- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Way back in 1947, baseball fans were given the opportunity to choose who started the All-Star Game, a practice that disappeared briefly in the middle of the century because of ballot-box stuffing but was reinstated in 1970 and has remained since.

Of course, fans don’t always get these things right. Too often they vote not for the best players but for their favorite players. That said, fans should get more credit than we generally give them. In this year’s balloting, they’ve done a pretty good job.

With rosters set to be announced Sunday, let’s look at which players are expected to get the starting nods and — in some cases — which players should get the nod instead…

NATIONAL LEAGUE

CATCHER

Who will start: Yadier Molina, Cardinals

Who should start: Brian McCann, Braves. It’s kind of a weak class this season, but McCann stands out from the pack. He’s got the highest batting average (.316), on-base percentage (.405) and slugging percentage (.526) among qualifying catchers.

FIRST BASE

Who will start: Albert Pujols, Cardinals

Who should start: Pujols. There’s no way they could play the All-Star Game in St. Louis without Prince Albert in the lineup, but he deserves the honor anyway. He’s having another MVP season, and though Adrian Gonzalez is quietly doing great things for the Padres, he will have to settle for the backup nod.

SECOND BASE

Who will start: Chase Utley, Phillies

Who should start: Utley. Another one the fans have gotten right. He leads all NL second basemen in homers, RBI, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. That’s too bad for Orlando Hudson, who is good enough to start but can’t top Utley.

SHORTSTOP

Who will start: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins

Who should start: Ramirez. The race between Ramirez and the Phillies’ Jimmy Rollins went back and forth in the past month, but it shouldn’t have been a contest at all. Rollins is a great player on a great team having a bad season. Ramirez is a great player on an anonymous team having a fabulous season.

THIRD BASE

Who will start: David Wright, Mets

Who should start: Wright, barely. If Ryan Zimmerman had been able to keep up his torrid pace a little longer, he would have a legitimate argument to start. Unfortunately, the Nationals’ star has faded in the past month, paving the way for his childhood buddy Wright, who’s batting .342 with a .432 on-base percentage but stunningly has only four homers.

OUTFIELD

Who will start: Raul Ibanez, Phillies; Ryan Braun, Brewers; Carlos Beltran, Mets

Who should start: Ibanez, Braun and Justin Upton, Diamondbacks. All three of those guys are having nice seasons, but Beltran isn’t producing the way Upton is. Arizona’s dynamic young right fielder is showing a fabulous power-speed-patience combo that gives him the edge over Beltran, who is hitting for average but not much else.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

CATCHER

Who will start: Joe Mauer, Twins

Who should start: Mauer. Though he missed all of April with a back injury, Mauer is batting .394 with 14 homers and 43 RBI and is the early favorite for AL MVP honors. No other catcher comes close.

FIRST BASE

Who will start: Mark Teixeira, Yankees or Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox

Who should start: Victor Martinez, Indians. Teixeira has the homers and the $180 million contract. Youkilis has the OBP and Red Sox fans on his side. But Martinez has been the best first baseman in the league, combining a high average and OBP with power and RBI.

SECOND BASE

Who will start: Ian Kinsler, Rangers or Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox

Who should start: Aaron Hill, Blue Jays. How come nobody has noticed what this guy’s doing north of the border? He’s on pace for 40 homers, 119 RBI and a .305 average, slightly better than Kinsler (who is downright good himself). Pedroia is so 2008.

SHORTSTOP

Who will start: Derek Jeter, Yankees

Who should start: Jason Bartlett, Rays. Remember when this was the premier position in baseball, with Jeter, A-Rod, Tejada and Nomar dueling every season? Not anymore. The best AL shortstop is Bartlett, who missed some time with an injury but is hitting .364 with 16 stolen bases for the defending AL champs.

THIRD BASE

Who will start: Evan Longoria, Rays

Who should start: Longoria. The fans got this one right. Longoria, the rookie of the year last season, is a strong candidate for MVP this season. He does it all, and he does it for a good, young team.

OUTFIELD

Who will start: Jason Bay, Red Sox; Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners; Josh Hamilton, Rangers

Who should start: Bay, Ichiro and Torii Hunter, Angels. It’s nice to see Bay getting his due now that he’s in the spotlight in Boston. Ichiro’s hitting .372 — what else needs to be said? Apparently the fans don’t realize Hamilton has been out all month with an injury. Though Hamilton has said he wants to play if elected, Hunter is a more deserving candidate.

Stats through Sunday

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