The 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, otherwise known to many as the “Midsummer Classic,” is vastly approaching. Though the talk around the popular event has been directly on the voting process and how many All-Stars the Kansas City Royals will be represented with, the Pittsburgh Pirates could easily have an abundance of players representing their organization in Cincinnati on July 14. The question is, how many Pirates players truly deserve to represent their team in the Midsummer Classic?
When I think of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the players who deserve to represent the team in the All-Star Game, six names really come to mind. Six players who have shown exemplary play on the field in the first half of the season and six players who have made an impact on a team that has shown its intentions to compete with the St Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs for the National League Central Crown. Some of these names may be completely obvious, but others may be surprise underdogs in the voting.
First, we start with the Pirates Most Valuable player, center fielder Andrew McCutchen. The 2013 National League MVP has proven over the past couple of years to be one of the most exciting players in Major League Baseball. Despite experiencing a brief slump and lingering injury issues both at the beginning of the season and now, with his current elbow issue, McCutchen has turned things around. Although he was taken out of Saturday Night’s contest in the first inning after taking a Julio Teheran fastball to the elbow, McCutchen returned to the Pirates lineup on Sunday, going 1-4, while driving a couple of balls to the warning track at PNC Park. Though pitchers have been known to throw McCutchen inside and hit him with a pitch on occasion, the 28-year-old outfielder isn’t one to be intimidated. His eagerness to be back in the lineup, elbow pad and all, one day after the incident is proof of this. His enthusiasm to be in the lineup day in and day out is what makes him such a special player. When it comes to the All Star Game, fans want to see the best players in all of baseball battle for the prize of home field advantage in the World Series. The Pirates outfield superstar is the perfect candidate to represent the team at an event that puts the organization in the ultimate spotlight. His positive attitude, trademark dance moves and funny antics have always made him a fan favorite, and that is the type of player you want to symbolize the talent your favorite team showcases on a daily basis. His current play and his season statistics warrant the selection as well. This season, McCutchen is hitting .294 with nine home runs and 44 RBI, ranking in the top three on the team in each category. His abilities on the field, his excitement to play every day, and his personality off of the field are all reasons for McCutchen to be an all star for a fifth consecutive year, and also to be in consideration to start for the National League for the second straight year. If McCutchen were to receive his second consecutive fan selection, he would become only the fifth player in franchise history to earn multiple fan votes, joining all-time greats Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Barry Bonds, and Andy Van Slyke. McCutchen currently sits in fifth place amongst National League outfielders in voting, however, three of the top five players in the voting, Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Holliday and Nori Aoki, are all injured. With the voting deadline approaching later in the week, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cutch is deemed worthy of being an outfield starter for the National League.
Despite some early season struggles that prompted fans to want him relieved of his role in the bullpen, Closer Mark Melancon has been one of the Pirates most consistent arms in the first half of the 2015 campaign. A 2013 National League All-Star selection, Melancon is currently tied with Minnesota Twins Closer Glen Perkins for the Major League lead with 24 saves on the season, and has a 1.72 ERA through 37 games. Not too shabby for a guy whose future as the Pirates closer was seen to be in jeopardy at the beginning of the season. In his first full year as the Pirates closer, Melancon has proved to shake off his early season struggles and has established himself as a force at the back end of the bullpen. His National League leading 24 saves in 25 opportunities should not be overlooked by voters and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark “The Shark” gets the opportunity to be selected to the All-Star team for the second time in his career.
The third player on my list should undoubtedly be in Cincinnati on July 14. In fact, I think he should garner a bit of consideration to start on the mound for the National League. Pirates ace Gerrit Cole is a stud. That might just be my opinion, but I’m positive that I am not the only one who feels this way. Despite three less than stellar starts against the Cincinnati Reds this season, a team that has proved to be a thorn in the side of the 24-year-old right hander, Cole has proved to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. In his 12 other starts this season; Cole has not given up more than two earned runs, which explains why he currently ranks seventh in the Major Leagues in Earned Run Average. Aside from his low ERA, Cole is also sporting a Major League leading 11 wins on the season and only three losses. Cole has also consistently gotten guys out via the strikeout, punching out 102 batters in only 95.2 innings. I don’t think there is any doubt whether or not we will see Gerrit Cole in a National League All-Star jersey. He will be there; however, whether or not he is there to start the game is the huge question. Despite his spectacular first half run, Cole is up against some pretty impressive competition. Other starting candidates are bound to include Los Angeles Dodgers Pitcher Zack Greinke, who currently leads the majors with a 1.58 ERA and holds a 6-2 record, and Washington Nationals Ace Max Scherzer, who is 9-5 with a 1.79 ERA on the season, and recently threw a no-hitter against the Pirates on June 20. You can even throw Atlanta Braves pitcher Shelby Miller and New York Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom in that mix as well. I believe that Cole can be just as good as any of these other Aces and has a decent shot at getting the opportunity to start. Though this is yet to be determined, you can definitely expect to see Gerrit Cole representing the Pirates in his first All-Star Game.
As I expect Gerrit Cole to be selected to his first All-Star Game, I also would not be surprised to see him joined by one of his fellow starting pitchers. The feel good story of this year’s Midsummer Classic, if he were to be selected, would undoubtedly be AJ Burnett. The 38-year-old right hander has made it crystal clear that this is his final season in the Major Leagues and seeing him be named to an All-Star team, something he has never done in his Major League career, would be something special. Now, I’m not just saying that Burnett deserves it just because it’s the final season of his career. It is possible that Burnett is pitching better than he ever has. After a less than stellar, 18-loss season in Philadelphia, Burnett has been a pleasant surprise to the Pirates top notch pitching rotation. Burnett is 6-3 this season and currently ranks fourth in the National League with a 2.01 ERA. Throughout the first half, Burnett has proved that he is once again healthy and that he can be a durable option every fifth day for the Pirates. This season, Burnett has proven he can go the distance, pitching at least six innings in 12 of his 15 starts. I understand why people can doubt whether or not Burnett can continue at this pace for the rest of the season, but when it comes to the All-Star Game, second half statistics do not matter. He has put in the work on the mound, and deserves to be rewarded for it. Aside from the fact that he has been playing in the Major Leagues since 1999, Burnett’s reasoning for retiring is honorable. He is 38-years-old and wants to spend more time with his family. I’m sure it would be a pretty cool feeling for his family to see him take part in All-Star weekend for the very first time in his very last season. I’m also sure Pirate fans everywhere, especially Michael Keaton, would enjoy it as well.
Number five on the list of six may also be a bit of a surprise. Now in his third full season in the Major Leagues, outfielder Starling Marte has been one of the most improved bats in the Pirates lineup. Marte has never been selected to an All-Star Game, mainly because he hasn’t put up very strong numbers in the first half of his first two seasons. This season has been very different. With his 12 home runs this year, Marte already sits one home run shy of his career high for a single season and currently leads the team in that category. The Pirates left fielder has also found success driving guys in as well, compiling 46 RBI on the season, which is ten shy of his career high. He is still continuing to play stellar defense in left field, racking up the steals, 15 on the season, and has become a huge threat at the top of the Pirates lineup this year. There is no doubt that Marte can still improve on many aspects of his game, but his play in the first half of this season definitely warrants some attention from voters.
The biggest surprise of the first half of the 2015 season has without a doubt been the replacement for current Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin. Francisco Cervelli has been a very pleasant surprise for the Pirates this season. In fact, you could argue that he has been more valuable than Andrew McCutchen or Gerrit Cole this year. After spending years as a backup with the New York Yankees, Cervelli has emerged as one of the best backstops in the National League. Aside from his exceptional ability to maintain and work with the Pirates pitching staff, Cervelli has been a huge contributor at the plate. In 58 games this season, the Pirates starting catcher is hitting .303 with three home runs and 25 RBI. Though he doesn’t qualify as a league leader in batting average due to his low number of at bats, Cervelli does rank second in the Major Leagues amongst catchers with at least 50 games played. Cervelli, who frequently gets a day off behind the plate when Gerrit Cole is on the mound, has offensive numbers that compare to some of the best catchers in the game. Take Yadier Molina for example. In 69 games this season, Molina is hitting .293 with two home runs and 26 RBI. I understand that Molina is an incredible defensive catcher, but his offensive numbers are extremely similar to Cervelli’s. In fact, Cervelli has a better batting average, one more home run, and only one less RBI than Molina this season, and he has accumulated those numbers in 11 less games played and in 51 less at bats. According to the most recent National League voting update, published yesterday, only Molina and Buster Posey are ahead of Cervelli in voting for the starting catcher position. However, Molina was ahead of Cervelli by a little under four million votes. I understand that Cervelli does not have the reputation that Molina has and hasn’t put up the consistent numbers that the Cardinals backstop has year in and year out, but why not give Cervelli the opportunity? He has consistently been a guy who has brought excitement and energy to the Pirates clubhouse and deserves the chance to be chosen to his first career All-Star Game.
Regardless of their recent 4-6 stretch in their last ten games, the Pittsburgh Pirates have proven to be a solid all around ballclub. The six players I have talked about are a huge part of the success the Pirates have had this season. Whether they are attempting to return to the Midsummer Classic or make a first time appearance in the special event, all six of these players deserve a bit of attention as the voting for starters come to a close. The 2015 All-Star Starters will be unveiled on the Esurance All-Star Selection Show on ESPN this Sunday at 7:30p.m., while the Reserves, Pitchers and Final Vote Candidates will be announced next Monday at 7:00p.m. There is still no guarantee that these players get the opportunity to start in the 2015 MLB All-Star Game. Only the fans have the power to determine the starting lineups, a privilege they may not continue to have with the problems involving the voting process as a whole. What I can guarantee is that the Pittsburgh Pirates will once again be well represented during what is expected to be another eventful All-Star Weekend.