by Rob Joyce
The Midsummer Classic is nearly upon us, representing the de facto halfway point of the Major League Baseball season. Next week baseball’s best players will head to Miami for the annual All-Star Game, with the teams having been released last weekends.
Naturally some of the sport’s biggest names were voted in (Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw and Giancarlo Stanton, among others), but with only so many roster spots available, there are plenty of players for both the American and National League that find themselves left out. Picking three players from each league, here are the “best of the rest” that – barring injury replacement – won’t be heading to Miami (note: The “Final Vote” candidates aren’t included in this list):
3) Chris Devenski, Astros:
In a league with the likes of Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, it’s Houston’s middle reliever that leads the AL in strikeouts. Opponents are hitting just .153 against the 26-year-old, and he’s been a bull on the mound, as he’s on pace to hit triple-digit innings, a rarity for non-starters in this day and age.
2) Brett Gardner, Yankees:
The 33-year-old has found an extra gear in 2017. He’s not going to steal 40 bases a year anymore, but he’s still good for about 20. And this year he’s been on a power surge, already with 15 home runs on the year, just two off his career-high, set in 2014. His defense has been above-average in left field. The youth movement has dominated headlines in the Bronx, with Gardner being the steady veteran presence that’s vital.
1) Andrelton Simmons, Angels:
For years he’s been the best defensive shortstop in the game, but this year he’s on pace for a career offensive year. He’s on pace for career highs in homers, RBIs, on-base and slugging percentage and stolen bases, and his batting average (.283) is 20 points above his career pace. He’s been a big reason why the Angels have hung in the tight AL wild card race, even with Mike Trout missing more than a month.
3) Jacob deGrom, Mets:
New York’s ace has had his share of bad moments this year (he allowed 15 earned runs in consecutive starts against the Brewers and Rangers) but he’s turned it on of late. He’s thrown 32 innings in his last four starts, allowing just four total runs (three earned). His strikeout rate is at a career-high and he’s been a workhorse, lasting seven innings or later eight times in a year where the average start doesn’t even reach the sixth.
2) Travis Shaw, Brewers:
Third base in the National League is loaded. Colorado’s Nolan Arenado is the starter at the hot corner, with Arizona’s Jake Lamb the reserve. That leaves Chicago’s Kris Bryant, Washington’s Anthony Rendon and Los Angeles’ Justin Turner fighting for the Final Five vote. Left out of that loaded mix is Shaw, who is having a career year in Milwaukee. Traded in the off-season for a middle reliever, Shaw has gone on to hit .294 (career-high: .270) with 17 home runs (already a career-best) and 60 RBIs. Eric Thames stole the spotlight early on, and there are bigger names out there, but a middle-of-the-order presence for a first-place team in the Brewers deserves some love.
1) Felipe Rivero, Pirates:
Earlier this season Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon said of Rivero: “He’s a rare cat… He’s got to be in the top five in the National League in terms of the stuff”. Apparently in the last few months that thinking’s changed because Maddon, manager of the NL squad who selects the team’s pitchers, left the Pittsburgh reliever off the roster. This despite Rivero ranking in the top-five in the NL in strikeouts-per-nine (10.0), earned run average (0.82) and innings (44). He’s not the closer for the Buccos, but he’s more than deserving of a nod in next week’s All-Star Game.