Whereas all the American League candidates were pitchers (three starters--Yu Darvish, Jason Hammel and Jake Peavy--and two relievers--Jonathan Broxton and Ernesto Frieri) all the NL options are position players. I wish there had been room for Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, and Madison Bumgarner.
ARI Aaron Hill (.300/.360/.512)-The 2009 AL Comeback Player of the Year is at it again following a couple of horrendous seasons. The now 30 year-old second baseman became the first player with two cycles in the same season since Babe Herman accomplished that feat for the Brooklyn Robins back in 1931, before the All-Star Game even existed. His first cycle came on June 18th in a 7-1 win over Seattle, kickstarting a three game series in which he bludgeoned Mariners pitchers for three home runs, three doubles, one triple and a single in just a dozen at-bats . On June 29th he cycled again; this time in Milwaukee against the Brewers. During that ten game period bookended by a pair of cycles he wielded a red-hot bat, as he collected 20 hits in 43 at-bats while torching opposing pitching at a .465/.478/.953 clip. Over that time he raised his batting average by 30 points from .272 to .302, his OBP 21 points from .342 to .363, and his slugging percentage 80 points from .440 to .520! His candidacy is built entirely around his monster month of June, because his other numbers aren't that impressive and he's nowhere to be found on the NL leaderboards. He's had a special month, but not a special season. Just check out his splits:
April .266/.363/.481 4 home runs 10 RBI
May .260/.321/.360 1 home run 8 RBI
June .370/.402/.700 6 home runs 20 RBI
While I'm nitpicking, it's also worth mentioning that his OPS at home is nearly 400 points higher than it is everywhere else. With splits like those, who'd think his home park was Coors Field. Who does he think he is; Carlos Gonzalez?
ATL Michael Bourn (.302/.350/.435)-If you're a fan of traditional counting stats, look no further. Atlanta's leadoff hitter is tops among NL hitters in plate appearances and at-bats so his name is all over the leaderboards, but he's been playing at a high level all year long as he continues to build off his career year in 2011. The speedster's 3.5 bWAR tie him with Andrew McCutchen for fourth place among NL position players behind David Wright, Joey Votto, and Carlos Ruiz. Melky Cabrera is the only National Leaguer with more than his 100 base knocks, while Tony Campana and Dee Gordon are the only ones with more stolen bases. Bourn, who had just thirteen major league home runs and a .358 slugging percentage to his name coming into 2012, has powered up. He's already set a new career high by going yard seven times, and seems likely to reach double digits in that department for the first time in his career. If he keeps it up he could conceivably finish the season with 100 runs, 200 hits, 30 doubles, 10 triples, 15 home runs, 50 steals, 300 total bases and a .300 average, a pretty special stat line. The two-time Gold Glove centerfielder is playing top notch defense, too. He should be in line for some MVP consideration, especially if he can spark the Braves to reach one of the Wild Card spots. From a statistical standpoint, he's the top candidate.
ATL Chipper Jones (.292/.375/.455) Jones has stated that this will most likely be the final season of his 19 year career, so 2012 has been something of a farewell tour for the the graying Braves legend (who surprisingly has just seven All-Star selections on his ledger). The 40 year-old switch-hitter spent about three weeks on the shelf and hasn't been able to play everyday, but he's been productive when he gets into the lineup. Voting him in would be a nice gesture of respect for one of baseball's classiest guys, who also happens to be headed for Cooperstown as one of the best switch-hitters and third baseman of all time. It's the sentimental choice, one that would be much less defensible if he was sputtering at the plate like many hitters his age. But great players making the team in their final seasons, long after they've ceased to be effective baseball players, is an honor than's been bestowed on former superstars past and present, from Stan Musial and Willie Mays to Carl Yastrzemski and Cal Ripken Jr. Since Jones has actually played well to this point I feel like he deserves the final spot. Therefore, baseball should use the Midsummer Classic to celebrate his illustrious career. It's the right thing to do, and if anybody has earned it, Chipper has. Normally I advocate voting in the best players, regardless of reputation or track record, but this is obviously a special case worthy of making an exception.
STL David Freese (.279/.330/.478) The 2011 postseason hero has had a rollercoaster season, with hot streaks in April and June sandwiched around a 3-for-34 drought in the middle of May. Most importantly Freese, who's never played 100 games in any major league season, has remained healthy in the first half by appearing in all but seven of the Redbirds' 79 contests. With 13 home runs and 48 RBI he's been productive batting out of the five hole behind Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran. He's an above average defender at the hot corner, too. For what it's worth, his numbers look very similar to the first half numbers Kevin Youkilis supplied last year, when he made the American League All-Star team.
WSH Bryce Harper (.274/.348/.471) The 19 year-old phenom has played well since his much-anticipated big league debut at the end of April. Though he's been overshadowed by fellow uber-prospect Mike Trout, Harper's provided some much-needed offense for the first place Nationals, who have been ravaged by injuries to Michael Morse, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman. I feel like he's played better than the numbers suggest, though if you project his statistics over the course of a full season he'd go 20/20 and score over 100 runs. On one hand he's unquestionably one of the best young players in baseball, and I'd love to see his skills on display in Kansas City. The purpose of the All-Star Game, after all, is to showcase the game's best players. Still, I'd rather see Jones, who's old enough to be Bryce's father, get to enjoy one final hurrah. Harper has an entire career's worth of All-Star games in front of him, and I'm sure he'll be a fixture in the game for years to come.