All-Star Game rosters were announced Sunday, and as usual, there’s a lot to discuss.
For the first time in a long time, it might be the National League team that’s favored to win the game, with a star-studded lineup and a pitching staff comprised of many of the best guys going. Hyun-Jin Ryu will start the game for the NL side, and Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Zack Greinke and Walker Buehler, among many others, will be available in relief.
On the American League front, the starting lineup is full of players having great years but not necessarily the household names of the NL club. Guys like DJ LeMahieu, Carlos Santana, Hunter Pence and even Jorge Polanco -- all names known by baseball fans, but not the kind of star power up and down the NL lineup -- were voted as starters, relegating more well-known stars like Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez to the reserves. On the pitching side, a starter hasn’t been named, but between Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Lucas Giolito, Mike Minor and Charlie Morton, there isn’t a wrong choice.
What the AL lacks in name recognition it makes up for in interesting stories. Whether it’s Pence, the eccentric former Giant who has resurrected his career in Texas; James McCann, a light-hitting platoon catcher turned middle-of-the-order bat for the White Sox; Tommy La Stella, who once famously refused a minor league assignment from the Cubs and instead opted to go home to ponder his future (I guess he was right?); or even Austin Meadows and Daniel Vogelbach, both of whom were once top prospects but who fell out of favor and were eventually traded, only to now have found success at the highest level in their new venues, the AL isn’t short on character.
And how about Francisco Lindor? Coming into the season, the biggest question surrounding the 25-year-old was how soon we might see him, not whether he’d be an All-Star for the fourth straight year. But he returned ahead of schedule in late April and has done nothing but produce, hitting .291/.349/.498 with 12 homers and 12 steals in 64 games.
The NL is not without its surprises, of course. The Mets are a mess this year, but two bright spots have been first-time All-Stars Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso. Paul DeJong is another first-timer, a low-profile fourth-round pick by the Cardinals out of Illinois State University in 2015. Josh Bell was an outfield prospect, and then he wasn’t, and then he was again, but this time as a first baseman, and now he’s hitting .301 with a 1.001 OPS.
With surprise entrants come some surprise snubs as well. Max Kepler, Yoan Moncada, Trey Mancini, Luke Voit and Eddie Rosario all are certainly worthy of spots on the AL squad. For the NL, Rhys Hoskins, Anthony Rizzo and Manny Machado all probably deserved a look given how well they performed in the first half.
At the end of the day, the NL looks to have the better roster top to bottom, and appears positioned to win the Midsummer Classic for the first time since 2012. But, as always, that’s why they play the games.
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Snell Sharp In Romp Over Rangers
We don’t regularly celebrate the expected, like successfully tying our own shoes or the alarm clock going off every morning.
So recognizing Blake Snell’s 12-strikeout game Sunday might seem out of place, as though Snell doesn’t often dominate his opponents.
After three consecutive subpar outings, though, there was some concern that the southpaw may not be right. Sure, his velocity was fine, but he was getting hit hard, uncharacteristically hard for the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.
So with that in mind it was reassuring to see Snell roll over the Rangers on Sunday, keeping the Texas club to three hits and two runs over six innings. Aside from a Joey Gallo two-run moonshot, Snell was devastating, reminding everyone of how dominant he can be when he’s right.
“He looked really good,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “Really encouraged by Blake’s outing. We needed that, and he needed that just as much.”
Snell entered Sunday’s contest with a 5.01 ERA, but his 3.47 FIP and 3.20 xFIP -- just a few ticks higher than the 3.16 xFIP he sported during his Cy Young year -- suggested better days were ahead. Snell thought so, too.
“The results aren’t what you guys want to see,” Snell said. “But the way that I see what I’m doing, I believe it’s better than last year.”
That would be quite an encore.
It’s been an exciting first half for White Sox fans dreaming on the future -- with guys like Moncada, Giolito and Eloy Jimenez making people sit up and take notice -- and they’ve got one more card to play before the All-Star break.
The pitcher, ranked as a top-50 prospect before the season by all of Baseball America, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus, will be promoted to make his MLB debut Wednesday against the Tigers. Cease will start the first game of the teams’ doubleheader.
“He’s done a really nice job of just gathering more knowledge down there (at Triple-A Charlotte) and getting his innings in,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said Sunday. "This will be a situation now where he comes in here and has to perform. His last few outings over there, he’s been working and trying to get himself back on track.
“I think probably everybody is looking for him to be challenged now. Everybody feels this is the right time.”
The 23-year-old Cubs draftee -- part of the Sox return for Jose Quintana -- has a 4.48 ERA, 1.57 WHIP and 73/32 K/BB ratio across 15 starts at Triple-A Charlotte this year. In 2018 he struck out 160 with a 2.40 ERA and 1.06 WHIP between High-A and Double-A.
His pedestrian numbers at Triple-A this year combined with the fact that Wednesday will be his MLB debut -- and as part of a doubleheader, no less -- might make him a scary streamer, but the light-hitting Tigers are among the most stream-friendly opponents this season. His pedigree and potential to face a diluted lineup make him worth the dart throw.
American League Quick Hits: Khris Davis (hand) remained out of the Athletics' starting lineup for the third consecutive game on Sunday. Athletics' skipper Bob Melvin sounded optimistic about the slugger's prognosis though, indicating that he may be available off of the bench if needed to pinch hit. (He wasn’t.) All signs point to Davis returning to the lineup on Tuesday after Monday's off-day. … Shane Bieber fired off eight innings of shutout ball while striking out 11 in Sunday's 2-0 win over the Orioles. Bieber did not walk a batter on the afternoon and surrendered just three hits over his eight innings of work. He wrapped up the start having thrown 112 pitches (72 for strikes). This sparkling performance marked his fourth game of double-digit strikeouts in his last 10 starts. … Yordan Alvarez (knee) was back in the Astros' lineup Sunday. Alvarez missed two games with a sore left knee but it obviously wasn’t a huge issue. … Matt Chapman went 3-for-5 with a three-run homer and a career-high six RBI to lift the Athletics to a 12-3 blowout win over the Angels on Sunday. Chapman spearheaded the Athletics offensive explosion, launching a line-drive laser to the opposite-field, which barely cleared the right-field fence, in the fifth inning. He also scorched a leadoff triple and came around to score in the eighth, before crushing a bases-clearing three-run double to left-field wall later in the frame. … Dee Gordon (quad) was not in the Mariners' lineup Sunday. Gordon had to leave Saturday's game with a tight quad. It sounds like he'll have a shot to return on Tuesday after Monday's off day. … Gerrit Cole recorded 10 strikeouts over seven innings in a win over the Mariners on Sunday. Cole yielded one run on five hits over seven brilliant frames. He threw 74 of 109 pitches for strikes and generated an eye-popping 17 swinging strikes in this one. A solo homer by J.P. Crawford in the opening frame represented the lone tally against him. The 28-year-old righty has allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven consecutive starts dating back to May 27. With the victory, he improves to 8-5 with a 3.88 ERA and 1.04 WHIP across 18 starts. He also ranks second in the majors, trailing only Nationals ace Max Scherzer, with 161 strikeouts across 109 2/3 innings of work. … Justin Smoak went 2-for-5 with two home runs and three RBI in Sunday's 7-6 loss to the Royals. Smoak, who was just activated off the injured list after missing a few weeks with a strained quad, took a Brad Keller offering deep for a two-run home run with two outs in the second inning. He would come through once more with a solo shot leading off the fifth inning, that one again coming against Keller. … Athletics placed OF Stephen Piscotty on the 10-day injured list with a right knee sprain. Piscotty suffered the injury on a slide into second base Saturday. The hope is that it's not a long-term injury, but we won't know until he has an MRI Monday. Chad Pinder and Mark Canha figure to pick up most of the playing time in right field while Piscotty is out. Franklin Barreto has also been recalled to take his roster spot and he's played some outfield in the minors this season. … Yankees general manager Brian Cashman believes "there's still time" for Luis Severino (lat) to return this season and contribute. Severino was throwing for two weeks before being shut down with renewed soreness in his right lat. Cashman admitted that Sevy should have gotten another MRI prior to throwing again but didn't because "he doesn't like going in the MRI tube." The hope is that the righty will resume throwing sometime within the next week, but Cashman noted that Severino "won’t get back on the mound until it’s 100 percent." Sevy will essentially be starting from scratch again, so it's hard to see him coming back before late August or September at this point.
National League Quick Hits: Max Scherzer struck out 14 and allowed one run over eight innings in Sunday's 2-1 win over the Tigers. Scherzer was holding steady on a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning, having surrendered just three hits to that point, when Brandon Dixon broke the spell with a game-tying solo home run. Anthony Rendon answered in turn in the top of the eighth to help salvage a win for the team's ace. This was the star right-hander's eighth double-digit strikeout performance in 18 starts. He has punched out at least 10 batters in each of his last four outings and five of his last six. … Corey Seager (hamstring) is expected to begin a rehab assignment by the middle or end of this week. Seager was scheduled to take live batting practice Sunday as he continues his rehab from a strained left hamstring. He should be ready to go for the start of the second half if he doesn't encounter any speed bumps. … A.J. Pollock (elbow) was set to take live batting practice Sunday. Pollock is nearing a rehab assignment, as he could be cleared to begin one in the middle or end of this week. He's been on the shelf since late April with an infection in his right elbow but could be back in the Dodgers' lineup shortly after the All-Star break if all goes well. … Madison Bumgarner struck out nine batters over seven innings in a win over the Diamondbacks on Sunday. Bumgarner allowed one run on four hits over seven dominant frames. An Ildemaro Vargas sacrifice fly on the heels of a Nick Ahmed triple in the fifth inning was the lone blemish on an otherwise stellar performance. The 29-year-old lefty has racked up 20 strikeouts over his last two starts combined. He's expected to be one of the most sought after players at the upcoming trade deadline next month. … Mets activated RHP Noah Syndergaard from the 10-day injured list. Syndergaard rejoined the rotation on Sunday against the Braves after missing a couple weeks with a right hamstring injury. The hard-throwing right-hander allowed three runs over 5 2/3 innings in his return. … Anthony DeSclafani tossed six scoreless innings, striking out seven, and the Reds held on for an 8-6 win over the Cubs on Sunday. DeSclafani was staked to an early lead and cruised through his six innings, fanning seven while scattering five hits and a walk. Things got less comfortable for the Reds after he exited, with the Cubs plating six runs in their final three frames, but the bullpen held on to get DeSclafani his fifth win. The right-hander now owns a 4.35 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and 84/24 K/BB ratio in 16 starts this year, and outside of one bad inning his last time out, he's been stellar since the beginning of June. … Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said on his radio show Sunday that Matt Carpenter is dealing with a stomach issue. It's not clear how long he's been battling the ailment, but it at least partly explains why Carpenter hasn't been in the lineup since Tuesday. There's no indication at this point that it's something that could send Carpenter to the injured list. Yairo Munoz was at third base Sunday. … Pablo Lopez (shoulder) will resume his throwing progression on Monday. It was reported previously that Lopez would start throwing again on Saturday, but apparently the Marlins elected to give him a couple more days. There's no timetable for his return, but it will be a while. "It’s a matter of getting him built back up," manager Don Mattingly said. "That’s going to take a little bit of time.”