a stellar center field behind that vaunted Phillies pitching staff.
RF Carlos Beltran, Mets: Who woulda thought this one coming into the season, huh? You've got the young studs Mike Stanton and Jason Heyward out in right in this division, meanwhile Beltran had to move to right from center to keep his knee injury from reaggravating. All he's done is go out and make his sixth All-Star team. In addition to leading the NL in doubles (26), Beltran is hitting .283 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI and a robust .372 OBP.
DH Ryan Howard, Phillies: If Chipper Jones or Ryan Zimmerman were having better seasons or David Wright and Ike Davis were healthy, this might have been a much tougher choice. Stanton could be an option, too, but I'm going Howard. He has 18 homers, an NL-best 71 RBI, an .842 OPS and just feels like a menacing DH in the batter's box.
SP Roy Halladay, Phillies: Do I seriously have to pick just one? We could put together a five-man rotation of ace-caliber pitchers -- Halladay, Jair Jurrjens, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Tommy Hanson -- and still have the likes of Anibal Sanchez, Jordan Zimmermann and the injured Josh Johnson left over. What if Johan Santana and Stephen Strasburg were healthy? This is the most pitching-rich division in the majors, including the bullpen. And it's only going to get better as the young arms further develop and a dude named Stephen Strasburg gets healthy. Anyway, I have to pick one, so it's the best pitcher in baseball. Maybe Justin Verlander has a case over Halladay, but he's not in this division. Just remember, if we went out to 25-man rosters, this division would have the sickest pitching staff of all.
RP Jonny Venters, Braves: Antonio Bastardo has been excellent for the Phillies. He has a 0.87 ERA and has stranded over 99 percent of his baserunners. He's struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings and has now collected five saves. Tyler Clippard has also been outstanding. He has a 1.86 ERA and strikes out batters at an even higher pace than Bastardo. But Venters has been dominant in 53 1/3 innings (Bastardo has 31) and has thrown in more high-leverage situations than Clippard. According to FanGraph's wins above replacement player, the only relief pitcher in the NL more valuable than Venters this season has been Craig Kimbrel, who you'll see below.
CL Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Drew Storen and Francisco Rodriguez have been good, but Kimbrel leads the majors with 27 saves and has struck out 70 batters in just 45 innings. Sure, he's blown five saves, but none since June 8. Since then, he's closed all nine opportunities and hasn't even given up a run in his last 13 games. He definitely looks the part of a young Billy Wagner. Only workload is a concern for the 23-year-old at this point.
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