July 1, 1998
BP's NL All-Star Team
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Starter: Javier Lopez (Atlanta)
The real shock here is that Piazza isn't the starter, but the sad fact is that he doesn't deserve it: he's only drawn 19 walks in over 300 PA, and isn't even slugging .500 (.493). Lopez continues his maturation at the plate, with an OPS of .968 - 140 points above his career average - while Kendall makes the team for his .411 OBA, courtesy of 20 times HBP, and his continually improving work behind the plate.
Starter: Mark McGwire (St. Louis)
McGwire and Galarraga are obvious choices; both have OPS figures in four digits, with McGwire obviously putting on one of the best offensive displays this decade. Lee is the Arizona token; did you know no one on that team is slugging .500? With no defensive stars, ace starters, or dominating relievers, finding a D-back for this team was like finding a Republican in Berkeley on May Day. Lee's selection gives the shaft to Mark Grace.
Starter: Craig Biggio (Houston)
Biggio's a slam dunk, ranking head and shoulders above all other NL middle infielders offensively this season, with more superb baserunning added in for good measure. The tip of the cap here is to DeShields, who seems to have rediscovered his batting eye - 40 walks already, compared to 55 last year and 53 the year before.
Starter: Scott Rolen (Phillies)
You could flip 'em around without much argument; I gave the starter's nod to Rolen on defensive grounds, as well as to acknowledge that Chipper has cooled off since a torrid start. Vinny Castilla can come to the park, too, if he can afford to scalp a ticket.
Starter: Walt Weiss (Braves)
Weiss deserves the spot, although there's a bit of a prayer for his son (and the other children caught in the outbreak) here as well. If he chooses to sit out, Renteria starts, and the Giants' Rich Aurilia gets the call to back him up.
Starters: Sammy Sosa (Chicago Cubs), Greg Vaughn (San Diego), Larry Walker (Colorado) Reserves: Barry Bonds (San Francisco), Jeromy Burnitz (Milwaukee), Moises Alou (Houston)
Sosa and Vaughn are self-explanatory, but after those two, there's a large group of deserving candidates separated by split hairs: Walker, Bonds, Tony Gwynn, Bob Abreu, Brian Jordan, Carl Everett, and Moises Alou. Jordan gets the boot because of his batting eye (just 15 walks in 292 PA - fewest of any NL regular with an OPS over .900 this year). Abreu and Gwynn stay home because their numbers just aren't as impressive, although I can't dispute the fans' desire to see the hit machine play. Bonds' glove is still among the best, and while his season at the plate may appear subpar, that's only by the absurdly high standard to which we hold him: his .978 OPS is still good for 7th in the NL this year, 5th among outfielders. Burnitz is the token Brewer; without him, or if Walker sits out, I take the suddenly patient Everett (his 27 walks is 12 short of his career high, and 5 short of his 1997 total) and start him as the only true centerfielder.
Honorary starter: Al Leiter (NY Mets)
Leiter and Galarraga are the two biggest surprises this year in my book, and I acknowledge my underestimation of Al by giving him the nod to start ... which he must turn down due to an unfortunate knee injury. Maddux is probably more deserving of the top honor, but it all works out in the end. Harnisch, the lone Red on this team, is far from a token choice - his ERA (2.98) is 11th among NL qualifiers, and his H/IP (0.76) is the best in the league. Urbina, the token Expo, is also a deserving choice, although smart usage patterns have helped keep his numbers low. Glavine is the last pitcher I took, and he only gets on due to the expanded All-Star rosters this year. Martinez and Leiter are replaced by Kevin Brown and Antonio Osuna; I tabbed Osuna because there's no reason closers should hog all the reliever spots on the All-Star team. More shafts go to Ricardo Rincon, and Todd Stottlemyre, and an honorable mention goes to Omar Daal, who might have been a worthier selection than Travis Lee if he had continued to pitch and pitch well.