Projecting the NL All-Star roster

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The current NL All-Star balloting totals are out,
and it looks like shortstop and the third outfielder may be the only
spots still up for grabs. So, with still six weeks left to go before
the Midsummer Classic, let’s try to guess the NL roster.

Catchers

Starter: Yadier Molina
Backups: Brian McCann, Bengie Molina

Yadier has a 157,000-vote lead over Jason Kendall and is more than
200,000 votes up on McCann, so it certainly seems as though he’ll be
the choice. At least he’s a strong enough defender that it’s not such
an embarrassing pick. McCann will surely be picked as a backup. Jesus
Flores and Carlos Ruiz have been the next most productive catchers, but
they’ve both logged DL time, as has Chris Iannetta. Bengie Molina’s big
RBI total will make him a strong candidate, though with Matt Cain and
Tim Lincecum around, it’s doubtful that he’d have to make the team as
the Giants’ lone rep.

First basemen

Starter: Albert Pujols
Backups: Adrian Gonzalez

Pujols had to settle for a backup role behind Lance Berkman last
year, but he’s easily the NL’s leading vote-getter so far this year and
he’s a full 700,000 votes up on Prince Fielder at first base. With 20
homers already, Gonzalez is practically assured of a bench spot. Joey
Votto seemed like the best choice for a third first baseman, but since
he’s on the shelf, Ryan Howard and Fielder are in the mix if another is
taken. Also, Jorge Cantu is a possibility if the Marlins need a rep and
neither Hanley Ramirez nor Josh Johnson is taken.

Second basemen

Starter: Chase Utley
Backups: Orlando Hudson, Freddy Sanchez

It should work out that there is room for five middle infielders.
I’m going with three second basemen and two shortstops, though it could
easily work out the other way. Utley, who is second to Pujols in the
overall voting, is a lock to start, and Hudson would seem to have the
obvious edge on the backup job. I’m picking Sanchez over Brandon
Phillips here, making him the lone Pirate on the squad.

Third basemen

Starter: David Wright
Backups: Ryan Zimmerman, Chipper Jones

Wright leads Zimmerman in the balloting by 200,000 votes, with
Chipper in fourth. Casey Blake is also playing very well, but that
doesn’t figure to last. Mark Reynolds has a chance of going if no other
Diamondbacks make the team. Arizona does have Justin Upton and Dan
Haren as alternatives, though.

Shortstops

Starter: Jimmy Rollins
Backup: Hanley Ramirez

Ramirez currently has a 17,000-vote lead over Rollins in the
balloting, but I’m guessing that won’t hold up, even with Ramirez
possessing 350 points of OPS on Rollins. If Ramirez does win the vote,
then Rollins won’t make the team and Miguel Tejada would seem to be the
clear favorite to act as the backup. Tejada could potentially be the
lone Astro unless Wandy Rodriguez or Carlos Lee is selected.

Outfielders

Starters: Ryan Braun, Raul Ibanez, Alfonso Soriano
Backups: Carlos Beltran, Justin Upton, Adam Dunn, Brad Hawpe

Soriano is currently 33,000 votes up on Beltran for the last starting
spot. Cubs tend to do extremely well in the voting, so I’m guessing
he’ll increase that lead, even though Beltran is the more deserving
player. If Beltran does get it, then Soriano wouldn’t seem to have a
very good chance of making the club as a reserve, potentially opening
up a spot for Mike Cameron or Nate McLouth.

The other reserves seem like clear choices. The top six outfielders
in OPS are all represented here (Ibanez, Hawpe, Upton, Beltran, Dunn
and Braun), and Hawpe would probably be the only Rockie. If Dunn gets
ripped off again, that could open up a spot for Cameron. Cameron has
been to just one All-Star Game, that coming in 2001, and this would
seem to be his last good chance to go to a second.

Pitchers

Starters: Johan Santana, Chad Billingsley, Tim Lincecum, Yovani Gallardo, Wandy Rodriguez, Josh Johnson, Johnny Cueto
Relievers: Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Broxton, Heath Bell, Trevor Hoffman, Francisco Cordero

Obviously, when it comes to pitchers, a great deal will depend on
who is scheduled to work the Sunday before the All-Star Game and who
isn’t. Odds are that either Lincecum or Cain will go from the Giants,
but not both. Other starting pitchers shaping up as options are Dan
Haren, Jair Jurrjens, Zach Duke, Jake Peavy, Adam Wainwright, Derek
Lowe and Ted Lilly.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.