By Jon Weisman
Los Angeles still has a chance to make an impression on the All-Star roster when reserves are announced Monday afternoon, with Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and J.P. Howell in consideration for the pitching staff and Joc Pederson, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal and Justin Turner for the bench. Pederson and Greinke could still even end up in the starting lineup.
Greinke’s main competition to throw the NL’s first pitch is Washington’s Max Scherzer. Greinke leads the Major Leagues in ERA (with Scherzer second) and has thrown 27 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, but Scherzer leads MLB pitchers in wins above replacement (with Greinke third). Scherzer’s final scheduled start before the All-Star Break is Tuesday, while Greinke’s is Thursday.
The NL has two injured outfielder starters to replace in Giancarlo Stanton and Matt Holliday. Andrew McCutchen, who finished fifth in the NL voting behind injured No. 4 Nori Aoki of San Francisco, seems pretty likely to be the first injury replacement. No one might be more deserving to fill the other spot than Pederson, who is third among all NL position players in WAR. His current 15-for-90 (.167) slump doesn’t help, though even in that relative drought, he has a .345 OBP and his usual solid defense. Again: For the season, Pederson has been the NL’s third-best hitting outfielder and a Gold Glove candidate.
(I’ll mention here that Yasiel Puig has been the No. 5 NL outfielder in weighted runs created, but there’s zero chance he wins a spot at this particular moment in time.)
Perhaps no Dodger on the bubble is more intriguing than Kershaw. Despite most of the baseball world asking “What’s wrong?” much of 2015, his 1.78 ERA over his past eight starts has at least begun to shift the conversation to “Where’s the run support?” Though detractors who can’t see past his unlucky 5-6 record somehow still remain, deleting the defending NL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young winner from the All-Stars when he leads the league in strikeouts, strikeout rate and xFIP — and is second in WAR behind only Scherzer — seems hard to believe.
Kershaw’s inclusion could crowd out two otherwise deserving Dodger relievers. Jansen (0.59 WHIP, 15.4 K/9) has gone too long without being recognized for the All-Star Game, but while his case is strong, it’s not airtight, not with Jansen sandwiching his untouchable May-June by missing April and allowing runs in three consecutive July games.
Howell’s microscopic 0.37 ERA — the lowest in the NL among pitchers with at least 20 innings — combined with his own quiet scoreless inning streak of 22 2/3 innings, earn the Dodger lefty a long look. One thing people might not realize with Howell is that he is no LOOGY. Of the 103 batters he has faced this year, 52 have been right-handed batters and 51 have been left-handers, and he has allowed a sub-.600 OPS against both. But set-up men have an uphill battle to find All-Star love.
Back to the position players. Gonzalez homered twice in the weekend series against the Mets to give him 15 on the season, to go with an .884 OPS and 145 weighted runs created. Anthony Rizzo (159 wRC+), Freddie Freeman (145 wRC+) and Joey Votto (142 wRC+) are the top competition at first base for Gonzalez behind NL starter Paul Goldschmidt. Gonzalez is hoping that the bruise he suffered after being hit by a first-inning pitch today doesn’t sideline him long.
Going strictly by WAR, Grandal (2.1) should be the backup catcher to San Francisco’s Buster Posey (3.2). In fact, Grandal has the highest OBP, the highest OPS and the highest wRC+ among NL catchers. Whether anyone actually realizes that is anybody’s guess.
Finally, there’s the rags-to-riches story of Turner at third base. You’ve seen more national awareness in the past two weeks that Turner has been one of the best hitters in the league not only this year (third among all position players in the NL in wRC+, behind only Bryce Harper and Goldschmidt), but for the past calendar year. At the same time, unless NL All-Star manager Bruce Bochy goes with four third baseman on his squad, finding room for Turner behind NL starter Todd Frazier would mean leaving out either Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant, and that’s asking a lot — unless, perhaps, Turner’s ability to play multiple positions is taken into consideration.
The last time the Dodgers had five All-Stars was 20 years ago, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com: Raul Mondesi, Mike Piazza, Jose Offerman, Todd Worrell and Hideo Nomo. My guess is that the Dodgers do no worse than four this year with Greinke, Kershaw, Pederson and Grandal, and the chances of a fifth are solid from the group of Jansen, Howell, Gonzalez and Turner.