Plenty of tight races for NL All-Star spots
Pujols, Utley have big leads, but other positions up for grabs
Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols and Phillies second baseman Chase Utley hold sizable leads at their positions, but the right side of the infield currently serves as the only runaways in terms of fan voting for the National League's All-Star Game starting lineup.
The second wave of voting results for the NL were released on Wednesday, and it showed that much can change between now and when the process ends in a little more than four weeks.
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina leads Phillies backstop Carlos Ruiz by fewer than 80,000 votes.
The Phillies' Placido Polanco is ahead of the Mets' David Wright by about 123,000 to get the start at third base.
A would-be starting outfield currently consisting of the Brewers' Ryan Braun, the Phillies' Jayson Werth and the Dodgers' Andre Ethier is bunched up in votes, with the Phillies' Shane Victorino and Braves rookie Jason Heyward not far behind.
In perhaps the most intriguing race of all -- the battle at shortstop -- only a 21,739-vote margin separates current leader Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies and Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins. Rollins' lead is the smallest at any position in either league.
So, yes, Utley -- the leading vote-getter in the NL with 1,103,430 votes -- and Pujols -- with 1,006,149 -- are two of the four players in the Major Leagues who have hit the seven-digit mark in fan voting, the others being Twins catcher Joe Mauer and Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter of the American League. All of them hold big leads.
But every other position in the NL is close.
Ramirez has started in the past two All-Star Games but he closed ground in his bid for three straight.
Last week, Rollins led by fewer than 32,000 over Ramirez. This week, J-Roll (548,629 votes) is clinging on by even a smaller margin. Rollins has been limited to 12 games because of a right calf injury that has landed him on the disabled list on two separate occasions, but he is due back by early next week. Ramirez, meanwhile, entered Wednesday batting .296 with eight homers and 27 RBIs.
The Marlins held a voting initiative on Saturday night, as fans who filled out 200 All-Star Game ballots at Sun Life Stadium for the eight Marlins on the NL docket received two tickets to an upcoming Marlins game.
But Phillies fans are known to take the balloting seriously, too.
Last week, five Phillies players were in line to start the 81st All-Star Game. This week, Rollins, Utley, Polanco and Werth remained poised for starting nods, while Ryan Howard sat in second place behind Pujols, Victorino was jumped by Ethier and Ruiz stayed within reach of Molina.
Molina, the back-to-back NL Gold Glove Award winner and last year's starter behind the plate, held a lead of about 57,000 over Ruiz last week and increased that edge by a little more than 20,000 in eight days. Molina, batting .258 with 28 RBIs in 47 games, has 494,517 votes. Ruiz, batting .294 with 12 RBIs in 40 games, has 416,585 votes. He is hoping to make his first All-Star Game.
In the outfield, Braun continues to lead all outfielders with 693,460 votes. But a currently slumping Werth (629,894) and Ethier (606,519) are close. And so are Victorino (566,434) and the phenom, Heyward (550,147).
Braun is tied for fourth in the NL with a .320 batting average and has 33 RBIs. Ethier -- with his .376 batting average, 11 homers and 38 RBIs -- looked to be a Triple Crown threat before going down in mid-May with a broken pinkie, but he returned to the Dodgers on Monday. Werth, meanwhile, snapped an 0-for-21 slump with a double on Tuesday.
At third, Polanco (500,293 votes) continues to lead Wright (377,815), who has made the All-Star Game each of the past four years. And perhaps Polanco's lead stands to reason, as he is hitting .306 and Wright's batting average sits at .269.
At first and second base, it's been an entirely different story.
Utley -- batting .276 with 10 homers and 24 RBIs -- currently holds the largest lead of any player in the Majors, as the Brewers' Rickie Weeks is well behind with 261,591 votes.
Pujols, who broke out of a 31-game, two-homer stretch with three massive home runs at Wrigley Field on Sunday, stands nearly 480,000 votes ahead of Howard, who is hitting .280 with nine homers and has captured 532,729 votes.
So, Pujols looks primed to make his ninth All-Star Game in 10 years and seventh start, while Utley is poised to be the NL's starting second baseman for the fifth consecutive season.
But who will join them?
Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times at MLB.com and all 30 club sites using the 2010 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Sprint until July 1 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Sprint subscribers can now vote on the go with select Sprint devices. They can learn more about how to vote on their smart phones at MLB.com/Sprint.
Starting rosters will be announced during the 2010 All-Star Game Selection Show on TBS on July 4. Baseball fans around the world will then be able to select the final player on each team via the 2010 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint.
And the voting doesn't end there. Fans will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet at the Midsummer Classic via the 2010 All-Star Game MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint.
The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX and around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio play-by-play, while MLB.com will offer extensive online coverage.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.