This is the All-Star Game, right?
So, shouldn’t All-Stars be PLAYING in this All-Star Game? Look, I can bore you with the same information you’ve been getting drilled with by ESPN, SI and other sports outlets. Yes, there is no reason for Omar Infante, who isn’t an everyday player for the Atlanta Braves, to be on the team. Yes, there is no reason Yadier Molina should be starting behind the plate for the NL while Miguel Olivio sits at home. And yes, what the hell is Joey Votto, arguably the NL MVP for the first half, not doing on this roster behind Charlie Manuel’s man-crush Ryan Howard?
But, I digress. My problem, as a writer for The Nats Blog, is in the selection of who is representing the Nationals. Every team needs a rep, and I fully understand and appreciate this rule. Every team has an All-Star in some way, shape and form. And on smaller market teams, this is the only way for these players to get true national exposure to the casual baseball fan.
Here at The Nats Blog, we are not casual sports fans. We are diehards. We love our baseball and really wouldn’t know what to do without it, so I take offense when the Nationals get misrepresented in situations such as these. First, the only positive to take from Charlie Manuel’s handling of the Nats selection is bypassing Stephen Strasburg. Is Strasburg the biggest draw in baseball right now? Yes. But, when deserving pitchers like Matt Latos, Luke Gregerson and Mike Pelfrey (his Monday performance against the Reds not withstanding), who have pitched the FULL first half and not merely a portion of it, clearly there shouldn’t be room Strasburg.This brings me to my problem with the player going to Anaheim from the Washington stable. Matt Capps, who pitched like an All-Star for the first six weeks of the season, has not preformed like an All-Star closer as of late. His performance on Saturday against the Mets was very impressive and did indeed save the game for the Nats, who struck against the mercurial K-Rod for the walk off win. His numbers on the surface are the worst amongst the pitchers selected for the game. His 22 saves are flashy, but Francisco Cordero has 23, is a closer on a first place team, and he isn’t on this team because of an inflated ERA. Capps’ 3.19 ERA, while not terrible, is not an ERA of a closer deserving of an All-Star nod.
Where is the justice for the Nationals true All-Star, Outfielder Josh Willingham. He’s hitting .279/.413/.512, he has 15 homers and 46 RBI, he’s on pace to set a career high in walks, and he’s arguably been the balancing power in this line-up that has added depth behind Dunn and Zimmerman. So, if your argument is that there were too many OFs already in the game and the team was better off adding a pitcher in Capps, let’s examine the OFs that made it over Willingham.
The starters Ryan Braun and Andre Ethier you can’t argue with. Braun has been Mr. Everything for the Brewers, and before Ethier’s stint on the DL, he was giving Joey Votto a run for his money as first half MVP (again, how the hell is Votto not on this team? Did anybody see the bombs he launched in Citi Field, one off fellow All-Star snub Mike Pelfrey in the first? Unreal.). Jason Heyward is injured, so he will be replaced on this roster, and while his numbers would otherwise not warrant selection to the roster, you do need to remember this kid is 20 and is hitting to the tune of .251/.366/.455 with 45 RBI.
Now, there are five OFs on the bench. Corey Hart, who is likely to replace Heyward in the starting line-up, deserves to be on this team, no question – 19 HRs 61 RBI and a .288 average at the break is plenty to get yourself into the starting line-up. Three of the other outfielders are their teams lone representatives to the game. Marlon Byrd of the Cubs is the clear choice from the lonely part of ChiTown, as he’s been the only bright spot this year for the Cubs. Chris Young of the Diamondbacks is having a great bounce-back season after a minor league demotion last year, and Mark Reynolds, who didn’t make this team, isn’t having the type of season other NL 3B are having (see: David Wright, Scott Rolen).
However, the final two All-Star outfielders are a questionable, one more than the other. Michael Bourn, the Astros lone rep, is having an OK season this year on a dreadful team. He’s a burner who’s starting to draw walks and fall into his role of lead-off hitter. But, he’s only batting .268 and an OPS of .678. However, while he doesn’t have the wins, Roy Oswalt is still pitching like an All-Star. That said, I can understand getting Bourn a chance to show off his speed in the game. Then again, if you take Oswalt from the Astros, you could theoretically switch out Matt Capps with the more deserving Willingham.
That pick isn’t the one I disagree with, though. My problem comes down to Charlie Manuel’s decision to carry Matt Holliday as his fifth bench OF over Willingham. Matt Holliday, while having a decent season, is not having a Matt Holliday season as he tries to live up to his massive contract. He has fewer homers and runs batted in than Willingham, and you could even make a strong case for one of Holliday’s fellow St. Louis OFs, Colby Rasmus, to make it over both Holliday and Willingham. Holliday is a flashy name to have on the team, but this game isn’t about the flashy names to the fans. It’s about sending the players that deserve to be there. Josh Willingham has been the Nats’ offensive MVP and most surprising player. Why isn’t he on this team? I don’t know. But it is a shame for a player that went overlooked by the Florida Marlins, then by Manny Acta, and now by Charlie Manuel. A shame is what it is. A shame.