Braun-Heyward race for votes razor-thin
Brewers slugger leads by fewer than 3,000; Pujols leads overall
Perhaps the National League starting lineup for the 81st All-Star Game is beginning to solidify itself, but while the leaders did not change in Tuesday's update of fan balloting, some races remain up for grabs.
The Brewers' Ryan Braun, the Braves' Jason Heyward and the Dodgers' Andre Ethier continued as the three leading outfielders, but the race to finish first couldn't be much closer, as Heyward, the Atlanta rookie, trails Braun by only 2,845 votes.
And at catcher, the Cardinals' Yadier Molina has 1,047,411 votes and has maintained a lead of about 88,000 over the Braves' Brian McCann (959,033) -- the smallest margin between first and second place in the NL infield.
There was a change in one particular race of interest. After running second in NL votes since balloting began, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols has overtaken Phillies second baseman Chase Utley and is now the league's leading vote-getter.
Pujols -- batting .309 with 14 homers and 48 RBIs after Monday's game -- has received 2,093,649 votes, as he looks to make his ninth All-Star Game and seventh start in his 10th season in the big leagues. Utley has received 1,992,180 votes.
Shortstop Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins and third baseman Placido Polanco of the Phillies have also maintained their leads.
Braun has led the outfielders all year, but Heyward is breathing down his neck. Last week, the Braves' rookie phenom vaulted into the top three for the first time and trailed the first-place Braun by 8,815 votes. Now, that margin is down to under 3,000 votes, as Heyward has captured 1,419,753 and Braun sits uncomfortably ahead at 1,422,598.
Heyward, an early favorite for NL Rookie of the Year, is batting .265 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs, while Braun is sporting a .300 batting average with 10 homers and 45 RBIs while seeking his third consecutive trip to the All-Star Game.
Ethier, leading the NL with a .343 batting average, increased his lead over fourth-place Jayson Werth of the Phillies from roughly 84,000 to 224,000.
While St. Louis' Matt Holliday (sixth in the outfield), the Dodgers' Manny Ramirez (ninth) and the Mets' Jason Bay (10th) are some of the most recognizable names in the NL, it's Braun, Heyward and Ethier who have been setting the tone in the outfield.
Throughout the balloting process, the race for fan votes at shortstop, between Ramirez and a still-idle Jimmy Rollins, was one of the most intriguing. In the previous two weeks, the distance between the two was among the closest in the Majors.
But after taking the lead for the first time last week, Ramirez -- batting .285 with nine homers and 33 RBIs -- has increased his lead from a little more than 40,000 to nearly 200,000.
Ramirez has 1,190,685 votes and some cushion over Rollins (992,887), who has been limited to 12 games because of a right calf strain that hasn't shown many signs of improvement.
Despite batting just .256, Utley -- Ramirez's up-the-middle partner the past two All-Star Games -- is easily ahead of Martin Prado (895,458), even though the Braves second baseman holds a much better .332 batting average.
If Utley maintains his lead, he'll be making his fifth consecutive trip to the All-Star Game.
Meanwhile, in arguably the most surprising race in the NL, Polanco continues to hold strong at the hot corner.
Polanco, batting .319, has held a lead throughout over the Mets' David Wright -- batting .286 with 12 homers and 47 RBIs after a nice start to June -- even though Polanco hasn't played third base full-time since 2002 and hasn't made an All-Star team since 2007. This week, Polanco (933,229) maintained a lead of nearly 180,000 over Wright, an All-Star in four consecutive years who now has 754,455 votes.
Thanks to a June in which he is batting .405 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 11 games, Wright's numbers are now pretty much on par with what many expected. But Mets fans will have to hurry if they think that's good enough for an All-Star nod.
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.