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Santana, Mauer Make All Star Team

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There was plenty of conversation around Minnesota regarding who would and who could be taken to Pittsburgh from the Twins.  Johan Santana and Joe Mauer were the most deserving, and they were also the only two selected to go.

It seems that every year there's more hype regarding WHO goes to the All Star game, and less hype surrounding the All Star game itself.  Fans around the country get into fisticuffs over one of their own, while simutaneously preparing themselves for the inevitale snub or four.  Especially after the turnaround in June, things were just like this across the midwest as well.

The Few, The Proud, the All Stars

Johan Santana was selected once again, and he was an obvious choice.  With all due respect to all other southpaws in the game, Santana IS the best left-handed pitcher around.  He's first in baseball in strikeouts, is fourth in ERA, fifth in innings pitched, first in WHIP, second in walk-to-strikeout ratio and first in OBP allowed.  Unless something changes, Santana will be a finalist in the Cy Young voting at the end of the season.

Joe Mauer was also selected; how could he not be?  On pace for over 200 hits and more than 40 doubles, even though he doesn't have the power stroke quite yet he's one of the best hitters in the game.  At 23.  Oh yeah, his arm and glove aren't too shabby, either.  This season he goes as a backup, perhaps next season he goes as a starter.  Like I said, Mauer is only 23...there will probably be many more All Star games in his future.

The AL Roster

Between fan voting, player voting and managerial picks, all but one slot has been filled.  Here are the final results for who you'll be seeing in the 2006 summer classic.  Every player is listed by position, team, age and All Star game appearances (including this year).

Starters
Pos Player            Team      Age  ASG's
C   Ivan Rodriguez    Tigers     35   13
1B  David Ortiz       Red Sox    30    3
2B  Mark Loretta      Red Sox    34    2
3B  Alex Rodriguez    Yankees    30   10
SS  Derek Jeter       Yankees    32    7
LF  Manny Ramirez     Red Sox    34   10
CF  Ichiro Suzuki     Mariners   32    6
RF  Vladimir Guerrero Angels     30    7

Pitchers
POS Player            Team      Age  ASG's
SP  Mark Buerhle      White Sox  27    3
SP  Jose Contreras    White Sox  34    1
SP  Roy Halladay      Blue Jays  29    4
SP  Scott Kazmir      Devil Rays 22    1
SP  Mark Redman       Royals     32    1
SP  Kenny Rogers      Tigers     41    4
SP  Johan Santana     Twins      27    2
SP  Barry Zito        Athletics  28    3
RP  Bobby Jenks       White Sox  25    1
RP  Jon Papelbon      Red Sox    25    1
RP  Mariano Rivera    Yankees    36    8
RP  B.J. Ryan         Blue Jays  30    2

Reserves
Pos Player            Team      Age  ASG's
C   Joe Mauer         Twins      23    1
1B  Jim Thome         White Sox  35    5
1B  Paul Konerko      White Sox  30    3
2B  Jose Lopez        Mariners   22    1
2B  Robinson Cano     Yankees    23    1
3B  Troy Glaus        Blue Jays  29    4
SS  Miguel Tejada     Orioles    30    4
SS  Michael Young     Rangers    29    3
OF  Jermaine Dye      White Sox  32    2
OF  Alex Rios         Blue Jays  25    1
OF  Gary Matthews Jr. Rangers    31    1
OF  Grady Sizemore    Indians    23    1
OF  Vernon Wells      Blue Jays  27    2

For all of the "worry" over whether Ozzie Guillen would be "loading up" on players from his own team, it looks like there was nothing to fret over.  Six Sox made the cut, and all of them are deserving.

One More Spot

Just like last season, where Torii Hunter was left off the All Star roster due to low votes in a 5-man race, the final roster spot is left up to the fans.  Five deserving players are selected, and it's up to us to get that last slot filled.  This season's candidates are Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski, Baltimore cather Ramon Hernandez, Detroit starting pitcher Justin Verlander, Clevelenad "first baseman" Travis Hafner and our own  pitcher, Francisco Liriano.  To cast your vote for Liriano (or anyone else if you MUST), click here to go to MLB.com, and cast away.

The Coulda's

Justin Morneau

Well, J-Bone knocked out yet another home run today, giving him 21 on the season and two in his last three games.  Morneau has been one of a number of reasons the Twins have been nearly unbeatable since June 8.  Here is how he compares to other top American League first basemen (and some who are mostly DH's as well).

Player      AB  2B  HR  RBI   Avg   Obp   Slg  Age
Morneau    278  15  21   68  .291  .344  .572   25
Giambi     235  12  24   63  .268  .430  .626   35
Konerko    296  15  20   63  .314  .385  .568   30
Ortiz      297  15  26   75  .276  .381  .589   30
Hafner     260  15  22   66  .312  .453  .631   29
Thome      257  10  27   68  .292  .417  .646   35

Thome, Konerko and Ortiz are on the All Star roster, and Hafner is on the list for that one last spot.  Forgetting this, looking over the stats above tells you that in spite of how good Justin has been over the last 3 1/2 weeks, and even though you can make a decent argument that he should be elected...he hasn't been as good as most of these guys.  He's toward the bottom of the list in homers and slugging percentage, and his on-base numbers are pretty low compared to the rest of the list.

I'm not trying to tear down Morneau, because he has been f*@$!%# awesome and he derserves all the attention he's getting right now, but this just isn't his year to go.  The designated hitter and first base positions are stacked with heavy hitters, and his slow start didn't do him any favors.  But, like Mauer and Santana, there will be All Star selections in his future.  Besides, look at the ages of the other players on that list.  In a couple years, these guys will be trailing him.

Joe Nathan

Nathan has been to two All Star games (2004 & 2005), and probably deserves to go this year.  He wasn't around much in April and May, which definitely plays against him, but his numbers so far in 2006 are pointing toward a career year for our closer.  His WHIP rates were an incredible 0.98 and 0.97 in '04 and '05 respecively.  This year his WHIP is 0.79.  He's striking out 12.44 batters per 9, better than his previous career high of 12.09 from last year.  For every batter he walks, he's striking out nearly 12.

But, once again, look who he's up against.  Mariano Rivera has missed the mid-summer classic only twice since 1997. Papelbon has converted 25 of 27 save opportunities and is sporting a 0.43 ERA.  B.J. Ryan has an ERA of 0.45 with an 11.38 k/9.  Then there's Bobby Jenks, who's converted 25 of 26 saves, and has allowed only 1 run since May 10.

To me, Nathan has a better argument for election than does Morneau, but the fact is there can only be so many pitchers, because there are only 27 outs guaranteed.  If one of these relievers can't go, you can be sure Nathan is on the short list of replacements.

Francisco Liriano

After throwing 8 shutout innings tonight, Francisco Liriano has qualified himself for league-leading considerations.  What this means is that Liriano now leads the league in ERA (1.99), K/9 (10.40) and opponent SLG (.292).  As I mentioned ealier, he's also on the list for the final roster spot.  Discussion of Liriano's presence (or lack thereof) in the All Star game needs to include discussion on the other four men on the ballot.

A.J. Pierzynski is having a very good season, hitting .326/.372/.450 with 5 homers and 17 doubles.  Travis Hafner, see above, is doing what he does best:  hit like a mofo.  Baltimore's Ramon Hernandez is doing well, but his .274/.376/.500 line (with 15 homers, 18 doubles and 59 RBI) really can't compete with Pierzyski's, nor can it compete with Mauer's, and even though Ivan Rodriguez's season isn't blowing anyone away...well, Hernandez isn't Ivan Rodriguez.  Then there's Justin Verlander, who is having a solid year as well.  The young Tiger is 10-4 with a 3.13 ERA and 65 strikeouts.

Between Ortiz, Konerko and Thome, the team has enough first basemen.  With all due respect to Travis Hafner, and that's quite a bit of respect, his numbers are represented.  Ramon Hernandez is having a good year, but not a year truly worthy of an All Star selection, especially considering the competition.  Verlander, while performing very well, pales in comparison to what Liriano has done.  To me, the vote comes down to Pierzynski and Liriano.

Pierzynski, because there are only 2 catchers on the team.  With all of the rotations in the field and in the lineup, splitting nine innings between only two men would seem a little indulgent.  Not only this, but let's not forget how good of a year A.J. has been having.  Liriano, because he's been absolutely lights out.  Over his 9 starts he's allowed only 10 runs in 59 innings, while ringing up 62.  In spite of my love for A.J., in spite of what he's meant to us in the past, I don't see how any of the other four players on this list deserve election more than Francisco.

Twins fans have known what potential laid waiting in the arm of the young southpaw.  For two years we heard about the blistering fastball and the ever-better hard slider.  You can't really blame Jay from Let's Go Tribe for what he said about Liriano in the AL Central Roundtable discussion prior to the season:

[The Twins] should get at least one nice season out of Baker and Liriano, but the fact that everyone is acting like Liriano is instant-ace is kind of telling.

I was never really sure of what he meant by "kind of telling", but you can understand where he was coming from.  Outside of Minnesota there wasn't hype about this particular young left-hander.  Still, everything pointed to him being an ace, from the tools to the stats.  His only issues were higher walk rates and a 2003 plagued by injury.  Now that he's performing BEYOND what the sane among us hoped for, it simply drives home the fact of how right the Minnesota hopeful were about Liriano.  Here's hoping for a sustained and successful career beyond 2006.

As for 2006 itself, Liriano has played himself into a rare position.  Not only should he be elected to the All Star game, but if things continue he'll be in the discussion for a Cy Young award along with Johan Santana at the end of the year.

Conclusions

Every year there are snubs.  Every year there are veterans and east coast representatives who probably didn't deserve election.  Unfortunately, it's the nature of the beast.  On the positive side, we have a say in the destiny of one of our young studs.  Go to MLB, go to ESPN, go anywhere you can and vote for Francisco Liriano.  He deserves a nomination.