Get ready for Rangers to fill up All-Star roster
Two straight trips to the World Series have turned the Texas Rangers into baseball's glamour gang.
Josh Hamilton is the most popular player in the game. Mike Napoli could run for mayor of Arlington. Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz and Yu Darvish — household names by now.
Just a few years ago the Rangers were toiling in virtual obscurity, sweating out one loss after another in that stifling Texas heat while the Yankees and Red Sox soaked up all the All-Star votes.
Take a look at the last American League balloting update and it's striking to see how much fans have fallen in love with the Rangers.
Hamilton was on pace to break the record for most votes received in one season. Napoli and Beltre were leading at their positions, while three other teammates were running second. Cruz was neck-and-neck with Toronto slugger Jose Bautista for the final starting outfield spot.
Even part-time first baseman Mitch Moreland had 282,000 more votes than Albert Pujols.
And that was all before anyone had weighed in on the All-Star pitching staff, which could easily include Darvish, Matt Harrison and Joe Nathan.
Managing the AL squad, of course, will be Rangers skipper Ron Washington — for the second consecutive year.
"I know what I have to do," Washington said. "Last year, I was being guided as to what I have to do. This year, I know. I get eight picks, and five of them have to be pitchers, and I'll go from there."
Tony La Russa will be on the National League bench July 10 in Kansas City even though he retired last fall after managing the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series victory over the Rangers.
As usual, there are difficult All-Star choices for fans and managers alike.
Beltre or Miguel Cabrera in the AL lineup at third base? Stephen Strasburg, Matt Cain or R.A. Dickey on the mound for the NL?
Some of the game's biggest stars will likely be absent due to injuries: Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Matt Kemp, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and now CC Sabathia.
Others figure to miss out because of subpar stats: Pujols, Tim Lincecum, Alex Rodriguez, Cliff Lee.
That all opens room for deserving newcomers, though: Carlos Ruiz, Chris Sale and Giancarlo Stanton, to name a few.
There are 34 spots on each roster and at least 13 must go to pitchers. Every club needs to be represented, which forces tough decisions.
The league that wins gets home-field advantage in the World Series again, which has helped the NL take home two consecutive championships.
Without regard to fan or player balloting, here are our selections for the 83rd All-Star game at refurbished Kauffman Stadium. Rosters will be announced Sunday.
Starting with the AL:
First Base — Underrated for years, Paul Konerko of the Chicago White Sox gets the start. Detroit's free-agent prize, Prince Fielder, is on the bench.
Second Base — No contest here thanks to Robinson Cano's recent hitting tear for the New York Yankees. Ian Kinsler of the Rangers also earns a spot.
Shortstop — Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera has developed into the best all-around shortstop in the league. Yankees captain Derek Jeter has faded after a strong start, but star quality and career achievement help him hang on for his 13th selection. He's almost certainly going to win the fan vote. Tough break for Texas' Elvis Andrus.
Third Base — Beltre edges Miguel Cabrera in a tight race on the strength of far superior defense. Mike Moustakas represents the Royals, giving Kansas City fans a homegrown, hometown favorite.
Catcher — Joe Mauer is healthy and hitting again for Minnesota in a solid comeback season. Backing him up behind the plate is A.J. Pierzynski, often overlooked on the surprising White Sox.
Outfield — Starting spots go to Hamilton in left field, Baltimore's Adam Jones in center and Bautista in right. The reserves are New York center fielder Curtis Granderson, Minnesota's Josh Willingham, Oakland newcomer Josh Reddick, Angels slugger Mark Trumbo and his 20-year-old teammate, electrifying rookie Mike Trout.
Designated Hitter — David Ortiz is still the best in the business for Boston, which warrants only one All-Star after an inconsistent first half. Edwin Encarnacion is enjoying a breakout season with Toronto that lands him his first selection.
Starting Pitchers — Justin Verlander gets the start as much for his MVP-Cy Young double last year as for the solid follow-up campaign he's currently putting together. Joining him on the staff are Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson from Los Angeles, Sale and Chicago teammate Jake Peavy, Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, Tampa Bay lefty David Price, and Darvish and Harrison from the Rangers.
Relievers — All the way back from major elbow surgery in his first season with Texas, Nathan anchors a bullpen minus the incomparable Rivera. Tampa Bay's Fernando Rodney, Baltimore's Jim Johnson and Cleveland closer Chris Perez also make the cut.
And in the NL:
First Base — Cincinnati's Joey Votto is the first-half MVP, two years after he took home the full-season award. Injured most of last season, Washington's Adam LaRoche earns the first All-Star nod of his nine-year career. But that's it at what used to be a power-packed position before Pujols, Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez all went to the American League.
Second Base — Surprise starters in the middle infield. Arizona's Aaron Hill has been the best of the bunch here, while Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips nudges out Atlanta's Dan Uggla for second string thanks to his Gold Glove defense.
Shortstop — The offseason trade that sent Jed Lowrie from Boston to Houston looks like highway robbery by the rebuilding Astros. His unexpected power wins him an unexpected All-Star trip. Starlin Castro, still overrated, represents the woeful Cubs as a reserve.
Third Base — David Wright of the New York Mets is a runaway choice with his magnificent bounce-back season. Chase Headley fills the Padres requirement and Braves stalwart Chipper Jones takes a bow before retirement.
Catcher — Not long ago, this position was sometimes a gaping hole in the National League. Now, it's absolutely stacked. Ruiz, a fan favorite in Philadelphia, is having a monster season that warrants the start. The other backstops are also strong: St. Louis' Yadier Molina and San Francisco's Buster Posey.
Outfield — Pittsburgh dynamo Andrew McCutchen starts in center field, flanked by Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez in left and Carlos Beltran of the Cardinals in right. Milwaukee MVP Ryan Braun would be a good choice for DH. Also selected from a crowded group of worthy candidates are San Francisco first-timer Melky Cabrera, who played for Kansas City last year, St. Louis' Matt Holliday, Atlanta's Jason Heyward, Arizona's Jason Kubel, and Stanton from the Miami Marlins.
Starting Pitchers — Here's a formula sure to cause fits for American League hitters: Dickey tosses knuckleballs at the start in his Mets uniform, followed by 100 mph heat from Strasburg (Nationals), then changeups from Philadelphia lefty Cole Hamels, and more gas from Cain — the Giants' Mr. Perfect. Rounding out an imposing staff are Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and Dodgers teammate Chris Capuano, Washington's Gio Gonzalez, Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto, Milwaukee's Zack Greinke and Pittsburgh's James McDonald. Diamondbacks rookie Wade Miley and San Francisco righty Ryan Vogelsong were very difficult omissions.
Relievers — Braves closer Craig Kimbrel was the NL Rookie of the Year last season. Now he's the best reliever in the league. He's joined in the bullpen by Philadelphia's Jonathan Papelbon and Reds lefty Aroldis Chapman. Somehow, there was no room to squeeze in Joel Hanrahan, Tyler Clippard or Santiago Casilla in the pitching-rich National League.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.