by Julian Spivey
Every year I like to do this sort of exercise where I select my Major League Baseball All-Star Game starting players simply by looking at the information given to me on the MLB All-Star Game ballot itself at mlb.com/all-star/ballot. That info includes a player’s batting average, home run total, RBI total and OPS. Now, if I happened to know something about a player – like for instance Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. has 30 stolen bases already – it may sway my vote, but for the most part, I’m going off those four categories given.
We are a little less than a month away from the MLB All-Star Game, taking place at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park on Tuesday, July 11. Phase one voting for the MLB All-Star Game ends on Thursday, June 22 at 11 a.m.
Here are my current selections to start that game…
*All stats shared in this article will be as of June 16.
American League: Salvador Perez (Kansas City Royals)
Some of these positions are pretty hard to decide with players with comparable numbers. American League catcher is one of those spots because I don’t think you can go wrong with Baltimore Orioles backstop Adley Rutschman (who is the current vote leader) or Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim (who is the current runner-up in the vote). But I’m going with Royals veteran Salvador Perez, who has a bit higher power numbers than the other two, though Heim does have more RBI. Perez’s OPS of .816 is higher than Heim’s, where he has more homers and RBI than Rutschman. Also, if the fans could pick a Royals player (they’re currently the worst team in baseball) it means their likely lone representative at the game is taken care of.
National League: Will Smith (Los Angeles Dodgers)
When I made my first ballot (which I didn’t publish here) a few weeks ago I believe I had Atlanta Braves catcher Sean Murphy (who is the leading vote-getter right now) as my choice, but I believe he’s been surpassed in my mind since then by Dodgers backstop Will Smith (who is the runner-up in the vote). Smith has a slightly higher OPS and a batting average that’s eight points higher. Though, Murphy does still have him beat in homers and RBI. Colorado Rockies catcher Elias Diaz should be in the conversation too.
American League: Yandy Diaz (Tampa Bay Rays)
Yandy Diaz of Tampa Bay isn’t exactly a household name, so it might be a bit harder for him to win a fan vote – especially with Tampa Bay likely having one of the smaller fan bases in baseball. Though, he’s not too far behind leading vote-getter Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays. Guerrero has a few more RBI than Diaz, but Diaz has him beaten in every other statistical category shown on the ballot.
National League: Freddie Freeman (Los Angeles Dodgers)
The first base selection for the National League should be 100 percent clear and that’s Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers, who’s likely the leading MVP candidate right now in the league (either him or Acuna Jr. for Atlanta). Freeman is hitting .325 this season with 13 homers (third among first baseman), 46 RBI (second among first baseman) and an OPS of .961 (highest among first baggers).
American League: Marcus Semien (Texas Rangers)
Marcus Semien is currently the leading vote-getter among second baseman in the American League and I think the fans have gotten this one right, so far. Semien combined offensive numbers are far and away the best of any second baseman in the league right now with a .283 average, 10 homers, 53 RBI and .821 OPS.
National League: Luis Arraez (Miami Marlins)
Luis Arraez should be a no-brainer to start second base for the National League at this point – he may be the best pure hitter in the game right now. Sure, he has almost no power, his two home runs are 13 fewer than Ozzie Albies of the Braves and Nolan Gorman of the St. Louis Cardinals, but he’s hitting nearly .400 two-and-half months into the season. His OPS is quite a bit higher than anyone else at second base too. Arraez is the current leading vote-getter.
American League: Jose Ramirez (Cleveland Guardians)
On my first ballot a few weeks ago, I had Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Matt Chapman as my starter, but he’s fallen off quite a bit since then. A lot of others must’ve been doing the same because he’s the current vote leader. Josh Jung has been putting his name on the map for the Texas Rangers this season and is second in the vote-getting, which is right where I think he should be at this point. My current selection to start the game is Jose Ramirez of the Guardians, who’s been on a tear lately and has been one of the most unsung players in baseball over the last half-decade or more now. Ramirez is currently hitting .292 with 11 homers, 41 RBI and a .869 OPS, higher than Chapman in all categories and better than Jung in everyone but homers.
National League: J.D. Davis (San Francisco Giants)
Here’s where name recognition or lack thereof can hurt a player in the MLB All-Star Game fan vote because I think J.D. Davis of the Giants is having the best season thus far at third base in the National League and isn’t among the top two in the fan vote – whereas perennial superstars like Nolan Arenado of the Cardinals and Austin Riley of the Braves are. Arenado’s numbers are worthy of the spot, but I feel like the major disappointment of the Cardinals’ season should be considered. Davis has a higher batting average and OPS than Arenado. Riley has been a bit of a disappointment for Atlanta this year.
American League: Corey Seager (Texas Rangers)
It’s possible that the Texas Rangers double-play combo of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager will start the All-Star Game for the A.L. It would be the first since 2017 when Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa did so for the Houston Astros. Seager is currently second in the fan vote behind Toronto’s Bo Bichette, whose numbers are really nice too. Seager is hitting .344 with nine home runs, 36 RBI and 1.030 OPS.
National League: Orlando Arcia (Atlanta Braves)
Potentially the biggest surprise among All-Star Game hopefuls in the first half of the season has been Orlando Arcia at shortstop for the Atlanta Braves. He really wasn’t expected to be the starting shortstop of the team following Dansby Swanson’s departure to the Chicago Cubs during the offseason. Many thought 22-year-old Vaughn Grissom would take over the position, but with his defensive struggles in Spring Training, it became clear Arcia should have the job. He has never for one second made the team think otherwise. Arcia is hitting .329 with five homers and 23 RBI and his numbers would likely be even more impressive without a three-week stint on the injured list early in the season. Braves’ country must be showing out to vote for him because he doesn’t exactly have household name recognition. He’s currently the leading vote-getter at N.L. shortstop over Francisco Lindor of the New York Mets.
American League: Aaron Judge (New York Yankees), Yordan Alvarez (Houston Astros) & Randy Arozarena (Tampa Bay Rays)
How much fun would it be watching an outfield of Aaron Judge, Yordan Alvarez and Randy Arozarena in the All-Star game? They’re currently all in the top four of the fan vote, but the massive popularity of Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout currently has Arozarena as the odd man out. Judge is currently on the injured list, but I’m not going to let that impact my current vote when he’s hitting .291 with 19 homers, 40 RBI and a 1.078 OPS. He may not be back in time for the All-Star game. Alvarez, one of the scariest men at the plate in the entire game, is hitting .277 with 17 homers, 55 RBI and an OPS of .977. Arozarena, one of the leaders of baseball best Tampa Bay, is hitting .285 with 13 home runs, 48 RBI and a .891 OPS.
National League: Ronald Acuna Jr. (Atlanta Braves), Corbin Carroll (Arizona Diamondbacks) & Nick Castellanos (Philadelphia Phillies)
Ronald Acuna Jr. might be the most exciting player to watch in all of baseball and the fans realize that which is why he’s the overall National League vote-getter with already more than a million votes. Acuna is hitting .327 with 15 home runs, 45 RBI and a .970 OPS to go along with the previously mentioned N.L. leading 30 stolen bases. The Arizona Diamondbacks have been one of the surprises of the first half of the 2023 MLB season and one of the biggest reasons is the play of outfielder Corbin Carroll, who is hitting .308 with 14 homers, 36 RBI and a .977 OPS. Nick Castellanos of the Philadelphia Phillies is my third outfielder selection with an OPS of .851, an average of .315, with eight homers and 42 RBI. Carroll and Castellanos are not currently among the outfield fan-vote leaders with Carroll’s Arizona teammate Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in one of the spots and the massively popular Mookie Betts of the Dodgers in the other position.
American League: Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels)
Shohei Ohtani is the leading vote-getter among all American League players and is likely well on his way to being named to the game as both a designated hitter and pitcher, as he was for last year’s midsummer classic. Ohtani is hitting .301 with an A.L. leading 22 homers, 54 RBI and an OPS of .1.006.
National League: J.D. Martinez (Los Angeles Dodgers)
There really isn’t a clear-cut favorite for the starting designated hitter slot in the National League thus far. I’ll agree with the fans’ choice thus far and go with J.D. Martinez of the Dodgers. Martinez is actually leading the N.L. in slugging percentage this season. He’s hitting .257 with 16 homers and 48 RBI.
by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
JS: The Miami Heat finally put away the Boston Celtics in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the NBA Finals to face the Denver Nuggets, who put away the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals more than a week ago. Let’s break down the NBA Finals matchup - which sees a no. 1 seed facing a no. 8 seed for just the second time in league history. The last time was 1999 when the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs put away the No. 8 seed New York Knicks in 5 games. The Heat are just the second 8 seed to ever reach the Finals. This is the first Finals appearance in Nuggets franchise history. Let’s start with the best player on each team, even if they don’t play the same position. The Nuggets have two-time MVP Nikola Jokic at center, and he may very well be the best player in the entire NBA right now. The Heat have Jimmy Butler, who’s put his team on his back for most of the postseason to get them to this almost unprecedented point. Even if the two don’t defend each other much if ever in the series, which team has the superstar advantage?
EF: I love Jimmy Butler's game. I have always had respect for his game and the way he plays basketball. But I have to say that I am choosing Nikola Jokic because I have never seen a big man who can be walking triple-double and do it with ease. Butler plays the better defense of the two, but the way Jokic can impact the game and make the right play offensively is a total game-changer.
JS: Butler has likely been, with the exception of some of the games in the ECF against Boston when Miami tried to give the series away, the MVP of the postseason. He's averaged 28.5 points per game in the postseason and has absolutely willed the Heat this far. He may continue to will them even further, but there's no way I could take him over Nikola Jokic. Jokic is an absolute unicorn in the way he plays basketball as a big man. He's one of the best passers in the league and isn't afraid to take and hit long jumpers. Jokic has averaged just under 30 points per game this postseason, while leading all players in the playoffs with 10.3 assists per game (again, as a center!) and he's been second in rebounding (behind only Anthony Davis of the Lakers) with 13.3 a game.
JS: Caleb Martin has played some big games for the Heat in the postseason, but I'd have to say the No. 2 guy for Miami behind Butler is center Bam Adebayo. And Denver's second-best player is its point guard Jamal Murray. Which team has the advantage with its second-best player?
EF: I am going with Jamal Murray. He has been really good so far in these playoffs. Murray had a serious knee injury during the 2021 playoffs and he miss all of last season. He has come back stronger than ever. In the Western Conference Finals, he averaged over 30 points per game while shooting 50% from the field, 40% from three, 90% from the free throw line. That's only the second time any player has ever put those kinds of numbers in a playoff series. He is averaging 28 a game the entire playoffs. Murray has definitely become a great player on his own terms.
JS: Yeah. I truly mean no offense toward Bam Adebayo, who can be a big threat for Miami scoring inside and redirecting shots on defense, but Jamal Murray is clearly the best No. 2 of this series. Not only has he been putting up massive scoring numbers he's also averaging six assists and nearly two steals per game. Adebayo has been averaging roughly 17 points per game with 9.2 rebounds as Miami's second-best player.
JS: OK, let's talk about the rest of the starters for these two teams. Denver has Aaron Gordon at power forward, Michael Porter Jr. at small forward and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the two-guard position. Miami has seen Caleb Martin play big at forward - some even feel he should've been ECF MVP. They've been starting Gabe Vincent at point guard and Max Strus at two-guard. Which team has the advantage?
EF: I have to think Denver still has the advantage on this one. Gordon can be a machine at the power forward position, Porter Jr is right now a top-five small forward when healthy, and KCP has a new edge to his game since leaving the Lakers. Martin, Vincent, and Strus have been nice stories for the Heat. All of them have helped Miami get better as the playoffs continue, but I think that the Denver three compliments the duo of Jokic and Murray. That is a really good starting five.
JS: Denver does have a really solid starting five and I agree they have the advantage here too. Porter has been averaging 14.6 points per game along with eight rebounds. Gordon has been averaging 13 points a game and Caldwell-Pope nearly 12. That comes out to 100 points per game just with Denver’s starting five. If Martin can play as well in the Finals as he did in the ECF that’ll be a huge boost for Miami, but overall, the Nuggets probably take this matchup too.
JS: What about the benches? I know when it comes to the playoffs and finals teams tend to shorten up their bench and play the starters more minutes but will either bench play a big factor? And if Tyler Herro is able to return from his injury how do you see him impacted the series for Miami?
EF: If Tyler Herro returns for Miami, that would be huge for the Heat because of Herro's outside game. He is their best shooter. The Heat may steal a game because of their good shooting and it would be led by Tyler Herro. As far as the bench is concerned, Denver does not use their bench as much. There will probably be just an additional three guys for the Nuggets: Jeff Green, Bruce Brown and Christian Brown. Green is the vet while the other two are young players. I don't really expect much from their bench. The Heat will be fully stocked with guys with a ton of experience like Kyle Lowery, Kevin Love and Cody Zeller. I see the Heat having a much more efficient bench than the Nuggets. So, I will give them the advantage on this one.
JS: Brown has been the Nuggets’ fifth-highest scorer this postseason. But I’ll agree with you on the Miami bench, especially if Herro could return (with that possibility happening around game three). The veteran presence of Lowry and Love could be huge for Miami. Love has now made the Finals all five times he’s reached the postseason in his career. I assume Erik Spoelstra has the advantage at coaching simply because this is his sixth Finals appearance and it’s the first for Michael Malone.
EF: Bonus stat: This will be the 19th NBA finals for Pat Riley as either a player, coach, or executive. He's been involved in 25% of the NBA Finals.
JS: Do you think the almost week and a half layoff for the Nuggets will have any impact on them?
EF: I think they will be rusty early in game 1 but I do think they will have the maturity to pick themselves up and play better late. I expect game 1 to be close and I don't think it will be a sweep. Miami can steal one of the first two games in Denver. But once they get things together, the Nuggets are going to show they are the better team.
JS: All right, so do you think the Nuggets will win the series in 5 games or do you see it going longer?
EF: I debated whether it would be five or six games. I am leaning toward six games.
JS: My first inclination was to predict the Nuggets to win the title in five games, but I don’t want to underestimate the sheer determination of Jimmy Butler, which might be big and good enough on its own to take multiple games in the series. So, not to bore our readers too much, but I’m going to agree with you on the Nuggets in six games prediction. We’re both taking Denver to win its first-ever NBA title.