THE USB Baseball Report: All-Star Edition

Hi, hello and welcome to THE USB Baseball Report! I’m Steve Cook, and this week’s Report is all about the All-Star Game! We’re halfway through the season and it’s time to celebrate the Mid-Summer Classic and take a break from the grind of the everyday baseball schedule. The MLB schedule will pick back up on Friday, this week we’ve got a Home Run Derby and All-Star Game to enjoy! There’s also the Futures Game & Celebrity Softball Game, which are fun, but those happened on Sunday and there’s not much we can say about them except Yay Minor League Guys & Yay Famous People.

The highlight of last year’s Celebrity Softball Game was Bengals QB Andy Dalton getting booed by the local fans. He responded by hitting two home runs & going on to have his best season as a pro, silencing most of his doubters. This year’s football participant? Drew Brees, making his homecoming to San Diego. None of the current Chargers are participating, and if they did they’d probably get booed because Chargers ownership wants to move the team to Los Angeles. Brees should get a good response because ownership gave up on him before he got great.

And that’s all on that you’ll get out of me. Let’s get the All-Star fun started!

My All-Star Teams!

Last year I named my own NL & AL All-Star teams in separate columns. They were by far the most read columns in USB history and the reason Dustin James requested that I do a weekly baseball column this year. I feel I should probably continue the tradition this year, but in somewhat less long-winded fashion. I kinda forgot to do this the last two weeks and the teams have already been decided for nearly a week, so I can’t influence voting this season. Somebody remind me to do that next year. Anywho, here are my All-Star teams!

 

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Steve Cook’s 2016 National League All-Star Team

Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants: It was one of the easiest picks last year and is one of the easiest picks this year. Guys like Wilson Ramos & Jonathan Lucroy have had fine seasons, but pale in comparison to Posey.

1st baseman: Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs: First base is a position where you want power, and Rizzo’s produced more of that than anybody else in the league. He also strikes out less than his peers and nobody’s close to him in slugging percentage or OPS. Pretty easy choice here. The depressing part of this as a Reds fan is realizing that Joey Votto wouldn’t make my top ten here.

2nd baseman: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals: Most people thought Murphy’s 2015 postseason was a fluke and he’d be back to underachieving after getting a big contract from Washington, but he’s been overachieving instead. He leads MLB in batting average and is well above his career average in almost every category. He’s been slacking in the stolen base department, but other than that he’s been a great addition for the Nats.

3rd baseman: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs: Bryant leads the NL in WAR & home runs. It’s actually a closer race than you’d think…as good as Bryant has been, Nolan Arenado has been nearly as good himself. Bryant has a slight edge, but you could vote Arenado here and not get weird looks from non-Cubs fans. Cubs fans will give you weird looks if you vote for anybody that’s not a Cub.

Shortstop: Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies: One of my personal favorites because I took him near the end of my fantasy draft and had zero expectations of him as anything other than a backup. Now I have no idea who I actually expected to be my shortstop. His 21 home runs set a pre-All-Star break record for rookies. He does strike out way too much and his average could be better, but other NL shortstops don’t hit hard enough for my liking.

Outfielder: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals: Bryce is having a bit of a down year, but fortunately for him, guys like Andrew McCutchen are having even more of a down year. He gets the nod in a thin selection.

Outfielder: Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs: If anything, Fowler’s injury works in his favor. The Cubs have gone in the tank since their leadoff hitter that was getting on base almost 40% of the time went on the DL. When there’s not somebody to set the table, things get a little tough. Lucky for the Cubs he agreed to come back in February.

Outfielder: Adam Duvall, Cincinnati Reds: When in doubt, go with the homer pick! Yoenis Cespedes & Starling Marte also warranted consideration here, but nobody has come out of nowhere like Duvall has this season. After several years in the Giants’ minor leagues, the Louisville Slugger made it onto the Reds roster this season and has cemented his place as the club’s left fielder with 23 home runs. His batting average could be better, but he’s knocking in plenty of runs and giving Reds fans something to watch this season.

 

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Steve Cook’s 2016 American League All-Star Team

Catcher: Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals: Salvy’s had a solid season and made me regret not making him one of my keepers in fantasy last season. Yup, didn’t even go one pick without mentioning my fantasy team this year. Petty good on my part.

1st baseman: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers: A bit of an off year for Cabrera. He won’t threaten for the Triple Crown this season due to missing some time. But he’s still the right pick at this position.

2nd baseman: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros: Altuve is being talked about as an MVP candidate thanks to being part of Houston’s resurgence after their 7-17 April. They’ve been the best team in baseball since, and Altuve’s .340 batting average & 23 steals have been a big part of it.

3rd baseman: Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays: The WAR Machine has a stellar 5.3 WAR this year due to superior HR & RBI numbers while walking more than anybody in the league. Manny Machado is a darn fine selection too, you can’t go wrong with either of them.

Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox: Tough choice between Bogaerts, Carlos Correa & Francisco Lindor, but since the Red Sox had four actual starters on this team I felt like I should pick at least one of them, lest people think I’m biased against the Sawx. I’m not, it’s just that Red Sox fans did a better job of voting than other fans this year.

Outfielder: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: He’s Mike Trout. Do I need to explain this?

Outfielder: Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles: Trumbo leads MLB in home runs and has really come into his own in Baltimore. He was one of those guys that was really streaky, and he’s been consistently good this season.

Outfielder: Ian Desmond, Texas Rangers: I gotta give Desmond some credit, he was a guy that nobody wanted and the Texas Rangers got made fun of for signing him during spring training. He’s been one of the key guys getting that team to the top of the American League with a batting average over .300, double digit home runs & steals & a WAR over 3. He’s proved us wrong.

Home Run Derby Bracketology

Many people declared the Home Run Derby to be “back” after last year’s contest, and unlike every single year where people declare the NBA Slam Dunk Contest to be “back” when it actually isn’t, last year’s Derby was compelling television that even made Chris Berman’s “back back back back back” somewhat tolerable. This year’s edition doesn’t quite have the starpower of last year’s…there’s no Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, no Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo, and no Canadian representation. Only one out of the top five NL home run hitters are competing, and the AL isn’t much better with just two out of their top five participating. That being said, it’s not like there’s going to be anything else worth watching on Monday night.

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Anywho, let’s take a look at the 2016 Home Run Derby bracket and make predictions!

 

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(1) Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles (28 HR, 68 RBI) vs. (8) Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers (17 HR, 41 RBI)

The young Seager is an interesting underdog pick here. His teammate Joc Pederson had a good run in last year’s Derby as a rookie, he’s hit more home runs every month this season and is eight years younger than Trumbo. But there are plenty of good reasons why Trumbo is the #1 seed: He’s hit the most home runs this year, he’s hit the most “no doubt” home runs, and he’s hit more home runs on the road than at home. Pick: Trumbo

(4) Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners (20 HR, 56 RBI) vs. (5) Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins (19 HR, 48 RBI)

Cano won the derby in 2011 and recently broke the record for most career home runs by a second baseman in American League history. If we’re talking resumes, he has the best one out of this crop. Stanton’s the pick here though, he’s on a tear home run-wise, he’s seven years younger than Cano, and he isn’t playing in the All-Star Game so this is all he has to concentrate on. Pick: Stanton

(3) Adam Duvall, Cincinnati Reds (23 HR, 61 RBI) vs. (6) Wil Myers, San Diego Padres (19 HR, 60 RBI)

Two dark horse contenders here flying under the radar. Duvall has been pretty much the only reason to watch the Reds this season & will try to get Cincinnati a second straight HR Derby crown. (It would be the Reds’ fourth Derby title overall, which would give them the most titles among MLB teams. Eat that, Yankees!) Unlike most of these guys, his home & away home run totals are nearly equal, which should help his chances. I think he runs into trouble with this matchup though, as Myers has hit 13 of his home runs in Petco Park and will have the same type of home field advantage here that Todd Frazier had last season at Great American Ballpark. Like the Cincinnati fans last year, San Diego fans don’t have much else to root for this season other than one of their guys winning the Home Run Derby. That emotion should get him through to the semifinals. Pick: Myers

(2) Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox (25 HR, 57 RBI) vs. (7) Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies (18 HR, 52 RBI)

Frazier has made the finals of the Derby the last two seasons and is the defending champion. The rest of his game has suffered thanks to his concentration on hitting homers (tough to make an All-Star team with a .215 average), but it’s put a lot of money in his pocket and made him a man to beat in this competition every year. Gonzalez is a good solid player, but a fools’ bet against Frazier. 13 of his home runs have come at Coors Field in the thin air of Denver…it’s a little bit harder to get the job done in Petco Park. And frankly, Gonzalez is the third best Rockies’ home run hitter. Nolan Arenado or Trevor Story would have been a better pick for the contest. Pick: Frazier

Semi-Finals

Stanton over Trumbo: This is where Trumbo’s experience comes back to haunt him: he’ll be too worn out from the first round.

Frazier over Myers: Frazier knows how a good home crowd can help a guy in this contest, he’ll be ready to go up against it.

Finals

Frazier over Stanton: He might not be a Red anymore, but that doesn’t mean I can pick against Todd Frazier. The pride of Toms River, New Jersey will win his second straight title and join Ken Griffey Jr. & Yoenis Cespedes as the only men to go back to back years as Home Run Derby Champion. He’ll only need one more to tie Griffey for the most titles.

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Baseball’s Top 10 All-Star Game Moments

Let’s be honest, most sports’ All-Star Games are a complete joke. The NFL Pro Bowl is something that players don’t want to go to. The NBA All-Star Game has less defense than your typical Warriors game. The NHL All-Star Game changes its rules once every year. Don’t get me started on NASCAR’s alleged All-Star event. MLB’s All-Star Game is the oldest and most important of all All-Star Games. Last year’s ASG was in Cincinnati and one of the greatest events the Queen City has ever hosted. I’m sure San Diego will be just as good a host this year, in fact I wish I was there because the San Diego representative I met at last year’s ASG was TOO FINE. In celebration of the Mid-Summer Classic, it’s time to list the ten greatest moments in All-Star Game history.

10. It’s a tie!

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OK, so this was one of the worst baseball moments of all time. But it was also one of the most important. The ASG had lost most of its luster since interleague play began in 1997…once we saw AL & NL stars go at it during the season, we didn’t really need to see them in an exhibition game. The not caring eventually expanded to the point where Joe Torre & Bob Brenley ran out of players to properly field a team after 11 innings. Bud Selig, in his hometown, had to declare this thing a tie, which probably pissed him off more than anybody else. Which is now why the winning league gets home-field in the World Series. For better or worse, this moment still has an impact today.

9. Yankee Stadium hosts the longest ASG in its last year

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There might not be a place that hosted more baseball history than The House That Ruth Built, and the original Yankee Stadium hosted the ASG in its last season. It was treated with the longest ASG in history, as the managers had learned the lessons of 2002 and managed to have enough players to go 15 innings. The American League won after 15 innings at 1:38 AM. Considering this stadium hosted multiple Yankee dynasties and some of the greatest single-season teams of all time, it was only fitting that one of the great ASGs would take place there.

8. Randy Johnson vs. John Kruk

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One of the many downsides of interleague play is that we don’t get the dream matchups in the All-Star Game that could happen nowhere else. Or, the nightmare matchups. Apparently John Kruk was scared to death of facing Randy Johnson at the 1993 All-Star Game, and after getting brushed back with the first pitch, all Kruk could do was swing like a lunatic & back away. Three pitches after that gif, Kruk was placing his bat down and throwing his helmet up in the air. Only in the old-school All-Star Game would you see something like that.

7. ASG Gets Integrated

Portrait of First African Americans in All-Star Game

It didn’t take long after the color barrier was broken. Jackie Robinson broke it in 1947, and in 1949, he was part of the All-Star Game with Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, and Don Newcombe. Honestly, I’m wondering why it didn’t happen in 1948.

6. Mariano Rivera’s Final ASG

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It might have not been Rivera’s traditional New York stadium, but CitiField was close enough. He walked out to “Enter Sandman”, he retired the side in the 8th inning and helped the AL win the game. A fitting tribute to the greatest relief pitcher of all time. The one flaw was that he wasn’t out there for the ninth, but AL manager Jim Leyland wanted to make sure that Rivera got his moment in the spotlight with the lead, and that nobody would mess it up beforehand.

5. The Greatest Home Runs Ever

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The 1971 All-Star Game at Tiger Stadium has to go down in history as having the greatest collection of talent to hit home runs in one game. It tied the previous ASG record of 6 home runs, but take a look at the list of talent that went deep in this game. Johnny Bench, the greatest catcher of all time, was first to go deep. Next was Hank Aaron, who held the MLB home run record for three decades. Mr. October Reggie Jackson was next, hitting a ball off one of the Tiger Stadium light towers. The iconic Frank Robinson became the first person to hit a HR for both the NL & AL in ASG history in the same inning. Harmon Killebrew was next, only the greatest Minnesota Twin of all time (all due respect to Kirby Puckett). The last home run went to Roberto Clemente, perhaps the greatest humanitarian in MLB history & still a role model to kids coming up today. Those are six baseball legends right there, and I defy anybody to find a game where six greater players hit home runs. It hasn’t happened.

4. Cal plays SS & hits a homer

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It was Cal Ripken Jr’s last All-Star Game. The 2001 edition in Seattle was pretty much a tribute to Cal, and if any player deserved it it was him. Alex Rodriguez, who was the AL starter at shortstop, decided that Cal deserved to play his original position in the game, so he cleared it with AL manager Joe Torre beforehand and at the beginning of the game he made Cal go over to shortstop. Considering A-Rod had left the hometown Mariners & also considering Cal’s popularity, it was a smart move. (Also a good preview for where A-Rod’s career would go when he became a New York Yankee.) Cal hit a home run in the third inning to put the AL in the lead and he was named the MVP at the end of the game. This ASG was also the last for the legendary Tony Gwynn, and Bud Selig awarded both men the Commissioners’ Historic Achievement Award after the 5th inning.

3. Teddy Ballgame & Pedro

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Fenway Park hosted the 1999 All-Star Game, so it was only appropriate for the then-greatest living player Ted Williams to make an appearance, one of his last as it turned out. Like Gorilla Monsoon’s appearance at WrestleMania XV the same year, we had a feeling that it would be one of the last appearances of one of the greats, and Williams got a tremendous reaction from the people. Another Boston legend would take the spotlight during the game, as Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez struck out the first four batters he faced in the game, and totaled five out of six. If the baseball writers would get the stick out of their butts about steroids, Pedro might have struck out as many Hall of Famers as the next guy on our list.

2. Carl Hubbell strikes out 5 all-timers in a row

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The 1934 All-Star Game was only the second playing of the Mid-Summer Classic, but it still lives on to this day due to the heroics of New York Giants starting pitcher Carl Hubbell. He walked the first two batters he faced, but proceeded to strike out the side to end the inning, and the next two batters in the 2nd inning. Those batters? Babe Ruth. Lou Gehrig. Jimmie Foxx. Al Simmons. Joe Cronin. All Hall of Famers. All took a seat. Still a record, and will likely remain a record forever.

1. Rose over Fosse

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The 1970 All-Star Game. The 12th inning. Pete Rose was bred to give his all in every single game no matter what. He wasn’t one of those guys that could turn it on and turn it off, he always gave 100%. It’s why Cincinnati sports fans still love him to this day, and why a lot of fans out there don’t get it. Even if the All-Star Game technically had nothing on the line, it was still a baseball game, and it was a showcase for Cincinnati’s new baseball stadium. So of course Pete Rose was going to do whatever it took to win, including running over poor Ray Fosse and pretty much ending his career.

Welp, that’s all we have time for this week. Enjoy the All-Star Game! Until next time…

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