Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder

Projecting the 2011 NL All-Star team

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With one month until the game, he’s my first attempt to project the NL All-Star roster.  The team will have 34 players, usually 21 hitters and 13 pitchers.  Remember that all 16 teams need to be represented.

Catcher
Locks: None
Possibilies: Brian McCann, Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero, Chris Iannetta, Ramon Hernandez, Jonathan Lucroy

With Buster Posey down, I thought Molina would cruise in winning the popular vote for the third straight year. However, now it looks like McCann might get to start an All-Star Game for the first time. He’s currently 300,000 votes ahead of Molina.

It will be interesting to see if Molina makes the squad if he’s not voted in. He got off to a great start offensively, but he’s cooled now and he’s not having his usual success throwing out basestealers. Montero looks like he’ll have a pretty good case for the spot, but since he’s another left-handed hitter, he doesn’t exactly compliment McCann.

First base
Locks: Albert Pujols
Possibilities: Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Gaby Sanchez, Todd Helton

I’d like to say Votto is a lock, but he’s second to Pujols in the balloting and he wasn’t picked as a reserve last year. He only made the team by winning the fan’s Final Vote as the 34th player.

Even with Adrian Gonzalez out of the mix, first base is stacked. Pujols seems likely to win the vote now that he’s overcome his rough start. With the DH spot available, the NL could take four first basemen and start both Pujols and Votto. Fielder should be the third man in. Howard could well be the fourth, even though he’s not having the season that Sanchez is.

Second base
Locks: None
Possibilities: Brandon Phillips, Rickie Weeks, Chase Utley, Neil Walker, Danny Espinosa, Kelly Johnson, Justin Turner

I think Weeks is pretty much a sure thing to make the team, even though he’s currently 300,000 votes back of Phillips. Utley is as 470,000 votes back and probably has too big of a gap to make up. Besides Weeks, no NL second baseman is having a very good year. Excluding Utley’s 20 games, Daniel Murphy is the only even occasional second baseman with a .750 OPS and he’s playing first now.

That said, I do think Walker has a shot here. He’s driven in 42 runs already.

Third base
Locks: Placido Polanco
Possibilites: Chipper Jones, Ryan Roberts, Ryan Zimmerman, Chase Headley, Scott Rolen, Pablo Sandoval, Aramis Ramirez

Injuries have really decimated the competition here. Polanco is the vote leader by a cool 630,000 ballots over Jones, and it’s hard to see that changing. Chipper deserves to go as the backup as long as he’s still healthy in mid-July.

Roberts could be an option if the NL insists on taking a utilityman, like it did with Omar Infante last year.

Shortstop
Locks: Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes
Possibilities: Stephen Drew, Jimmy Rollins, Starlin Castro, Alex Gonzalez

Tulo is going to win the vote, and Reyes is pretty much guaranteed of a spot as a backup. Drew is the obvious choice if the NL takes a third shortstop, and given the lack of quality options at second or third, it might as well.

Outfield
Locks: Ryan Braun
Possibilities: Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, Matt Kemp, Andrew McCutchen, Hunter Pence, Jay Bruce, Andre Ethier, Ryan Ludwick, Mike Stanton, Carlos Beltran, Mike Morse, Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Young, Justin Upton, Martin Prado, Drew Stubbs, Shane Victorino, Kosuke Fukudome

Berkman and Holliday have substantial leads over Ethier and Kemp in the balloting, so it looks like they’ll go. As much as Votto deserves to start for the NL, the team would actually be better off putting Kemp or McCutchen into the starting lineup and using Berkman as a DH. Otherwise, it’s going to Holliday in center field to start.

Pence is the obvious choice to go as the Astros’ rep, and it’s hard to imagine Bruce being overlooked.  It’d be nice to see Beltran get a nod for his performance this year, but it’s probably for the best that he takes the three days off to rest up.

Starting Pitchers
Locks: Roy Halladay
Possibilities: Jair Jurrjens, Cole Hamels, Tommy Hanson, Kyle Lohse, Shaun Marcum, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Jhoulys Chacin, Anibal Sanchez, Charlie Morton, Wandy Rodriguez, Tim Stauffer, Ian Kennedy, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Cliff Lee, Jaime Garcia

It still too early to try to make the calls here, though I am listing Halladay as a lock.  A few spots will likely come down to who pitches the Sunday before the game.

Relievers
Locks: None
Possibilities: Brian Wilson, Heath Bell, Leo Nunez, Joel Hanrahan, J.J. Putz, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonny Venters, Huston Street, Ryan Madson, Francisco Cordero, Craig Kimbrel, Drew Storen, John Axford, Mike Adams, Tyler Clippard, Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall

I’ll be pretty upset if Venters isn’t selected.  He’s been the NL’s best reliever all year long.

OK, let’s give it a try:

NL All-Star team

Lineup
3B Placido Polanco
DH Joey Votto
1B Albert Pujols
LF Ryan Braun
SS Troy Tulowitzki
RF Lance Berkman
CF Matt Holliday
C Brian McCann
2B Brandon Phillips

Bench
C Yadier Molina
1B Prince Fielder
1B Ryan Howard
2B Rickie Weeks
3B Chipper Jones
SS Jose Reyes
SS Stephen Drew
OF Matt Kemp
OF Andrew McCutchen
OF Jay Bruce
OF Hunter Pence
OF Mike Stanton

Pitchers

Roy Halladay
Tommy Hanson
Cole Hamels
Jair Jurrjens
Tim Lincecum
Clayton Kershaw
Shaun Marcum

Brian Wilson
Heath Bell
Jonny Venters
Joel Hanrahan
Drew Storen
Carlos Marmol

I didn’t have a Cub in my original go, so Marmol squeezed Ryan Madson out of a slot.  Sean Marshall might be an even better choice, but I’m already pushing my luck by picking one setup man.

The Nationals got their selection in Storen, though Tyler Clippard would be just as good.  Jordan Zimmermann is starting to look like a candidate, too.

As it turned out, Stanton makes it as the lone Marlin.  Leo Nunez and Anibal Sanchez were near misses.

I held back with the Giants, even though Bruce Bochy will want some of his own players on there. He might have gone with Freddy Sanchez as a reserve infielder, but that’s no longer a possilbility.  I’m sure he’ll squeeze one of his starting pitchers on the team, whether it’s Lincecum, Matt Cain or Madison Bumgarner.  Also, Wilson will likely be reserved for closing duties if there’s a save opportunity.

The Cubs will soon announce a five-year contract extension for Theo Epstein

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 27: Theo Epstein (R), President of Operations for the Chicago Cubs, talks with head football coach Jim Harbaugh of the University of Michigan before the game between the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Carrie Muskat of MLB.com just tweeted that the Cubs will soon announce a five-year contract extension for president Theo Epstein. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that it’s worth in excess of $50 million.

He’s earned it. When he took over the Cubs in October, 2011 the Cubs were a last place team with an aging roster and a front office that was several years behind the state of the art in every conceivable way. Last year the Cubs made the playoffs and this year they are baseball’s best team by a large margin and the franchise looks poised to continue its success for some time.

So, yeah, I’d say locking Theo up is a good idea.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Wednesday’s action

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 21:  Starting pitcher Clay Buchholz #11 of the Boston Red Sox throws to a Baltimore Orioles batter in the first inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 21, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Red Sox will once again attempt to clinch the AL East after failing to do so on Tuesday night. They can seal the division with a win against the Yankees or a Blue Jays loss to the Orioles on Wednesday evening.

Clay Buchholz will take the hill for the BoSox against Yankees right-hander Bryan Mitchell in a 7:05 PM EDT start at Yankee Stadium. Buchholz hasn’t exactly been Mr. Reliable this season, holding a 5.00 ERA with an 87/53 K/BB ratio in 133 1/3 innings. However, he has been in three of four starts since returning to the rotation earlier this month. Over those four starts, he owns a 3.97 ERA and a 15/8 K/BB ratio in 22 2/3 innings.

Meanwhile, at the Rogers Centre, the Jays will send out Francisco Liriano against the Orioles’ Chris Tillman in a 7:07 PM EDT start. Liriano has been much improved since coming to the Jays from the Pirates, so the Orioles will have their hands full.

As for Wild Card action, the Royals can be eliminated if they lose to the Twins or if the Orioles beat the Jays. The Yankees can be eliminated by losing to the Red Sox and the Orioles defeating the Jays. In the National League, the Marlins can be eliminated by losing to the Mets or the Giants beating the Rockies.

The rest of Wednesday’s action…

Arizona Diamondbacks (Shelby Miller) @ Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez), 7:05 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Clay Buchholz) @ New York Yankees (Bryan Mitchell), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Jameson Taillon), 7:05 PM EDT

Baltimore Orioles (Chris Tillman) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Francisco Liriano), 7:07 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Zach McAllister) @ Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer), 7:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Seth Lugo) @ Miami Marlins (Jose Urena), 7:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Adam Morgan) @ Atlanta Braves (Mike Foltynewicz), 7:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Ervin Santana) @ Kansas City Royals (Jason Vargas), 7:15 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Blake Snell) @ Chicago White Sox (Miguel Gonzalez), 8:10 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Anthony DeSclafani) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Mike Leake), 8:15 PM EDT

Oakland Athletics (Sonny Gray) @ Los Angeles Angels (Alex Meyer), 10:05 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Jose De Leon) @ San Diego Padres (Luis Perdomo), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Tyler Chatwood) @ San Francisco Giants (Jeff Samardzija), 10:15 PM EDT