Notebook Weekend Report

The World Cup is the big story in sports right now. The countries I’d like to see win would be either Iceland (advice of a friend), South Korea (my brother is adopted from there), Russia (I want to hear the jokes about Trump inviting the Russian team to the White House), Poland (homeland of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina Kowalska two of my favorites) or Croatia (I just have a soft spot for that country and couldn’t tell you why).

Start reading today. 

But my reasons for rooting for these teams give away that I’m not exactly a diehard soccer fan, so I’ll leave commentary on the World Cup to those who know and love the event. I’m personally more likely to tune into the College World Series. Mississippi State and Arkansas can clinch spots in next week’s best-of-three championship round if they win today. If Oregon State beats Mississippi State (3 PM, ESPN) and/or top-ranked Florida beats Arkansas (8 PM, ESPN), then there would be rematches of both on Saturday for the spots in the final.

There’s also the chance to get started on your college football homework—we got that going here at TheSportsNotebook and the first public evidence of it appeared today, with a look at Jim Harbaugh’s crucial year in Michigan.

But most likely my attention will stay where my heart is, and that’s with regular season major league baseball and that will be the focus of this weekend’s report.

Last week, we started the process of picking All-Star teams for baseball’s midsummer classic, that will be in Washington D.C. on July 17. Voting closes on July 5. Last week, we listed an American League lineup. This week, we’ll shift the focus to the National League. . TheSportsNotebook’s choices will be listed here, with a couple caveats.

The first is that I’m including more here than what the actual ballot at allows the fans to vote on. I go beyond the standard position player voting and list a complete rotation of starting pitchers, along with a closer. Given the importance of a deep bullpen in today’s game, I also choose two setup relievers who specifically fill that role—as opposed to the current MLB practice of just loading up on 4-5 closers to go the All-Star Game.

When picking outfielders, I do require that at least one be a legitimate centerfielder so this can be a team that could actually take the field.

Finally, one of the things that annoys me the most about MLB is that it’s the only league that only has All-Star teams at midseason. There is no official postseason All-Star team announced, the way there is in every other sport. I’ll do my own personal choices in early October. The reason I bring that up here, is that I’ll note players who don’t have a good argument to be voted in right now, but are close enough to make a run at a postseason honor.

Here are your National League All-Stars. The core stats of on-base percentage and slugging percentage are in parentheses…

C: Francisco Cervelli, Pittsburgh (.390/.486)
There’s a surprising number of good candidates at a position not known for offensive production. I went with Cervelli, but a strong case can be made for Miami’s J.T. Realmulto, the best power hitter at this spot and an old reliable fallback like Buster Posey is certainly a justifiable pick. Atlanta’s Kurt Suzuki is having one the best offensive seasons of his career and Cincinnati’s Tucker Barnhart could make a run at this spot for the postseason edition if he cranks up his power numbers at hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark.

1B: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta (.420/.579)
Sitting here today, this is an easy choice, but Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt is heating up and should make this race interesting in the second half. The honor likely comes down to Freeman or Goldschmidt, but Brandon Belt (SF), Jose Martinez (Stl) and Jesus Aguilar (Mil) are having nice seasons and would deserve a reserve spot on the National League team. Perhaps most noteworthy though is who’s not in contention right now—the Reds’ Joey Votto isn’t hitting for power, while Anthony Rizzo (Cubs) and Cody Bellinger (Dodgers) haven’t really gotten rolling.

2B: Scooter Gennet Cincinnati (.370/.537)
I’m intrigued by the case for Javier Baez in Chicago—Baez has 14 home runs and plays elite defense at this spot. But Gennett just makes good contact much more consistently—a .335 batting average to .266 for Baez and that can’t be overlooked.

3B: Nolan Arenado, Colorado (.403/.584)
This is another spot where I really thought about picking a Chicago player and going Kris Bryant (.388/.488). And no, I’m not a Cubs fan in case you were wondering. I just have a hard time taking Coors Field offensive production seriously. But Wrigley Field isn’t exactly the old Astrodome when it comes to dimensions and the power gap between Arenado and Bryant is significant. The Rockie third baseman also plays some terrific defense.

SS: Brandon Crawford, San Francisco (.364/.484)
Easiest choice among everyday players. Colorado’s Trevor Story is the only other noteworthy player with 16 home runs, but see what I said above about Coors Field offensive numbers. And Crawford is one of the better defensive shortstops in the league.

Matt Kemp, Los Angeles (.358/.551)
Nick Markakis, Atlanta (.387.479)
Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee (.392/.443
Kemp and Markakis were easy choices. Kemp is the only outfielder slugging over .500 and as you see, he’s clearing it by a good margin in a tough place to hit. Markakis’ 93 hits are tied with Freeman for the National League lead and his team is in first place.

The centerfield spot was a close between Cain and Odubel Herrera in Philadelphia. The Phillie centerfielder has the edge in power, but Cain not only gets on base more, he runs better (16-3 edge in steals) and he’s helped his team lead a good division to this point. Players to watch here for the second half are Joc Pederson in LA and A.J. Pollock for Arizona, who have the numbers, but haven’t played enough in the first half. .

Starting Pitching
Jacob de Grom, New York (15 starts, 5-2, 1.51 ERA)
Max Scherzer, Washington (16 starts, 10-3, 2.09 ERA)
Aaron Nola, Philadelphia (15 starts, 8-2, 2.55 ERA)
Jon Lester, Chicago (15 starts, 9-2, 2.10 ERA)
Miles Mikolas, St. Louis (14 starts, 7-2, 2.69 ERA)
These were surprisingly pretty easy to pick. Sean Newcomb of Atlanta is the only other starter with a sub-3.00 ERA, but his workload is light—80 innings pitched, while everyone else on this list is 90 and above. There are some big names lurking—Zack Greinke, Michael Wacha, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg could all vault into the top tier with a strong run of five starts or so. But for now, the hotter debate in the National League would be over the Cy Young Award, then the first five. For the record, I’d pick de Grom right now—the ERA is insane and to only lose twice with these Mets’ team is unbelievable.

Adam Ottavino, Colorado (0.83 ERA, 32 IP)
Setup: Ross Stripling, Los Angeles (1.99 ERA, 11 relief appearances, 10 starts, 72 IP
Closer: Sean Doolittle, Washington (20 saves in 21 opportunities, 1.65 ERA)
I might have bent my own rules a bit with Stripling, since you can argue he should be considered a starter. But anyone this good and this versatile belongs on the team somewhere. As for Ottavino—remember what I said about discounting Coors Field offensive production? Well, reverse that for pitching numbers. An 0.83 ERA in park where balls jump out of? How can you not put him in the All-Star game? Doolittle is head and shoulders above the field of closers.

There’s your National League All-Stars as of June 22. Enjoy the summer weekend, which for a lot of families is the first one with the kids out of school.