Josh Donaldson is the reigning MVP of the American League, has led his team into contention for a second straight postseason berth after a 22-year drought and is enjoying a season arguably better than last year’s. He’s one of the top five hitters in the league and a legitimate threat for a second straight MVP award.
And he probably won’t start the All-Star Game. On merit.
When the All-Star rosters are unveiled Tuesday night — Major League Baseball now announces the entire teams (and last-player finalists) at once, rather than piecemeal — Baltimore’s Manny Machado appears likely to be the starting third baseman for the AL, a unique situation given that, well, he hasn’t played third base all that much.
Machado spent 45 games at shortstop while J.J. Hardy was injured, and returned to third base only 10 days ago. But he was on the ballot as a third baseman, since that’s where he started the season, and with more than a half-million-vote lead over Donaldson, the Orioles infielder figures to relegate the MVP to the bench to start the July 12 game in San Diego.
That’s unique, too: Not since Justin Morneau in 2007 has a current MVP been excluded from the AL starting lineup (with the exception of Dustin Pedroia, who withdrew from the 2009 game for family reasons). Morneau, who hadn’t even been an All-Star during his MVP season, watched as David Ortiz, a designated hitter, outdrew him for the first base spot the following year.
The Machado/Donaldson decision is the toughest of the AL calls this year, but there were others. In advance of Tuesday’s announcement, here’s a look at who deserves to start for the AL. Don’t look for any Twins on the list:
First base: All-Star Games are meant to be showcases for such players as Miguel Cabrera, a future Hall of Famer having another superb season (.300 average, 18 homers), but Eric Hosmer appears headed to election as starter. Hosmer is a fine player and a deserving All-Star, but he’s never been the hitter that Cabrera, a four-item batting champion, is.
Second base: Jose Altuve of Houston seems headed to victory in a runaway. I’d pick him, too. He leads the AL in hitting and steals and owns a .427 on-base percentage. But Robinson Cano of Seattle isn’t as overmatched as vote totals make it appear.
Shortstop: Francisco Lindor of Cleveland and Xander Bogaerts of Boston will make this a difficult decision for years, unless Carlos Correa joins them. After watching Bogaerts dominate the Twins at Target Field — 10-for-15, two homers, great defense — I’m sold on Bogaerts, but Lindor holds a tiny edge (3.4 to 3.2) in WAR. Since Bogaerts plays in Boston, he’ll have outsized margin in voting.
Third base: Machado’s WAR is 4.1 and he was stellar at short, so he may be the AL’s best player at two positions. As it is, his .988 OPS makes him a solid choice at third, too, but it feels weird telling Donaldson, whose 4.2 WAR is third-best in the game, that he’s second-best.
Outfield: Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 29-game hitting streak is only part of the greatness of his season, and teammate Mookie Betts is already the star the Twins hope Byron Buxton someday becomes. But Mike Trout remains the game’s best all-around player — a 1.000 OPS? A 5.0 WAR at midseason? — and should be the runaway top vote-getter. It says something about the young talent in the AL when Lorenzo Cain can’t break into this group.
Catcher: Salvador Perez is the best hitter and best defender at his position, on the defending world champs. Not much debate here.
Designated hitter: As with Cabrera, here’s a Hall of Fame player having a stellar season — his final one, at that. Ortiz has a talent for the dramatic, so don’t be surprised if he’s MVP next Tuesday, just as Mariano Rivera was in his farewell.
The Twins don’t have an obvious All-Star, unlike the rest of their Central Division brethren. But here are some lesser-known but deserving All-Stars around the division:
Indians: A hamstring injury cost Carlos Carrasco six weeks, but when he’s pitched, he’s been dominant: a 2.45 ERA and the AL’s highest strikeout rate among AL starters (29.1 percent of batters whiff). Trouble is, Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar are likely All-Stars, too.
Royals: Wade Davis, whose 1.23 ERA is actually his highest in three years, is the obvious choice. But Kelvin Herrera, who would be a closer almost anywhere else, is doing outstanding work setting up Davis. Herrera has 49 strikeouts in 38 innings, and his 1.40 ERA is almost Davis-like.
Tigers: Nick Castellanos has blossomed into perhaps the division’s best third baseman, contributing 14 home runs and a .304 average, a dangerous hitter who extends the lineup. His defense, once a big problem, is gradually improving, too.
White Sox: Adam Eaton gave up his position, but not his effectiveness. Eaton gives the White Sox strong defense in right field, and he’s become a do-everything No. 2 hitter in the order. Like Dan Jennings in the bullpen, his value becomes more clear the more you watch.
The Twins tried a squeeze play on Friday, but it failed when Kurt Suzuki popped his bunt into the air. What Twins have been the best at bunting a runner home from third base? The squeeze-play career totals:
11 John Castino
7 Cristian Guzman
6 Rod Carew, Nick Punto, Jerry Terrell, Ted Uhlaender
5 Jacque Jones
4 Bob Randall, Greg Gagne, Al Newman
Suzuki’s bunt turned into a double play; amazingly, according to baseball-reference.com, it was only the second squeeze play in Twins history that was bunted into a double play. The first came on Sept. 29, 2009, when Nick Punto did it in the ninth inning of a tie game in Detroit, amid the teams’ down-the-wire AL Central race.