The baseball season reaches its symbolic midpoint Tuesday night when Kansas City hosts the national pastime’s 83rd All-Star Game. Kauffman Stadium will be home to no fewer than 70(!) of the game’s finest players. (So fine that Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and Ichiro Suzuki will be home watching like you and me.)
What if we were to name an All-Star team (based on this year’s body of work) comprised of only former Memphis Redbirds? As you’ll see, we’d get mixed results. (All stats are through Sunday’s action.)
CATCHER — Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals) For some time now, Molina has been the finest defensive catcher in the game. But the four-time Gold Glover has developed into a middle-of-the-order run producer for rookie manager Mike Matheny. He’s already on the cusp of surpassing his career high of 14 home runs (13 through Sunday) and has driven in 45 while hitting a cool .304.
FIRST BASE — Albert Pujols (Los Angeles Angels) Following the worst start to any of his 12 seasons (not a single long ball in April), Pujols will miss his second straight Midsummer Classic. But he’s started to swing the bat like the Machine Cardinal fans knew and loved. His current batting average (.268) and OPS (.795) would be, far and away, the worst of his career. But still good enough to make this team.
SECOND BASE — Daniel Descalso (St. Louis Cardinals) He’s a better hitter than his .223 average would suggest. And he’s the best fielder among the three second-sackers Matheny has utilized this season (the others are Skip Schumaker and Tyler Greene). There was a time not long ago when the Phillies’ Placido Polanco would have this spot locked down, but Polanco is now exclusively a third baseman.
THIRD BASE — David Freese (St. Louis Cardinals) The hero of last year’s postseason has managed to stay healthy and productive through the first half of 2012. Freese enters the break hitting .294 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs. He’s one of three players on this list (along with the two pitchers) actually playing in Tuesday night’s event, having been voted in as the final National League selection by fans.
SHORTSTOP — Brendan Ryan (Seattle Mariners) For whatever reason, the Cardinals/Redbirds have been unable to develop big-league talent at the infield’s most challenging position. Track the list of shortstops at AutoZone Park and you’ll see names like Jason Bowers, John Nelson, and yes, Tyler Greene. Ryan is a slick fielder and will make plays most men don’t. His glove is the only reason Ryan stays in the Seattle lineup with an average well south of the Mendoza Line (.187).
LEFTFIELD — Allen Craig (St. Louis Cardinals) Since a national audience last saw Craig catching the final out of the 2011 World Series at this position, we’ll place him here for now. He’s been limited to 46 games due to a pair of injuries, but he’s nonetheless hit 13 home runs and driven in 44. Calls to mind the 2010 season, when he drove in 81 runs for Memphis in 83 games.
CENTERFIELD — Colby Rasmus (Toronto Blue Jays) The petulant phenom has apparently found a comfort zone north of the border. Playing in baseball’s toughest division, Rasmus has hit .259 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs. A five-tool specimen as a Cardinal prospect, Rasmus could yet make the trade that sent him to Toronto a painful memory for Cardinal fans. (Though St. Louis doesn’t reach the 2011 playoffs without Edwin Jackson, the pitching rental Rasmus brought the Cards.)
RIGHTFIELD — Rick Ankiel (Washington Nationals) Consider this an honorary selection. Another former phenom (remember his pitching days at Tim McCarver Stadium?), Ankiel turns 33 next week, which means he’s stuck around 12 years after his infamous mound meltdown in the 2000 playoffs for St. Louis. Which should also mean he can join a different club of “might-have-beens” than the one headed by Steve Blass. Through Sunday, he has 269 career strikeouts (as a pitcher) and 233 RBIs.
STARTING PITCHER — Lance Lynn (St. Louis Cardinals) Where might St. Louis be without Lynn this season? Chris Carpenter shelved for the season. Adam Wainwright finding his way back after Tommy John surgery. And Jaime Garcia relegated to the disabled list with shoulder pain. All Lynn has done is pitch 103 innings, win 11 games, and pace the Cardinals with 105 strikeouts. Durability will be the question for Lynn as the dog days approach. Here’s hoping he gets to take the mound in Kansas City.
RELIEF PITCHER — Chris Perez (Cleveland Indians) The worst trade St. Louis has made this century was the deal that sent Dan Haren to Oakland for Mark Mulder. But as this shaggy closer continues to rack up saves for the Indians (36 in 2011, 24 this season), the swap of Perez for Mark DeRosa will enter the debate. DeRosa spent three forgettable months with the Cardinals, wrestling with one injury after another. Perez appears to have a decade of closing games in his future. Starting with Tuesday night’s game in the nation’s spotlight.