A few days before the brightest stars in baseball head to Kansas City, the All-Star Game has already seen several curve balls come its way.

From the surprising dominance of knuckle ball pitcher R.A. Dickey to the emergence of rookie Mike Trout and controversy surrounding fellow young buck Bryce Harper’s spot on the roster, baseball’s most famous heavy hitters seem to be an All-Star afterthought. 

Rookie vs. Rookie

Well hot diggity dog, look who snuck his way onto the NL All-Star roster?  Yes Harper-haters, the Nationals stand-out 19-year-old weaseled his way into a trip to Kansas City, thanks to Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton who will miss the game and undergo knee surgery.  Bryce Harper has felt the heat on a national level since gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old, and I’d say he’s met the challenge in his first season in the Majors. 

In 63 games, the right fielder is batting .282 with 8 home runs, 25 RBI and .472 slugging.  

Over in the AL, fellow rook Mike Trout blows Harper out of the water, statistically speaking.  The 20-year-old is hitting .342 with 12 HR, 40 RBI and .564 SLG in 64 games, not to mention his excellent fielding skills.  Oh ya, he also leads the AL with 26 stolen bases. 

While Trout had long been considered a stud by baseball insiders, he was relatively unknown to those outside “the know.”  Trout didn’t face nationwide pressure the way Harper has, or the expectations of carrying an entire big league ball club. 

Anyone in their right mind agrees that Trout is an All-Star (despite not making it as a starter) but the debate rages on in regard to Harper. 

Being selected to an All-Star team isn’t only about statistics.  It’s about representing each team in the league.  Sometimes it is strictly numbers based, other times it’s a popularity contest (decided by the fans), and once in a while the game is used to show respect for a player’s overall career rather than his accomplishments in that season.

What’s wrong with selecting Harper, whose numbers are absolutely respectable?  More importantly, he has reenergized a first-place team and its fans while drawing millions of eyeballs from all over the country to the sport.  With all of the BS tarnishing baseball over the last several years, the sport could use a guy like Harper, who thus far, has brought nothing but good PR, not to mention blessing the world with the great new catch phrase, “that’s a clown question bro.”

Hopefully the 2012 All-Star game will turn out to be an anecdote told in conversation several years from now:   “I watched those two share a field at an All-Star game in their rookie season, before they became two of the best to ever play the game.” 

You can’t go wrong having these two on the All-Star roster. 

The Unexpected Rise of R.A. Dickey

Nobody saw this coming.  Not even R.A. Dickey himself.  The Mets knuckleballer has had one hell of a ride.  The man has battled many demons in his life, from suffering sexual abuse to an injury expected to be career-ending to deep emotional depression.  At age 37, Dickey finally hit his stride with a 12-1 record and 2.40 ERA earning him his first-ever All-Star spot.

Dickey’s career seems to have played in reverse, starting out as a highlight touted first-round draft pick before doctors discovered he had an elbow injury, condemning him as damaged goods.  The more Dickey aged, the stronger he grew, learning, and now seemingly perfecting the art of the knuckleball pitch.  In June, Dickey made history throwing back-to-back one-hitters. 

Despite unquestionably earning a spot as an All-Star starter, the unique and rarely used pitch that got Dickey to this level may keep him out of the starting lineup in Kansas City.

Tony LaRussa, managing the NL team is concerned that his starting catcher, the young Buster Posey of the Giants might struggle to receive knucklers behind the plate.  Since the fans voted Posey a starter, LaRussa might feel forced to relegate Dickey to a backup spot.   Plus, the outcome of the MLB All Star game now actually means something to teams in World Series contention.

It would be an ironic shame if the talent that makes Dickey so spectacular forces him out of the starting lineup, but he is still an enigmatic figure with a story that fans love.  Being a first-time All-Star at age 37 is a great enough accomplishment to keep Dickey happy and the fans in his corner. 

Andrew Who?  Fans, Meet Andrew McCutchen

News of the injured Giancarlo Stanton proves to be the gift that keeps on giving.  First, Bryce Harper learned that he would replace Stanton on the NL All-Star roster.  Then, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen got the call that he would take Stanton’s place in the Home Run Derby.

The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t get a lot of love from the media, understandably so considering the franchise has been one of the worst in baseball for many years.  It’s mean, I know, but it’s the truth.  On the bright side, the Pirates have a potential superstar on their hands as McCutchen, in his third year in the Majors, is having an outstanding season thus far. 

In 81 games, McCutchen is hitting .362 with 18 HR (including two in Sunday’s win over the Giants) and 60 RBI.   His .362 average leads all of baseball.  Not too shabby for a 25-year-old playing in Pittsburgh. 

In fact, McCutchen has the highest batting average by a Pirate at the All-Star break since World War II. 

Win or lose, McCutchen’s Derby appearance should create some buzz for the emerging star by giving the country an opportunity to get to know the Pirates’ young standout. 

 
I’m looking at the National League leaders from last season where names like Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols pop up in the top five nearly every offensive statistic.  Fielder and Pujols are about to find themselves in a different column all together after a wild off-season sent the heavy hitters to the American League, changing the MLB landscape.

Aside from the money (both Fielder and Pujols signed multi-year contracts worth over $200 million… yes, 200 MILLION DOLLARS), it shouldn’t come as a shock that guys hitting 37 and 38 home runs (Pujols and Fielder, respectively) are leaving the NL for the AL, home of the designated hitter.  Between Fielder’s weight (275 lbs. on a 5’11 frame) and Pujols’ age (32), it would make sense for both guys to make the switch to full-time batter within the next few years. 

I don’t understand why baseball has allowed each league to have different rules, especially considering it was not always that way.  I love to see pitchers at the plate.  Even though most pitchers stink at hitting, I think there is something to be said for every single man on the roster being responsible for throwing and hitting the ball at some point in every game.  I find it fascinating watching a pitcher pitch to his fellow hurler, and when a pitcher does get a hit (or a home run, which I watched my hometown Dodgers fall victim to four times last season), the reaction of his teammates and fans is usually priceless. 

On the other hand, I get that a guy hitting 30-something home runs in a season is much more exciting.  Despite his struggles in the first few months of the last few seasons, the roar of the Fenway Park crowd each time David Ortiz takes the plate is something special.  Sure, Big Papi was instrumental in Boston’s World Series titles, but there’s just something about a big guy like that at bat.  No need to worry about him trying to catch a runner in the outfield, or make a big play at third, just enjoy him doing what he does best.

The designated hitter position has required the AL to stack the deck with the best pitchers in the game, although the top five guys in each league were all spectacular last season. 

If Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia , Jered Weaver and James Shields thought they had their work cut out for them last season staring down the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson and a slew of others, now they get to add Fielder and Pujols to that list.  YIKES.

The AL West alone looks ridiculous!  The two-time World Series runner-up Texas Rangers added Yu Darvish to the lineup and the the new-look Pujols-infused Anaheim Angeles should improve mightily on top of already owning a fantastic pitching staff. 

In the AL Central, the division-winning Detroit Tigers will only get better, now with Fielder, Cabrera and Peralta in the same lineup. 

As further evidence of a power swing, I just typed an entire blog about the AL  without mentioning the Yankees or Red Sox.  Saying nothing about New York or Boston says a lot about the direction in which the American League is heading.