CHICAGO — Too bad Major League Baseball no longer showcases a second All-Star Game.
With Jered Weaver and, to a lesser extent, Howard Kendrick denied invitations to represent the American League in the All-Star Game in their home park, the Angels are not alone in their frustration and confusion.
So many qualified players were overlooked this season, MLB could stage a second Midsummer Classic with those neglected athletes and it would be almost as talent-rich as the one that will unfold on July 13.
I was dumbfounded when I learned Weaver, leading the Majors in strikeouts with a 2.82 ERA and 8-3 record, wasn’t chosen. I figured he was a dead-solid lock. You can make a strong case that he has been as good as any starter in the league, rising to the challenge of replacing good buddy John Lackey as the no-nonsense, no-doubt ace of the staff.
In fact, Weaver was that guy last season but nobody seemed to notice. This should be his second straight year in the All-Star Game, but he’ll be home with family members, pulling for Torii Hunter to represent his team with his customary passion, style and grace.
Hunter was visibly distressed when he learned that Weaver and Kendrick, who has been durable and productive, didn’t get the call. It stripped from Torii much of the satisfaction he took from earning the vote of his peers.
But even there, I was baffled. How could Jose Bautista of Toronto claim 10 more votes from the players than Hunter, who finished sixth in the players’ balloting? Sure, he’s hit a lot of home runs this season, but in no way, shape or form does Bautista compare with Hunter as a total performer.
The players’ infatuation with the Blue Jays, currently one game below .500, was puzzling. Vernon Wells is having a terrific season, but he’s not in my view the player Carl Crawford is. Yet Wells collected 64 more player votes than Crawford to finish third, ahead of the Rays’ star.
And don’t even get me started on the catching outcome. Toronto’s John Buck was third on the players’ ballots, ahead of Oakland’s Kurt Suzuki, arguably the most underrated player in the game. The only area of the game where Buck compares with Suzuki is in lifting big flies.
By taking Suzuki, rather than Buck, to replace injured Victor Martinez on the AL roster, manager Joe Girardi could then have taken Weaver rather than right-hander Trevor Cahill, the Athletics’ representative. A promising right-hander, Cahill is having a solid season, but he is not in Weaver’s class yet.
In Suzuki and Weaver, the AL would have two truly deserving, no-doubt All-Stars.
Yes, Weaver is due to work on the Sunday preceding the All-Star Game, making him ineligible to pitch in the game. But that didn’t prevent Girardi and the AL decision-makers from selecting CC Sabathia, whose spot was awarded to Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte. If Nick Swisher, running second behind Kevin Youkilis in the Final Vote, joins the party, that would be eight Yankees All-Stars, if you’re counting.
Hunter, as the lone All-Star from the Angels, clearly must be the league’s MVP at this point in keeping his team in the hunt for what would be a fourth consecutive AL West title.
As for the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler getting the call over Kendrick, the players could not have been paying enough attention to what these two second baseman have done this season. Kendrick clearly has been the more productive performer, given all the games Kinsler has missed.
The lack of respect shown the Angels was just as glaring with their neighbors to the south. Padres manager Buddy Black, Mike Scioscia’s former pitching coach, has done a masterful job with that club. The Padres had at least three richly-deserving pitching candidates for the big show and none got the call.
Judging by the performances of their teams, San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez, like Hunter, must be the MVP at the midway point of the season. The first baseman is the only representative of the club with the NL’s best record.
One final thought, regarding the phenom: Stephen Strasburg should be in this game. The whole point of elevating the importance of the All-Star Game in attaching home-field advantage in the World Series to the winner was to make sure that the best players competed at a high level and didn’t coast through the game.
If you’re the NL, and you’re serious about ending the AL’s run of dominance, you want Strasburg on the mound for an inning or two. You can’t tell me there are 13 better pitchers in the National League than this kid. I’m not sure there are three better than Strasburg. – Lyle Spencer
Brandon Wood, with all of five professional games of experience at the position, found himself on the lineup card at first base and batting seven against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia on Sunday at Angel Stadium.
“It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to,” Wood said. “I’ve played enough there now at [Triple-A] Salt Lake to get a feel for it. It’s definitely a different look and feel, but I’m getting more comfortable every time I play there. By the third or fourth game, I was checking things off: I can do that, I can do that.
“One thing I didn’t realize is how much is involved at first in terms of physical activity – all the squatting, moving around. I find that my legs are more tired after playing first than at short or third.”
A shortstop all his life, taken in the first round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., Wood has been the gem of the farm system since ’04. He has been brought along slowly – the Angels are loaded with quality players at shortstop and third base – but has shown clear signs in limited opportunities this season of putting it all together.
His first three starts this season have been at third base, where he has excelled spelling Chone Figgins. Wood made a superb back-handed stab on Saturday, robbing Johnny Damon of a hit in the fifth inning, and responded in the bottom half of the winning with a homer to right center against Andy Pettitte. It jump-started the Angels’ offense, and they went on to prevail, 14-8.
Wood had two hits against Sabathia in New York on May 2, including an opposite-field single that ignited a decisive rally.
“A play like the one Woody made can give you a boost of confidence,” teammate Reggie Willits said. “I’ve seen that carry over to your next at-bat – and you saw what happened. Woody has big-time talent, no question about it.”
Wood agreed that his defensive contribution might have sharpened his focus in his at-bat against Pettitte. He was ahead 3-1 in the count when he went after a pitch down and on the outer half of the plate and sent it rocketing into the seats in right center.
“He has ridiculous power,” Willits said. “I’ve seen him hit some shots you wouldn’t believe in the Minors.”
Wood, who swung at only two of Pettitte’s first 10 pitches on Saturday, walking in his first at-bat, is making an impression on the man in charge.
“Brandon is making significant strides, offensively and defensively,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “He’s looked good at first in Salt Lake. He’s athletic, with good hands, and he is taking to it well, just as he did at third.”
Brandon Wood was in the Angels’ lineup on Saturday against Andy Pettitte, getting a start at third base with Chone Figgins awarded a day off his busy feet to serve as designated hitter.
Wood welcomes any chance to face anybody, even if it’s one of the game’s premier southpaws. He made one of his two starts for the Angels this season at New York against CC Sabathia, collecting a pair of singles in three at-bats. He went the other way with a single to contribute to a decisive rally against the Yankees’ ace.
The slugging gem of the Angels’ system for four years, Wood also had a single in two at-bats against Pettitte during one of his appearances at home last September when he got his first taste of consistent Major League playing time at shortstop.
“I’ll go check with Torii [Hunter] and some of the guys about how to approach him,” Wood said of Pettitte, who is known to bring his cut fastball in on right-hander’s fists. “Two at-bats help, but Torii has seen him a lot longer than I have.”
Wood, hitting .333 for the Angels with nine at-bats, was batting .313 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs at Triple-A Salt Lake when he was recalled on Friday with Hunter (strained adductor muscle) and Vladimir Guerrero (strained muscle behind his left knee) going on the 15-day disabled list.
“Woody can help us,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “You don’t want him sitting around getting one start every 10 days. There’s a role for him to get at-bats and contribute.”
A natural shortstop coming out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2003, Wood has made excellent strides at third base and lately at first in an effort to expand his horizons and make him more attractive to Scioscia.
He has sure hands, an accurate arm and an easy, gliding manner in the field calling to mind a young Cal Ripken Jr.
With a grin, Wood said, “All I can ask for is a chance to play and contribute. It’s exciting every time I get on the field.”
Here’s how the Angels will line up against Andy Pettitte — rain is falling on a tarp in the late afternoon — at Yankee Stadium:
1. Chone Figgins, 3B
2. Gary Matthews Jr., RF
3. Bobby Abreu, LF
4. Torii Hunter, CF
5. Mike Napoli, DH
6. Howard Kendrick, 2B
7. Robb Quinlan, 1B
8. Jeff Mathis, C
9. Erick Aybar, SS
Jered Weaver, P
This is a big night for Napoli and his fans.Manager Mike Scioscia putting the big bopper in the DH spot could be a one-night stand, or it could be the start of something big — and productive.
Napoli has a big, long swing — and the highest home run ration in history among catchers. Critics would scoff that it’s a small sample, representing just 50 home runs, in relation to past receivers of renown such as Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench and Roy Campanella.
But Napoli is a born hitter. Jeff Mathis is a terrific catcher, young and getting better all the time. It makes great sense to have both of these guys in the lineup, as often as they can handle it. That’s why it seems like the right thing to do — Napoli as DH, catching occasionally, with Bobby Wilson summoned from Triple-A Salt Lake to back up Mathis.
Quinlan, a .417 career hitter against Pettitte with a double, two RBIs in 12 at-bats, also gets a start at first base in the wake of a rough night for Morales in the series opener. Kendry was hitless in four at-bats, striking out three times, after a recent surge of hits.
Old school to the bone, I do not like the idea of carrying 12 pitchers. I didn’t care for going to 11, frankly. I recognize that the bullpen has been beaten up a little bit in the season’s first month, but four position players off the bench reduces a manager’s options late in games. I’d rather have that extra bench player than a reliever who is there primarily to soak up innings in lost causes, after a starter has been knocked out early.
We’ll see if it lasts, Napoli as a DH, or if it’s a one-time thing. But I like it. I like it a lot. I think Napoli, with 550 to 600 at-bats and free of the physical burden of catching frequently, can hit 40 homers and drive in more than 100 runs.
“Nap’s got big-time power, man,” Hunter said the other day. “The guy can mash.”
Tonight, Napoli will be protecting Hunter, the cleanup man, in the No. 5 hole.
Surely, a factor in Scioscia’s decision is Napoli’s history against Pettitte. He’s 3-for-5 with a double. But when he’s locked in, seeing the ball well and driving it, no yard can hold him. Napoli in the batter’s box is a weapon.