NL's improvement reflected on ballot
With Interleague Play near, National may have better All-Stars
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
The American League can still turn three, as demonstrated by Cleveland second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera on Monday night.
But has the National League turned the corner?
The collection of the hardball evidence begins this weekend with the onset of Interleague Play.
However, based on one slightly unconventional yardstick, the answer already is "Yes."
In a season thus far distinguished by ne'er-do-wells doing very well indeed, AL high society has been easier to crack. That league has a majority of the teams outperforming expectations.
The Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins have broken out on top, the Oakland A's are just a step behind, and the Baltimore Orioles are in the hunt. Their successes have come at the expense of some clubs playing below haughty projections: The Tigers, the Yankees, even the Mariners.
One conclusion to be drawn: The AL has simply grown weaker across the board, enabling breakthroughs, while in the NL, major surprises from the Marlins and Cardinals notwithstanding, the upper crust remains firm.
If you buy that argument, it receives even more weight by stacking the tops in each league against each other. Of course, that will occur on the field in a couple of months, in the 79th All-Star Game, but we're already doing it on paper.
Ah, yes: The All-Star Game ballot, an honor roll from which the magna-cum-laude picks will cavort in Yankee Stadium on July 15.
Voting began only recently, and the first report of voting trends won't even come until next week. But there are two ways to project the eventual lineups -- based on true merit, or based on how fans are likely to vote -- and either way adds up to an acute NL edge.
If we go by the numbers, NL vs. AL:
1B: Lance Berkman, Astros - Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
2B Chase Utley, Phillies - Jose Lopez, Mariners
SS: Miguel Tejada, Astros - Derek Jeter, Yankees
3B: Chipper Jones, Braves - Joe Crede, White Sox
C: Brian McCann, Braves - A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox
OF: Nate McLouth, Pirates - Josh Hamilton, Rangers
OF: Pat Burrell, Phillies - Manny Ramirez, Red Sox
OF: Xavier Nady, Pirates - Magglio Ordonez, Tigers
If we instead go by reality (factoring in popularity, voting fan-base, etc.):
1B: Albert Pujols, Cards - Youkilis
2B: Utley - Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
SS: Jose Reyes, Mets - Jeter
3B: David Wright, Mets - Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
C: Russell Martin, Dodgers - Jorge Posada, Yankees
OF: Carlos Beltran, Mets - Vladimir Guerrero, Angels
OF: Burrell - Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
OF: Kosuke Fukudome, Cubs - Bobby Abreu, Yankees
The players' actual statistics (which you can check and compare on the All-Star ballot on this site) aren't included, because they're in constant flux, but the lists present a compelling argument for the NL's growing profile.
And even such projections ignore a key element of respective strength, pitching, which isn't represented on the ballot.
What relatively little transition there was during the offseason all went one way, American to National: Edinson Volquez went from Texas to Cincinnati, Jair Jurrjens went from Detroit to Atlanta, Johan Santana went from Minnesota to the Mets; heck, even the 2007 All-Star Game starter, Dan Haren, went from Oakland to Arizona.
That quartet has a record of 18-8. They may not all be part of Clint Hurdle's All-Star pitching staff, but most assuredly have contributed to the overall tightening of the pitching screws in the NL.
And in the face of overall tougher pitching, who have been the top hitters in all of the Majors?
Furcal, Los Angeles
Pujols, St. Louis
Miguel Tejada, Houston
No, that's not a selective list, but, in order, the top five batting leaders (100-plus at-bats) following Wednesday's games.
Wanna talk power?
The top 14 home-run hitters were the White Sox's Carlos Quentin, and 13 National Leaguers.
And, according to our original premise, these superior numbers have been posted in a more rugged environment, the "new" NL of balanced teams, of nightly being strong-armed by tenacious pitchers.
So to things always turning -- other cheeks, tides, worms -- you can add the National League's fortunes.
We'll have to wait for the big one, the July 15 shot at winning its first All-Star Game since 1996, but don't be surprised if the NL starts to turn that Interleague red ink -- four consecutive losing seasons, cumulative 100 games under ,500 -- into black this weekend.
NYPGR - Region 2
SAL - Squadron -366
AMF- Illegitimi non carborundum