July 12, 2008 [LINK / comment]

All-Star rosters, 2008

As with the novel and intriguing situation in the divisional standings at this year's midpoint, the selections for this year's All-Star Game bring a lot of surprises. For both leagues, exactly five of the nine All-Star slots I picked (see June 28) matched those who were actually chosen for the starting lineups. to MLB.com. Of the other four in each league (indicated below with strikethrough lines), three were chosen as reserve players. To my surprise, neither Johnny Damon* nor Xavier Nady made the cut. It appears that the Cubs and the Red Sox are more popular than the Twins and the Rangers.

* Damon suffered an injury in that bizarre play at Yankee Stadium when the ball rested momentarily on top of the left field fence before rolling onto the field (watch YouTube), so he probably couldn't play in any case. That's a shame.

American League

National League

* Asterisks denote players who were also chosen for the starting lineup either last year or the year before, or both years (**).

As for the pitchers, there are likewise a lot of new names, especially on the American League side. I gained an awareness of two of the younger National League pitchers in recent games against the Nationals: Dan Haren of Arizona (see below), and Edinson Volquez, of Cincinnati.

Nats show signs of life

In Thursday night's game against the Diamondbavks, the Nationals played typically for most of the game -- a fine performance by a starting pitcher (in this case, Jason Bergmann), coupled with weak batting. Then, in the bottom of the ninth inning, they did something amazing: They staged a rally and tied the game, 2-2. Austin Kearns batted in two runs with a hard grounder into left field (Mark Reynolds was charged with an error, one of three he committed), and with runners on first and second and nobody out, it seemed they would win the game easily. Yet somehow, the Nats let slip the chance once again. When the D-backs scored three in the top of the tenth, it looked bleaker than ever, but the Nats came back once again to tie it, and once again they wasted a chance to win. But Arizona scored two more in the top of the eleventh, and by then the Nats had run out of miracles. See MLB.com. [Final score: D-backs 7, Nats 5.]

That was one of those "character-building" games, when everything depends on what you make of it. Was it about brave determination or choking in the clutch? Based on the way they played Friday night, it was the former lesson that was learned, as the Nats trounced the Astros, 10-0. It their biggest shutout victory ever, and came one short of their greatest-ever margin of victory, when they beat the Cardinals 12-1 on August 4 last year. (I was there!) There was one other occasion when they won by ten runs, scoring 11-1 against Florida on Sept. 27, 2005. As for their worst defeats ever, two times the Nationals have lost by 13 runs: 14-1 against Houston on July 22 2005, and 13-0 against the Mets on Sept. 30, 2006. (I was there, too!)