Tribe Trio Are All-Star Worthy

It is a given that at least one Indians player will be selected to represent Cleveland on the American League All-Star team. They do have a few worthy candidates this season.

This year’s Midsummer Classic will be played on Tuesday, July 15, from Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The AL squad will look to win its second consecutive contest after ending a three-game losing skid last season. First time All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis was instrumental in the victory, as he padded the AL lead in the eighth inning with a ground-rule RBI double to left off of Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel. Starting pitcher Justin Masterson, also a first timer on the team, was not among the ten pitchers to pitch for Jim Leyland in the exhibition.

Barring an almost improbable set of circumstances, neither Kipnis nor Masterson will represent the Indians this season. But there are three whose play on the field should get them at least some consideration.

Outfielder Michael Brantley is easily the most notable candidate, but he is buried in the voting behind bigger names stars from several other larger markets.

Brantley is having a breakout season for the Tribe in 2014 and at several points has carried the team on his shoulders on his own. While he saw a lengthy errorless game streak end earlier in the season, he has been solid in the field and even better at the plate.

Brantley was seventh in the AL outfield voting on June 16th with just over 950,000 votes, marking his second consecutive week in the seven spot and his third time on the leaderboard of the balloting after being absent from the initial release of the vote totals.

Blue Jay Jose Bautista was leading all vote getters with 2.9 million tallies. Los Angeles’ Mike Trout had eclipsed the 2.5 million mark and Bautista’s Toronto teammate Melky Cabrera was third in the voting with more than 1.4 million ballots cast in his favor.

Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes (1.1 million), Baltimore’s Adam Jones (1.0 million), and New York’s Jacoby Ellsbury (1.0 million) remained ahead of Brantley.

Brantley has developed into an all-around threat at the plate this season. His .326 batting average entering Saturday was fourth in the AL, as was his .393 on-base percentage. His .521 slugging percentage was ninth-best in the league.

His eleven home runs this season have already broken his career-best of ten set last season and had him tied for 21st in the league. His 46 RBI were 12th most in the league and his 17 doubles had him tied for 17th highest. He was fifth in runs (49), sixth in hits (87), and 18th in stolen bases (nine). He had the third most stolen bases in all of baseball without being caught stealing.

He has been impressive in the clutch. With runners on base, he was batting .354 with 38 RBI. He had a .333 average this season with 34 RBI, tenth best in the league, when hitting with those runners in scoring position.

Amongst AL outfielders alone, Brantley entered play on Saturday ranking first in batting average; second in runs; third in on-base percentage; fourth in hits, doubles, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging; fifth in runs batted in; seventh in home runs; and eleventh in stolen bases.

It will take a monumental push to get Brantley into the All-Star game as one of the nine fan-elected starters for the team. The most likely scenario for Brantley is that he is added to the squad as one of the reserves and is certainly the most deserving of the players to represent the Indians on the field this season.

Starting pitcher Corey Kluber pitched himself into contention with his strong month of May.

Kluber is 6-5 on the season with a 3.30 ERA after a tough loss to the Detroit Tigers on Friday night. After several shorter outings in his first few starts in June, Kluber gave the Tribe seven innings for the first time since May 30th. He allowed just two earned runs on eight hits, walked one, and struck out six.

Kluber’s month of May propelled him to the top of several pitching categories in the American League. In six starts in the month, he was 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA. All six outings were quality starts and in each he struck out at least eight batters. In 43 innings, he earned a 0.98 WHIP and walked just eight batters. His 60 strikeouts were the most in a month by a Cleveland starter since Dennis Eckersley struck out 60 batters in September of 1976. Eckersley accomplished the feat with an additional start, three complete games in the stretch, and with eight and one-third more innings pitched.

Kluber’s cooler start to June may have lost him some ground in being selected by the coaching staff as one of the starters for the game. He has not pitched quite as deep into games and his strikeout rate has dropped. His ERA, WHIP, and batting average against are all elevated for the month.

Even with the recent inconsistencies, he is still third in the AL in strikeouts entering Saturday’s action with 114, trailing David Price (133) and Felix Hernandez (122), two pitchers known as strikeout pitchers, something Kluber does not consider himself. He is fourth in innings pitched (103 2/3) and tied for first in starts (16).

Squeezing Kluber onto the pitching staff may be difficult, with several other deserving candidates around the league, including New York rookie Masahiro Tanaka (11-1, 1.99 ERA), Toronto’s Mark Buehrle (10-4, 2.32), Oakland’s Scott Kazmir (9-2, 2.08), Texas’s Yu Darvish (7-3, 2.39, 109 strikeouts), and Seattle’s Hernandez (8-2, 2.22).

Lonnie Chisenhall may be the least likely to find his way onto the All-Star team, but maybe his play on the field has caught the eyes of the players and coaches around the league.

Chisenhall is not on the All-Star ballot this season, unless you write him in yourself. Carlos Santana got the nod as the Indians’ third base representative and Nick Swisher was the Indians’ first baseman on the ballot. Jason Giambi, who has played 15 games this season, was listed as the DH.

Chisenhall would be at the top of the batting title race if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. Needing to average 3.1 plate appearances per game played by Cleveland, he was at 2.9 as the series this weekend with the Tigers began. He would be leading the AL by nearly 30 points over Seattle’s Robinson Cano and would have a several point lead over Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki for the Major League lead with his .366 batting average entering Saturday night.

After not getting much playing time in lieu of Santana at third base to start the season and not setting foot on the field against left-handed pitching, Chisenhall has earned the opportunity to crack the lineup and has refused to take his foot off the gas peddle since. His .366 season average is composed by an impressive .357 average against right-handers and an almost impossible-to-believe .412 mark against lefties, especially after his .111 average last season against southpaws. He hit .362 in 47 at bats in April, .373 in 83 at bats in May, and through 61 in June was hitting .361.

Had it not been for his absence from the lineup in April, Chisenhall’s name might be much more spoken of for his consistent play this season. At this point and with this large of a sample size, Chisenhall’s play can no longer be looked at as just a hot streak.

The highlight of his year was his 5-for-5 performance on June 9th, when he slugged three home runs and drove in nine runs, scored three times, and had 15 total bases to boost his batting average 20 points in one game as the Indians trounced the Texas Rangers, 17-7.

He has hit safely in all six games entering Saturday against Detroit, including a 4-for-4 with four singles on April 17th during an eight-game hitting streak to start his season. He also logged five hits (four singles, one double) in six at bats on May 14th against Toronto. He has had two separate eight-game hitting streaks and one nine-game variety.

With more than half the season to go, Chisenhall is just three RBI and three home runs short of tying career highs. He has already surpassed his career high of 17 doubles set last season with a double Saturday. His eight home runs are third best on the team, as are his 33 RBI.

The third base roster spot for the AL team is already a crowded mess. Josh Donaldson (.255 avg., 18 HR, 55 RBI) of Oakland has the starting spot all but locked down with a million vote lead over Adrian Beltre (.307 avg., 8 HR, 35 RBI) of Texas. Toronto’s Brett Lawrie (.244 avg., 12 HR, 38 RBI), Seattle’s Kyle Seager (.249 avg., 10 HR, 47 RBI), and Tampa’s Evan Longoria (.261 avg., 9 HR, 33 RBI) could also come into play as backups.

The path for Chisenhall to the Midsummer Classic is much more difficult than those of his teammates, even though his remarkable turnaround is deserving of some recognition by those around the league.

It is hard to envision a circumstance this season in which more than one Indians player is selected, especially with relatively lackluster statistical performances around the roster. Whoever the lucky Indians player is to be selected, whether from this group of three or one of the other 22 men on the roster, he will join manager Terry Francona in representing the city in Minnesota. It was announced in May that Francona was selected by former Indians pitcher and current Red Sox manager John Farrell to be part of the AL’s coaching staff for the contest.

With the AL Central wide open, the Indians’ representatives will be pressing hard to capture an All-Star win to help secure the club a shot at home-field advantage in the World Series.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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