AnalysisOpinions

Which Sox are heading to the Midsummer Classic?

With the calendar turning from May to June, the 2018 season is in full swing, and many players are already making viable cases to head to Washington for the All-Star Game in July. Across the league, there are guys who have already become virtual locks to start or play in the showcase next month, and there are others who look to be on their way to earning a spot on either the American League or National League roster. For others, the outlook may be a little bleaker, however, there is still a month until voting closes so even those borderline guys possess the ability to go on a tear and rally some voting support. Here, we analyze Boston’s projected All-Stars and how realistic their goal is of playing in this year’s Midsummer Classic, compared to the others they compete with at their positions.

The Midsummer Classic brings together the best in today’s game every year (Wikimedia Commons)

The Locks:

Mookie Betts is as sure of a bet as anyone to be starting July 17th at Nationals Park. A recent abdominal strain has sidelined Mookie, but his return to the lineup soon and his MVP-caliber season thus far, will further guarantee the fact that he will be playing in his third straight All-Star game. He does face some tough competition in the outfield, with Aaron Judge of the Yankees and Mike Trout of the Angels likely to gather a similar amount of votes as Mookie. However, other than those two, there isn’t a likely candidate to draw more votes than Betts, even with the games he’s missed over the last couple weeks. The Astros’ George Springer, the Twins’ Eddie Rosario and the renaissance of the Indians’ Michael Brantley, all are good bets to make the AL squad, but it is beyond debate that Betts deserves to start the game and come July it’s safe to say he will.

Even with Red Sox ace Chris Sale getting roughed up against Atlanta and Houston lately, he still boasts an ERA and WHIP in the top 10 of the American League and trails only Gerrit Cole for strikeouts among AL pitchers. Sale’s streak of six straight seasons of playing in the Midsummer Classic will run to seven this year for Chris, with him also having earned the start in the last two. However, he is unlikely to win that #1 spot for a third straight year as he’s competing for that honor with Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander of the Astros, Luis Severino of the Yankees and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, all of whom have been just as consistent and dominant than Sale, if not more.

Very few relievers make the All-Star Game, so those who do are always the cream of the crop when it comes to their league. That makes it even more impressive that Craig Kimbrel is in line for the 7th All-Star appearance of his career and he just turned 30. For context, Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman only made seven All-Star appearances his entire career and he is widely considered as one of the two or three best closers of all time. Along with Kimbrel, Yankees’ closer, Aroldis Chapman is a lock to make the team, but beyond that, some less-experienced relievers are in the position to be chosen. The Royals’ Kelvin Herrera is sure to be in with his impressive numbers, and AL saves leader/Mariners 9th inning man Edwin Diaz has a good beat on making his first All-Star team.

Nationals Park will host the All-Star Game in the nation’s capital for the first time since 1969 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Outlook is Good:

The designated hitter position is one that the Boston Red Sox have often had an All-Star caliber player in. Moving from the David Ortiz era into the one of J.D. Martinez, the skilled trend at DH continues. However, J.D. doesn’t quite make it into the “locks” section of this article, for a couple of small reasons. First, he’s played his fair share of games in the outfield, and he’s only hit .289 when playing as the designated hitter. Secondly, he faces competition from one of, if not the most intriguing player in baseball which is Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani will also garner discussion as a pitcher, but as a hitter, he’s gotten on base at a .377 clip while driving in 20 runs. Personally, I understand the hype around Ohtani and also the technicalities that Martinez has played a good portion of his games in left field and Ohtani is on the Disabled List. However, I also understand statistics, in which J.D. Martinez ranks near the tops of the AL in many important ones, like batting average, OBP, OPS and home runs. With everything considered this will be a tight race, and even with Giancarlo Stanton also bound to receive the support of the Yankees’ faithful, I still believe J.D. is the guy who deserves to and is going to start for the AL come July.

Earlier we discussed the outfield position and Mookie Betts’ lock to start in one of its three places, most likely alongside Trout and Judge. We also discussed outfielders like Springer, Rosario, and Brantley who have put up All-Star worthy numbers as well. However, there’s another man who recently has thrown his name into the hat to receive votes and that man, is Andrew Benintendi. Benny, as he’s known to fans, had a nightmare start to 2018 hitting under .220 through the first month of the season and often found himself sitting on the bench against lefties. The average has now worked its way up to near the .300 mark, while also boasting an OPS now around .900 (which puts him top 10 in the AL) and filling in nicely as the leadoff man in Mookie’s absence. Is Benintendi deserving of starting over Betts, Trout or Judge? No. Is he deserving of a spot in the reserves just as much as Springer, Rosario, and Brantley? Absolutely.

They’re best buds in Boston’s outfield, will they both earn their way to Washington’s outfield? (Keith Allison/Flickr)

Work to do:

Lucky for Mitch Moreland, no single player has emerged as a runaway candidate to start at first base for the AL at Nationals Park next month. Of all American League first baseman with at least 140 at-bats this season, only one holds an OPS around 1.000 and that is Mitch Moreland. Since the release of Hanley Ramirez, Mitch has taken over the reigns full time at first base for the Sox, and his consistent threat at the plate has elevated him to a place he’s never been before, and that is All-Star level baseball. What may hurt Moreland is a couple things, one, that he hasn’t come to the plate nearly as much as his competition (being behind Hanley for two months), and two, the fact that his competition with guys who are both probably the best hitters on their team. Since each team must have at least one representative in the Midsummer Classic, the White Sox’ Jose Abreu and the Jays’ Justin Smoak are both in a better position than Moreland to start at first. Both Abreu and Smoak are having All-Star caliber seasons yet again, and it is easy to understand why they will receive so much support, as they have also been amongst their team’s top producers. In all the major categories (OBP, Slugging, OPS etc.) these three men lead the way amongst qualifying first baseman, and a vote to any of them is definitely a vote towards a deserving All-Star. However, in this writer’s personal opinion I would easily vote for Moreland as I believe he’s had the greatest impact of any AL first baseman. Voters will lean towards the other two, especially Abreu simply because of the stats over more at-bats, but Mitch can still play his way into Nationals Park if he keeps doing what he has been.

Rick Porcello was definitely on pace to reach Washington through the first month or so of the season, but with things getting a little murky lately his statistics have taken a slight hit, and his All-Star buzz is slowing down. Even with some rough outings over the last few weeks, he still does have a respectable ERA under 3.60 and is near the top of the American League in wins with 8. However, once you get through the big names who have locked themselves in (Verlander, Cole, Sale, Kluber, Paxton) you look at the second tier guys who are having stellar seasons. You see guys like Blake Snell, Trevor Bauer, Charlie Morton and Daniel Mengden, all of whom were relatively unknown coming into the season, and all of whom have put up more impressive numbers than Porcello. Even from someone rooting for Porcello, I’d have to choose any of the other four aforementioned starters before I chose Rick for the Midsummer Classic.

Xander has been an All-Star before back in 2016, but can he turn it on the next month to win his way onto this year’s team? (Wikimedia Commons)

Just Not Gunna Make It:

Unfortunately for Xander Bogaerts, his torrid start, which put him on an All-Star pace, was derailed by a chipped bone in his foot and caused him to miss a few weeks which allowed his competition to accelerate past him. Even with eight homers and an average over .280, Bogaerts still doesn’t compare to the guys who will end up getting voted in. Names like Lindor, Correa, and Machado are basically yearly participants at this event by this point and even a guy like Andrelton Simmons who has earned his way in may still finish fourth in the voting for shortstops. Unfortunately, Xander sits in the second level of shortstops with quality numbers, but way behind these actual All-Stars in likeliness to get voted in. Hot starts from Jean Segura and Didi Gregorius also put their names in the running, but they have since been passed by Lindor, Correa, and Machado as well. Whichever one of those three does win the starting gig, will have earned it, as this is possibly the most competitive position on either side of the ballot.

For as long as I can remember, the All-Star game is a very difficult goal for a player who is not a starting fielder or pitcher, or a closer. Anyone in the middle relief or set-up role, no matter how dominant, will struggle to be chosen for the Midsummer Classic. Joe Kelly is exactly that. He is a middle relief pitcher who is often used for high leverage situations such as setting up for Craig Kimbrel or for coming in and cleaning up the mess of other pitchers. In between opening day in Tampa and last week in Houston, Joe Kelly has been almost flawless, pitching in 28 outings and not allowing a single earned run in 24 of them. Again, what Joe lacks is the pedigree of putting up these dominant numbers but as a closer, or being a super reliever like Andrew Miller has been for Cleveland the past few years. Unfortunately for Joe Kelly, his role will hurt him and he won’t be named an All-Star, which I feel is a snub. You don’t often get eighth inning guys who constantly put up scoreless outings in such a dominant factor with many strikeouts. However, in the eyes of those choosing the pitchers, I am afraid it isn’t going to be good enough to get Joe Kelly in.

Love the Sox takes? Hate the Sox takes? Wanna talk baseball? Let me know on twitter! @jprincipe8

John Principe

Writer, Editor and Social Media Director at Diamond Digest

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