After grinding through the first 85 games of a grueling 162 game schedule, three Cardinals have been honored by being selected to the 2011 Major League Baseball All-Star game in Phoenix, Arizona. The game will be held on Tuesday July 12 with festivities such as the MLB Homerun Derby taking place on Monday July 11.
For the first time since 2002 and only the second time in his 11 year career, Cardinals first baseman and three time National League (NL) Most Valuable Player (MVP), Albert Pujols, will be watching the mid-summer classic from his home after failing to be selected to the roster, but he will be able to cheer on a few of his teammates.
Team MVP to this point in the season and possibly comeback player of the year, Lance Berkman, will be making his sixth all-star appearance. He received the second most votes by any NL outfielder behind only Milwaukee Brewers’ Ryan Braun, which will place Berkman as the only Cards starter, and only his second honor as an all-star starter. Starters are chosen by the fan vote, while the rest of the roster is decided by a league vote of all the players and managers.
After a disappointing 2010 season Berkman would probably rather forget, he has bounced back beyond what most people could have imagined. In 2010 as a member of the Houston Astros and then traded to the New York Yankees, Berkman played in 122 games. He recorded only 100 hits, 14 homeruns, and a dismal 58 runs batted in (RBI) with a .248 batting average.
Through the first 85 games of 2011, Berkman has already passed many of those marks and is set at this pace to demolish his stats of a year ago. After missing a few games earlier this year due to a sprained wrist, Berkman has played in 75 games. He already has 74 hits, 22 homeruns, and 61 RBI to go with his .297 Avg.
It is very safe to say that without the production of Berkman this year, the Cardinals would not be where they are. And they can only hope that at age 35 his body can stay healthy for the second half of the season and help carry the Cards down the stretch.
Two of Berkman’s teammates will also be in Phoenix with him, but neither was voted in by the fans as a starter. Both outfield Matt Holliday and catcher Yadier Molina were chosen by the players to serve as bench players for the NL squad.
Holliday is making his fifth all-star appearance and his second in a Cardinals uniform. Despite missing nearly a month due to a strained quadriceps, Holliday still has 68 hits in only 60 games. He has clobbered 17 doubles, 10 homeruns, 40 RBI, and has a team leading .319 Avg.
Molina was also voted in by the players, bringing his three gold gloves to Phoenix with him. This is Molina’s third all-star appearance but his first time not starting. He has amassed 73 hits in 74 games, but his biggest contribution is his defense. Not only is Molina highly regarded around baseball as the best catcher at blocking balls in the dirt, his arm has a reputation of its own. In his short career, Molina has thrown out 173 players attempting to steal against him.
MLB has also changed the format this year for the homerun derby. They have chosen NL captain, Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, who gets to choose who he wants on his team for the slugging competition. Both sluggers, Berkman and Holliday, are candidates to represent the NL, but participants will not be chosen until later this week.
Although the Cardinals find themselves tied for first place in the National League Central as they wake up on July 4th, the season has not exactly gone as planned. After battling injury after injury for most of the season, not to mention major time missed by key players, a 45-40 record should be something to be excited about. However, both fans and players know that with 15 blown saves already this season, there have been plenty of missed opportunities to separate themselves from the rest of the division.
Coming into the season most national pundits had the Cincinnati Reds penciled in as the division leaders, but nearing the all-star break the Cards are deadlocked with the Milwaukee Brewers for the division lead. The Reds are currently two games behind the Cardinals but are in town for the Fourth of July holiday to battle the Cards at Busch Stadium for a three-game series. There has been plenty of hatred between these two clubs the past two seasons, so fans could be treated to some bonus fireworks when this series begins.
A surprise in the NL Central this year has been the Pittsburgh Pirates who are currently only 1.5 games behind the Cardinals and are actually ahead of the Reds in the standings when they take the field later today. The Pirates have not been this close to first place this late in the season since Barry Bonds was leading the way for the steel city nearly two decades ago.
Although there are plenty of games remaining on the schedule, the Cardinals are slowly returning to form and overcoming the injuries and adversity. Third baseman David Freese returned to the club last week and has already had a tremendous impact on the team after missing nearly two months with a broken bone in his hand, and the club looks to welcome Pujols back later this week, nearly one month earlier than originally expected.