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All-Star talent on Nationals is plentiful

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The appeals have been coming in for weeks. Each night at ballparks around the country, fans are urged to cast their vote for the 2011 All-Star Game. Punch a ballot at the park, go online and vote — and do it more than once.

Each week Major League Baseball tabulates those votes, providing something of a running tally as to who will be finding their way to Phoenix in less than two weeks. To this point, not one National has cracked the upper levels of the announced voting.

Yet for the first time since the 2005 season, their first in Washington, the Nationals could have more than one All-Star. They won't know until the teams are named Sunday, but as the Nationals reach the halfway point of their season Friday, one thing is for sure: They certainly have more than one deserving candidate.

"It's a great honor, it really is," said manager Davey Johnson, who was a five-time All-Star. "You go out there to be the best at your position. Everyone in the big leagues wants to be the best at their position, so when you get selected to represent your league, it's a tremendous honor."

In first baseman Michael Morse, second baseman Danny Espinosa, closer Drew Storen and perhaps setup man Tyler Clippard and right-handers Jordan Zimmermann and Jason Marquis, the Nationals have a plethora of potential talent to send to the game.

They'll have to get there by manager selection or player vote at this point, but one thing they could all agree on was how exciting it would be for any of them. All would be first-time All-Stars except for Marquis, who made the 2009 National League team with the Colorado Rockies.

"It'd be unbelievable," Storen said. "There's a lot of deserving guys on this team in Mike and Danny but for me, yeah, it'd be pretty cool."

Storen could potentially finish the first half with 20 saves, a remarkable feat considering the Nationals were below .500 for much of that time, but having three blown saves works against him in All-Star consideration. Even he called himself "pretty much a long shot."

Morse, meanwhile, entered Thursday with the fourth-highest slugging percentage in the NL, the most grand slams in the NL and a homer every 15.4 at-bats - good for fifth best in the league. Morse's season began inauspiciously but it would be hard to argue that he's not one of the best first basemen in the NL, if not all of the major leagues.

"It'd be great," Morse said, admitting he's given the idea some thought recently. "It'd be awesome. It'd be a dream come true. You always want to set your goals as high as possible. You set goals of making the All-Star Game, winning a batting title, winning a World Series."

Espinosa, a darkhorse candidate, would need NL manager Bruce Bochy or the players to overlook his .239 batting average and focus on his prolific power numbers that have him on pace for a 30-home run, 100-RBI season.

Clippard, who has allowed just 19 percent of inherited runners to score and maintained a 2.00 ERA, as well as Zimmermann, who entered Wednesday riding a quality-start streak that dates to April, should also warrant consideration, along with Marquis, whose seven wins lead the staff.

There's a good chance Johnson would have some input as well, and he hinted that he had a few opinions on the topic.

"Yeah, I would," Johnson said when asked if he had an opinion on who should go.

"I'm not telling you who, though," he added with a smile.

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