Matthew Pouliot

Josh Phegley

Josh Phegley is the new Yasiel Puig

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Puigmania is over. It’s old news. Could there be any better illustration than the fact that Freddie Freeman beat out Yasiel in a popularity contest this week?

It’s OK, though. White Sox catcher Josh Phegley is the new big thing. He hit a grand slam Thursday in the White Sox’s 6-3 win over the Tigers, giving him three homers in his first five games.

The 25-year-old Phegley is the 29th player in major league history to hit three homers in his first five games. Only Mike Jacobs and Puig have managed four. Other recent players to hit three include Manny Machado, Yoenis Cespedes, Will Middlebrooks and Yasmani Grandal.

Phegley’s eight RBI through five games is tied for the 10th highest total in big league history. Jack Merson, Danny Espinosa and Puig had 10 RBI through five games. Hall of Famer Paul Molitor is among the players with nine.

A 2009 supplemental first-round pick out of Indiana, Phegley took a big step forward by hitting .316/.368/.597 with 15 homers in 231 at-bats for Triple-A Charlotte prior to his callup last week. He hit just .266/.306/.373 with six homers in 394 at-bats last year for the same team. While this year may prove to be something of a fluke for him offensively, he has overtaken Tyler Flowers in the White Sox’s plans, and he’s probably going to be the team’s primary catcher going forward.

Now if only Salvador Perez will back out so we can get him on the All-Star team where he belongs.

Carlos Gonzalez out, Pedro Alvarez in for Home Run Derby

Pedro Alvarez
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Carlos Gonzalez isn’t too banged up to play for the Rockies or to participate in next week’s All-Star Game, but due to his finger injury, he has opted out of Monday’s Home Run Derby.

Replacing Gonzalez on the NL squad is Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez. Alvarez is tied with the Phillies’ Domonic Brown for second place in the league with 23 homers, one behind Gonzalez. Yet both Alvarez and Brown went unpicked as NL captain initially selected Michael Cuddyer and Bryce Harper to round out his four-man squad.

Alvarez probably was the best choice of the options. While Brown has just as many homers, his average homer has been estimated at just 380.5 feet. That ranks dead last among all players with at least 10 homers, according to Hittrackeronline.com. Alvarez comes in at 406.7 feet, which, while not approaching Justin Upton’s MLB-best 428.0 mark, is at least above the median. He also leads the majors with nine “no doubt” home runs, as hittrackeronline describes them.

The 26-year-old Alvarez is a first-time All-Star this year. He’s recovered from a lousy April to hit .253/.315/.521 with 60 RBI in 82 games to date.

So, if MLB suspends Braun and A-Rod, what’s next?

Home plate umpire Additon calls time as Tampa Yankees' Rodriguez grimaces after he was hit by a pitch during a Single A baseball game with the Brevard County Manatees in Melbourne
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T.J. Quinn and Mike Fish reported Tuesday that MLB is prepared to suspend Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and “as many as 20 players” in connection with the Biogenesis scandal “sometime after next week’s All-Star break.” Outside the Lines got this from several sources, some likely from within the commissioner’s office. MLB hasn’t been shy about leaking info in the case.

Of course, “after the All-Star break” is pretty general. One would think it’d have to be pretty much right around the All-Star break for there to be even a slim chance of any suspensions being served this year. It’s typically a couple of months between when a player is notified he tested positive for a banned substance and the appeals process plays out (which is all supposed to be happening in secret). In this case, it could be considerably longer, given that there aren’t any positive tests.  MLB may announce the suspensions all at once, but there are going to be 20 or so distinct cases here, all of which could be argued separately.

With the appeals process to be played out, it’s just not very realistic to think that anyone is going to end up serving suspensions this year. That’s true even though it’d seem to be best for Braun and A-Rod to serve suspensions now rather than next year, given the Brewers’ disappointing record and the state of Rodriguez’s hip. Braun hasn’t been willing to admit any wrongdoing, and hasn’t cooperated with MLB’s investigation. Does anyone think he’ll give up his right to appeal now?

There are also key figures for contenders in the mix. The Rangers’ Nelson Cruz and the Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta are among those rumored to be in line for suspensions. The Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez is mentioned in Biogenesis documents, though reports have him being in the clear since he obtained only legal substances.

If MLB wants to suspend the players, the time to do it is either now or after the World Series. Overshadowing the pennant races by doing it in August or September would be profoundly dumb. Even though MLB likes to parade its dirty laundry for all to see, it’s not that stupid. But even if the players are suspended now, this almost certainly will turn into an offseason matter. 12 weeks isn’t enough time to work through the biggest set of suspensions in league history.

Report: Nationals acquire Scott Hairston from Cubs

Scott Hairston
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Looking for another weapon to combat left-handed pitchers, the Nationals picked up Scott Hairston from the Cubs on Sunday night, a source told FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal.

Rosenthal says the Cubs will get a minor league pitcher in return.

Hairston had to be expecting a bigger role than the one he found in Chicago after signing a two-year, $5 million contract with the Cubs in the offseason. He ended up getting just 98 at-bats in the Cubs’ 86 games and hitting .163/.225/.398 with seven homers and 18 RBI. Last year, Hairston hit .263/.299/.504 with 20 homers in 377 at-bats for the Mets.

Unfortunately, Hairston isn’t looking at an expanded role in Washington, not as long as the team’s starting outfielders stay healthy. Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth are all everyday players, and the Nats aren’t going to pick one to start benching against lefties, although they do want to give Harper more time off as he deals with a sore knee. Hairston has no experience at first base, so he probably won’t be of any help there. However, he will be an upgrade over Tyler Moore as a late-game option off the bench.

The Nationals will be the seventh team for the 34-year-old Hairston. He’s still looking to go to the playoffs for the first time in his 10 big-league seasons.

Evan Longoria, Stephen Strasburg lead All-Star snubs

Evan Longoria
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No matter how bloated the All-Star rosters get, it’s never hard to find imperfections. This year, two of the AL’s top 10 performers to date have been left off for no good reason. For some reason, manager Jim Leyland’s squad took three catchers and four second basemen, but just two from third base, which has been the league’s deepest position. That’s where our biggest snubs are found.

American League

Evan Longoria (3B Rays): Despite some recent foot troubles, Longoria has played in 84 games this year and posted the AL’s sixth-best OPS at .908. While they wouldn’t admit it, the Rays are probably happy that Longoria wasn’t chosen, since he’ll now have four days to rest his foot during the break. On merit, though, he was a clear choice. Even if the AL was only going to take two third basemen, he could have been picked over Baltimore’s Manny Machado.

Josh Donaldson (3B Athletics): Donaldson is right behind Longoria in seventh place in the AL in OPS, and he’s been the biggest bat on a surprisingly strong Oakland offense. Leyland should have simply taken all four third basemen — Miguel Cabrera, Longoria, Machado and Donaldson — and subtracted Salvador Perez and Ben Zobrist from the squad. Zobrist, while a valuable player, has an OPS nearly 200 points worse than Donaldson’s this season (.724 to .903).

Grant Balfour (RHP Athletics): How exciting of MLB to set it up so that the AL portion of the final vote is between a bunch of setup men (Joaquin Benoit, Steve Delabar, David Robertson, Tanner Scheppers and Koji Uehara). Balfour and his 40 consecutive saves (22 this year) couldn’t even crack that list. The A’s are a first-place team, yet they have just one All-Star in Bartolo Colon. Balfour, with his 1.82 ERA, was just as worthy as any other reliever in the league.

Howie Kendrick (2B Angels): It’s pretty stunning that the AL took four second basemen and still couldn’t find room for this guy. Kendrick is batting .317/.360/.473 with 10 homers so far. Maybe he didn’t deserve a spot over Jason Kipnis or Dustin Pedroia, but he should have been picked before Zobrist.

Coco Crisp (OF Athletics): For some reason, Leyland didn’t take a center fielder among his three outfield backups (Nelson Cruz, Alex Gordon and Torii Hunter). Maybe that means Mike Trout will play the whole game, starting in left and moving to center once Adam Jones departs. More likely it means that Hunter will finish the game in his old position. Better if the AL had just bumped him and taken Crisp, Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner as a backup center fielder instead.

Derek Holland (LHP Rangers): By Fangraphs WAR, Holland has been the AL’s best pitcher so far. The modest 6-4 record overshadows how good Holland has been with his 107/29 K/BB ratio and just seven homers allowed in 112 innings. He’s also been at his best recently, shutting out the Yankees and striking out 10 Mariners in his last two starts.

National League

Ian Desmond (SS Nationals): Desmond is one of the candidates to go via the final vote, and though he’ll almost certainly lose that spot to Yasiel Puig, he’ll make the squad if starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki misses the game with his broken rib. Desmond has come on strong and is hitting .281/.324/.506 to date.

Stephen Strasburg (RHP Nationals): Maybe all that Matt Harvey hype has left Strasburg overlooked. Of course, Strasburg did serve a brief DL stint earlier this year, but he’s still made 16 starts, the same number as All-Star pick Jose Fernandez and one or two fewer than the rest of the field, and he ranks third in the NL in ERA at 2.24. That puts him ever so slightly ahead of both Harvey (2.27) and Adam Wainwright (2.36). All that said, it seems doubtful that the Nationals wanted him pitching in the All-Star Game anyway.

Hyun-Jin Ryu (LHP Dodgers): Bochy had no choice but to put Clayton Kershaw on the team, but he didn’t take any other Dodgers. That included bypassing Ryu, who just beat his Giants squad last night. Ryu is 7-3 with a 2.82 ERA in 17 starts this season. Madison Bumgarner, who was selected by Bochy, is 8-5 with a 3.08 ERA in 17 starts.

Mark Melancon (RHP Pirates): While the AL squad was all about taking the best relievers, regardless of roles, Bochy limited his relief picks to closers: Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Jason Grilli. Melancon, with a 0.87 ERA and a 44/4 K/BB ratio in 41 1/3 innings as a setup guy, has been better than any of them this season. The Cardinals’ Trevor Rosenthal and Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen also would have been better picks than the fringe starters if the goal is to win the game.

Yasiel Puig (OF Dodgers): I’ll mention Puig here, even though I’m OK with him not being chosen. It’s hard to argue that he’s a snub when he’s played just 30 major league games. Still, if the fans want to see him, then by all means, put him on the team. That’s what will happen after he was included on the Final Vote ballot today. No one stands any chance of beating him out.