If the roster for the National League All-Star team were to be announced today, two things are fairly certain: Stephen Strasburg would not be on it, and that would be a huge mistake.
Forget for a moment that Strasburg didn't make his major league debut until June 8, or that he has still made only four big-league starts to date, or that he is just 21 years old and pitches for a last-place team. Strasburg fits the three most essential criteria when picking an All-Star squad: He has unquestionably been among the best in the league at his position, he gives his league a legitimate chance at victory and the fans want to see him.
RELATED:Why Strasburg should not make the All-Star team.
Were any of these three statements untrue, Strasburg's inclusion wouldn't be worthy of discussion. But they are, and he is. Start with the numbers, looking past his middle-reliever-like 2-1 record, and consider these more revealing statistics. There is his 1.78 ERA, which would rank second in the National League if he had enough innings to qualify, ahead of such luminaries as Josh Johnson, Roy Halladay and Yovani Gallardo. His 0.947 WHIP would rank first, ahead of Johnson and Ubaldo Jimenez. His K/BB ratio of 8.2 would be by far the best in the NL, making Halladay's 6.0 look downright pedestrian. His astronomical K/9 rate of 14.6 would also be the best in the senior circuit, obliterating Tim Lincecum's current league-best 10.2. His 1.8 walks per nine would rank fifth. His 6.8 hits per nine, which would rank sixth, are better than Adam Wainwright, Lincecum, Chris Carpenter and Matt Cain. In fact, Strasburg is the only pitcher in the National League in the top six of all six of those categories.
Further, there is no Nationals player more deserving of the team's mandatory roster spot than Strasburg. Position players Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman have had fine seasons and are worthy of consideration, but they haven't been so outstanding as to make their selections a foregone conclusion. Likewise, Matt Capps, Washington's closer, who leads the NL with 22 saves, has his own flaws. Only two closers in the league have more blown saves than Capps' four (one of whom -- Milwaukee's Trevor Hoffman -- lost his job) and his 3.48 ERA is the second-highest in the league among closers with at least 15 saves.
The most compelling reason to choose Strasburg over Capps, or any other NL pitcher, is the most obvious: The National League wants to win. NL players and managers have spoken openly at past All-Star Games about their wounded pride from having failed to emerge victorious in any of the past 13 Midsummer Classics. Besides, as Major League Baseball never fails to point out, this game counts. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel knows first-hand from last year's All-Star Game the value of being able to call on a succession of dominant pitchers inning after inning. "It was definitely a pitcher's game and they have some horses, and the back end of the bullpen is good," Manuel said that night, after five consecutive AL relief pitchers retired the side in order from the third through the seventh innings. That overpowering pitching helped the AL overcome a 3-2 deficit to win 4-3 and clinch home-field advantage in the World Series, which the Yankees then used to help beat Manuel's Phillies. If Manuel needs three outs this year, would he rather be calling on Matt Capps or Stephen Strasburg?
Perhaps most importantly, this game is for the fans, and no player in baseball has created more of a sensation this season than Strasburg and no player carries the potential to impact the game's TV ratings the way he can. He is, after all, the most hyped pitcher to ascend a major league mound in generations. He has graced the covers of national magazines (including SI), forced TV networks to rearrange their schedules just to showcase him (as when TBS dropped the big-market Phillies-Red Sox game to show the lowly Nats and Indians on June 13), and has done something even more remarkable: made Washington Nationals baseball a must-see event. Strasburg's three home starts have drawn the three biggest non-Opening Day crowds of the year to Nationals Park, and his one road start, in Cleveland, more than doubled the Indians' average attendance this season. Even the President of the United States has found the time to watch Strasburg pitch.
As the politicians who have come out to see him in the nation's capital can relate, Strasburg's campaigning is not yet complete. He still has three more starts to make before the All-Star break, giving him three more chances to impress his voters (in this case, Manuel) to gain election to the team. The first comes on Monday night in Atlanta in what will be in many ways his most revealing start yet: on the road against a first-place team loaded with dangerous hitters. It will mark a perfect opportunity for Strasburg to demonstrate that his domination has not been solely the product of a favorable schedule but rather the natural result that comes when someone who is exceptionally talented does what they do best.
In the end, the biggest reason to send Stephen Strasburg to Anaheim may be this: There is no good reason not to.