“They wanted it more” is arguably the most tired sports cliché in existence, and that’s really saying something since we have so many of them. I believe in hard work and sacrifice as much as the next guy, but are championships really won and lost by wanting it more? It’s an impossible thing to quantify. Did the Warriors want it more than the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals? No—they were just better. We’re talking about professional athletes competing at the highest level—everybody works hard and everybody wants it.
But in the case of Justin Turner and his bid for the NL’s final All-Star spot, wanting it more actually made a difference. After being roundly criticized by Kenley Jansen for their weak showing in NL All-Star voting (none of the Dodgers were voted in as starters), L.A. fans went the extra mile in getting Turner over the hump. The fans turned out in droves, stuffing the ballot box with a record 20.8 million votes for Turner. One group of 15-20 fans went so far as to lock themselves in a room at Dodger Stadium and vote for 24 hours straight. And just like that, an All-Star was born.
The monsoon of support from Dodgers diehards, many of them sleep-deprived and over-caffeinated, helped seal Turner’s first career All-Star selection. But why were his credentials ever in doubt? The 32-year-old is hitting a preposterous .380 this year with more walks (30) than strikeouts (28). His OPS is higher than Bryce Harper’s and he’s been the best hitter on the best team in the National League. Turner’s resume is so chock full of accomplishments, it would be hard to fit them on one page.
Perennial MVP candidate Nolan Arenado starting at third base was always a foregone conclusion, but Turner was more deserving than many of the reserves who made it ahead of him including Josh Harrison and DJ LeMahieu. Harrison’s inclusion was likely the result of a technicality—every team is required to have one representative and apparently Harrison was the best Pittsburgh could muster this year (though closer Felipe Rivero would seem to be a better candidate). Clearly voters held Turner’s three-week hamstring injury against him and it’s possible he was also docked points for his lack of power (eight homers in 221 at-bats). But let’s be honest, Turner should have been an All-Star all along.
In the social media age, many fan-bases have taken the initiative to team up during the Final Vote. This year, the Dodgers formed an interleague alliance with the Royals by using the Twitter hashtags #VoteJT for Turner and #VoteMoose for Mike Moustakas. The unlikely pairing worked like gangbusters as Turner and Moose both cruised to runaway victories in their respective leagues.
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This wasn’t Moustakas’ first rodeo. The 28-year-old was on the ballot in 2015 when he beat out Xander Bogaerts for the final spot on that year’s AL All-Star squad. Those two resumed their rivalry in 2017 with Bogaerts again finishing runner-up to Moustakas. Even if Bogaerts had been victorious, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t have played in the All-Star Game anyway after taking a pitch off his hand Thursday against Tampa Bay.
Moustakas has never had a year like the one he’s having. He’s tied with George Springer for second in the majors with 25 homers and is on pace to reach the century mark in RBI for the first time in his career. Moustakas has already shattered his career-high in homers and is closing in on Steve Balboni’s team record of 36 set in 1985, the year Kansas City won its first World Series.
It looked like Moustakas would be a trade candidate when Kansas City got off to a poor start this year. But now that they’ve won 22 of their last 32 while pulling within one game of the first-place Indians in the AL Central, the Royals may actually be buyers at the trade deadline. Specifically, Kansas City is looking to bolster its rotation, which has struggled outside of Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy. The Royals could conceivably make a playoff push—they’re still just two years removed from winning the World Series and the core of that team is mostly intact. But with so many players headed for free agency—Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer will all hit the market this winter—is going all in this year really worth it for the small-market Royals? That’s a decision they’ll have to make by July 31.
Thursday spelled yet another defeat for the Cubs. Kris Bryant was hoping to punch his ticket to Miami but was denied by Turner and his rabid fan-base. Bryant’s numbers are borderline by All-Star standards—he’s hitting a pedestrian .261 with 16 homers, 34 RBI and six steals. But the All-Star festivities will certainly be missing an element with Bryant absent. Of course, the reigning NL MVP will be the first player called if any All-Stars get hurt between now and Sunday, so there’s still a chance he’ll be present for Tuesday’s Mid-Summer Classic. As it stands now, the Cubs’ only All-Star is closer Wade Davis, who arrived in a trade with Kansas City this past offseason. That makes Chicago the first defending World Series winner to not feature any All-Stars from the previous season.
Bryant’s All-Star snub, if you can call it that, is the least of the Cubs’ worries. What was thought to be a run-of-the-mill slump has turned into a three-month slide as the defending champs continue to lose ground in the NL Central. Thursday’s loss to Milwaukee pushed the Cubs a game below .500, which would have been unthinkable at the start of the year. Chicago’s descent into mediocrity has taken a toll on the team’s chemistry, as evidenced by last week’s incident when Miguel Montero was designated for assignment (and later traded to Toronto) after criticizing teammate Jake Arrieta for working too slowly on the mound. Even upbeat Theo Epstein concedes that a trade isn’t going to fix this team.
After Thursday’s lopsided defeat, manager Joe Maddon said, “That game goes in the trash can as quickly as any game you play.” You could probably say that about Chicago’s entire first half. The Cubs aren’t buried—they’re still just 4.5 games behind the division-leading Brewers. But every day the light at the end of the tunnel gets dimmer.
AL Quick Hits: Marcus Semien returned to Oakland’s lineup Thursday after missing nearly three months with a fractured wrist. He went 1-for-4 with a single and a walk in a win over the Mariners … With Jharel Cotton on the disabled list, Chris Smith will get the nod for Oakland Saturday against Seattle. The 36-year-old has made 63 relief appearances in the majors, but this will be his first big league start … Rather than flying ahead to rest up before his start against the Rays, Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale traveled with his teammates, arriving in Tampa Bay Thursday morning at 6 A.M. Sale didn’t have his best stuff on Thursday night (7 IP, 7 H, 4 ER) but still managed 12 strikeouts, giving him 178 for the year. That’s the most strikeouts by a pitcher in the first half since Curt Schilling fanned 186 batters before the break in 2002 … A sore ankle kept Tim Beckham out of the Rays’ lineup Thursday against Boston. Brad Miller was scratched from his rehab game with Triple-A Durham, a sign that he could be headed to the big leagues to replace Beckham on the active roster … Joe Mauer couldn’t get the green light to play Thursday against Baltimore and could be out through the All-Star break. The former MVP has been battling back spasms.
NL Quick Hits: Johnny Cueto was scratched from Thursday’s start against the Tigers due to an inner ear infection. Chris Stratton filled in for San Francisco, allowing five runs over 6 2/3 innings in a losing effort … Kyle Schwarber returned to the Cubs Thursday following an 11-game stint in the minors. He went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts in a loss to Milwaukee. To clear a roster spot for Schwarber, the Cubs placed John Lackey on the disabled list with plantar fasciitis … With the Cubs getting blown out on Thursday, outfielder Jon Jay was called on to pitch the ninth inning. He tossed a scoreless frame with pitch speeds ranging from 46-65 mph. Manager Joe Maddon had also considered letting Tommy La Stella pitch but the honor went to Jay after he beat La Stella in rock/paper/scissors … Keeping your eye on the ball is the first lesson you’re taught in Little League, but Josh Bell must have missed that day. Distracted by Andres Blanco’s flying bat, Bell was caught snoozing on Elian Diaz’s throw to first base. The ball sailed into right field, allowing a run to score … The Cardinals’ bullpen has been in a state of flux recently but Seung Hwan Oh is doing his best to restore the status quo. He hurled a scoreless ninth inning Thursday for his 17th save of the season. Trevor Rosenthal was warming up in case things went south, so Oh is obviously on a very tight leash … Michael Conforto (hand) went 3-for-4 with an RBI double Thursday in his first rehab game for High-A St. Lucie. He’ll be the Mets’ lone representative at next week’s All-Star Game in Miami … Several teams including the Mets have reached out to Bartolo Colon, who was officially released by Atlanta on Thursday. The 44-year-old could choose his next team as early as Friday … Reds closer Raisel Iglesias is drawing interest from the Nationals. The Nats, who rank last in the majors in bullpen ERA, have also been linked to Brad Hand, Pat Neshek and David Robertson … Eric Sogard landed on the DL with a strained left ankle. The 31-year-old has enjoyed a breakout season in Milwaukee, hitting .331 over 136 first half at-bats … Thursday’s Braves/Nationals game got off to a late start following a three-hour, 16-minute rain delay that included about a half hour of actual rain. Fans who stuck around were treated to free soda and ice cream, though barely anyone was left to take advantage of the freebies.