I love MLB’s All-Star Game and have for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I sat in the red seats at Riverfront Stadium, punching out the bubbles on the old paper ballots and stuffing the ballot box for every Red, but especially for Barry Larkin (who was robbed of at least four All-Star starts by Cardinals fans stuffing the box for Ozzie Smith). Today the voting is done on phones and computers, but I still enjoy the drama and discussion over who gets picked and who gets snubbed.
The reason I fell in love with the All-Star Game as a kid, for some reason, was the introduction of the players, when we got to see our Reds singled out on a national stage. Remember that in the old days we didn’t get to see every game on television (or phones and computers), so it was a big deal to see rookie Chris Sabo standing alongside Larkin and Danny Jackson on the same baselines as Rickey Henderson, George Brett, and Dave Winfield. (Alfredo Simon’s appearance in 2014 was less thrilling.)
Even today, my son and I make a point of watching those introductions together every year. So which Reds will be standing on the baseline in Denver in a couple of weeks?
In most years, we’re talking about which single Cincinnati player would be selected. This summer, however, the Reds are almost assured of having at least two representatives: Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos. The Dynamic Duo have not slowed down in recent weeks, and the rest of the league has taken notice. Both have advanced to “Phase 2” of the fan voting (here’s an explanation of the new voting system MLB is using this season) as two of the top three vote-getters among National League outfielders. You have until Thursday at 2 p.m. Eastern to vote (and vote again) for them.
Unless you are of a certain vintage, seeing two Reds voted into the All-Star starting lineup is likely a novelty. In fact, it’s been four years since the Reds had even one starter (shortstop Zack Cozart). The last time Cincinnati had two starters was 2013, when Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips were in the lineup. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 1995, when Larkin and Ron Gant, in his only season with the Reds, started.
That’s right, the 2021 Reds—an alternately frustrating and amazing team—have a chance to accomplish something that’s happened precisely once in more than a quarter of a century. What a time to be alive.
Even if both Reds are not ultimately elected to be starters, they’re virtual locks to make the NL roster for the first time in their respective careers. But might the Reds get three (or more) players on the team?
On the offensive side of the ball, the only potential selection other than Winker and Castellanos is Tucker Barnhart. He isn’t among the very best-hitting catchers in the league, but he’s having the best offensive season of his career (.267/.350/.420, 4 home runs, 25 RBI, 113 wRC+). Frankly, this is a sentimental choice for me—he has more seniority with this franchise than any current player other than Votto—but it’s not out of the question. After all, Barnhart is the reigning Gold Glove honoree in the NL (2020 was the second time he has won that award), he’s never made an All-Star team, and he’s a really great guy.
I really wanted to make the case for second baseman Jonathan India here. He’s been terrific lately—in 21 games since taking over the Reds leadoff spot he’s hitting .284/.396/.420 with a couple of homers and 5 doubles—but I have a hard time seeing the rookie actually getting a nod. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he represented Cincinnati at the midsummer classic in future years.
Among pitchers, were it not for his recent injury issues, reliever Tejay Antone would have had a strong case for selection to the NL team. Before landing on the injured list for the first time earlier this month, Antone had been nearly unhittable, with a 1.41 ERA in 20 appearances. Not many relief pitchers are selected, but Antone would have had as good a chance as anyone despite only three saves on his resume.
Two other Cincinnati pitchers, Wade Miley and Tyler Mahle, have decent cases. Miley has 6 wins and a 3.09 ERA (it was 2.85 before an unsteady start against Philadelphia on Monday night), plus that beautiful no-hitter back in May. He’s made an All-Star team once before, all the way back in his rookie year of 2012 as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. There’s a chance he could sneak onto the roster this year.
Mahle may have a better case. In his breakout season, the 26-year old righthander is 7–3 with a 3.74 ERA. His seven wins are tied (with the Mets’ Jacob deGrom, among others) for the sixth-best total in the league, and while wins are a horrible way to judge pitchers, it’s still a data point in Mahle’s favor since the players (who will be selecting the rest of the roster) aren’t exactly renowned to be analytically-inclined.
If we’re being honest, Miley and Mahle are probably just outside the group of pitchers who are most likely in contention for those prized All-Star spots on the NL roster. But with pitchers, these selections are often dependent on who is available to pitch in the game (i.e., they haven’t pitched in the days before the game) and injuries that limit participation. Once the selected pitchers start dropping out, look for Cincinnati’s duo (ironically, a different Reds pitching duo were selected to the last All-Star game: Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray) will be in the mix.
Whatever happens, I’m sure I’ll be watching with my son, hoping that Winker or Castellanos or another Red makes an impact on the game. And then the second half will begin and we can get back to this roller-coaster of a baseball season for the ol’ Redlegs.
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.