Votebook: Pujols heads list of forces at first
Votto, Cantu look to make Midsummer Classic for first time
We're getting used to seeing this.
It's early May, All-Star ballots are all over Major League ballparks, and one of the names baseball fans all across America are immediately drawn to can be found smack in the middle of the 16 choices for first base in the National League.
And after the reigning NL Most Valuable Player's start to this season, is there any argument here? Through Thursday's games, the man they call "The Machine" was first in the league in home runs at 11, first in RBIs with 32 and third in the league in batting at .356. This after a 2008 in which he slugged .653, walked 104 times, struck out 54 times, hit 37 homers, drove in 116 runs, batted .357 and had an on-base percentage of .462.
In other words, is anyone even close at his position? And is there any possible chance that Pujols won't start the 2009 Midsummer Classic when it's played at his home park July 14?
"It would mean a lot to me and my family," Pujols said. "I've been in seven All-Star Games, but this year, if I get the opportunity to represent the Cardinals in the Midsummer Classic, it would be extra special in front of our fans."
It would also be extra-special, he admitted, if the NL can win the game. That's something he hasn't experienced yet.
"I know it's an exhibition game, but it means a lot," Pujols said. "I'm real excited. Hopefully I can get the opportunity to make the club and try to do the best that I can to help the National League win. ... Hopefully we can end that losing streak. The American League is killing us."
Pujols isn't the only National League first baseman putting up solid numbers early in the season.
Cincinnati's Joey Votto is second in the NL in batting with a .370 average and has driven in 23 runs despite only hitting three homers, Colorado's Todd Helton is batting .355 with 17 RBIs, Adrian Gonzalez of the San Diego Padres has nine homers and 20 RBIs.
Don't forget perennial fan favorites Carlos Delgado of the Mets and Lance Berkman of the Houston Astros, who might be off to a slow start with a sub-.200 batting average but still has hit seven homers.
And then there's Jorge Cantu, who's helping pace the surprising Florida Marlins with eight homers, 30 RBIs and a .312 batting average.
"We saw a little bit of this last year," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Cantu. "He doesn't give at-bats away. He knows what he wants to do. He puts the ball in play when he has to. What a great quality to have, especially in the middle of the lineup."
In the American League, the star of Boston's Kevin Youkilis continues to rise in the middle of his lineup.
Through Thursday's games, Youkilis remained atop the Major League leaders in batting average (.393) and among the leaders in slugging percentage (.719) and on-base percentage (.505). Youkilis has thrown in six homers and 20 RBIs for good measure, coming up big in a lineup in which David Ortiz hasn't yet hit his stride.
"He just gets better and better," Ortiz said of Youkilis. "He's been improving himself more and more and more, and that's what the game is all about. The guy wakes up and he could get a hit. It's crazy. That's good. We need guys like that around here."
Youkilis, who finished third in last year's MVP voting, would figure to be a shoo-in for the starting AL slot at first base in the All-Star Game, but he's got serious competition from two usual suspects.
One is Carlos Pena of the Tampa Bay Rays, who is leading all Major Leaguers with 13 home runs and also has 30 RBIs and a .688 slugging percentage.
The other is Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, who seems comfortable since the move from third base and is batting .390 with a .460 on-base percentage, .630 slugging, seven homers and 22 RBIs.
"He came over in the trade [from Florida before the 2008 season] with big expectations because of the contract and everything that goes with it," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I think he's settled in now. He's relaxed. I know he likes it here. I'm sure that's a big help to him. He's a force. There's no question about it."
Other AL first-base forces with good chances to hit the field in St. Louis on July 14 are Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins (.310, six homers, 22 RBIs), Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees (five homers, 15 RBIs), Kendry Morales of the Los Angeles Angels (.276, five homers, 17 RBIs) and Russell Branyan of the Seattle Mariners (.302, seven homers, 15 RBIs).
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.