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BenFred: Molina and Pujols should join many other Cardinals at the All-Star Game

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St. Louis Cardinals V San Francisco Giants

The Cardinals' Albert Pujols congratulates teammate Yadier Molina, who had just hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning of a game against San Francisco on May 15 at Busch Stadium.

Determining which club — Cardinals, or Brewers? — will bask in the glory of leading the National League Central at the All-Star break is not the only suspense that must be solved during this sprint to the break.

Oliver Marmol’s team has a chance to color the upcoming All-Star Game a familiar shade of red.

Not since the 2015 season have the Cardinals celebrated more than three All-Stars once the fan vote, player polling and commissioner’s office combine to determine the final field.

Last season’s three — Nolan Arenado, Yadier Molina and Alex Reyes — marked the most since that 2015 season, when the Cardinals swarmed the Midsummer Classic with six. The 2015 All-Star six-pack from a team that went on to win 100 games — Molina, Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal — will be hard to top.

But five selections could be within reach, depending on how the next couple of weeks evolve.

And then there are two additional question marks that, if the league does the smart thing, could turn the festivities in Los Angeles into a Cardinals-influenced exclamation point.

The locks Paul Goldschmidt: No sense in wasting much time here. The first baseman’s seventh All-Star honor (and first as a Cardinal) is imminent.

The bigger challenge for Goldschmidt will be keeping up a pace worthy of NL Most Valuable Player conversation. He’s a frontrunner at the moment. He’s finished in the top three three times, and was second twice in Arizona, but has not cracked the top five since joining the Cardinals entering the 2019 season.

Nolan Arenado: Only National League MVP candidate Manny Machado has totaled more wins above replacement than Arenado’s 3.4 at third base this season. Arenado has played in more games than Machado, hit more homers and produced more RBIs. There is plenty of room for both in Los Angeles. For Arenado, this will be trip No. 7.

Tommy Edman: Switching from second base, where he won a Gold Glove last season, back to shortstop during the fall of Paul DeJong and the rise of Nolan Gorman presented Edman with a challenge. And no, we are not talking about how his arm holds up at short. He’s checked that box — as predicted.

Utility players, or guys who make a position switch on the fly, seem to have a harder time securing fan votes. No worries. Edman is jostling with guys such as Sandy Alcantara, Goldschmidt and Machado for the league lead in wins above replacement. Asked recently if he’s worried about Edman making his first All-Star Game, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak chuckled. He’s counting on it.

As for the Cardinals’ other versatile infielder/outfielder Brendan Donovan, he has a better chance of making a real run at NL rookie of the year. Same for teammate Juan Yepez.

The compelling cases

Miles Mikolas: He has a much better argument than his 5-6 record indicates. Entering Friday’s start on the road against the Phillies, which he lost, the one-time All-Star (2018) ranked third among NL starters in innings pitched, fourth in ERA, fifth in WHIP (that’s walks plus hits per innings pitched, for Jim Edmonds), and seventh in number of quality starts produced. He fell short of a quality start Friday, when he allowed six hits and four runs (two earned) in his 5 1/3 innings of the Cardinals’ 5-3 loss. But he is one of only four with a complete game in the bag.

Ryan Helsley: He should be a first-time All-Star — as long as he doesn’t give up any more crushing two-out home runs, like the one that cost the Cardinals a sweep of the Marlins when Avisail Garcia detonated a 99 mph fastball Wednesday night.

Helsley has some of the most electric stuff in the majors, and checks in among baseball’s top-two percentile in average fastball velocity and whiff rate. He had a 0.88 ERA through 30.2 innings over 25 games when the Cardinals left for Philadelphia. He had totaled 45 strikeouts while allowing 10 hits and 10 walks. The lone homer hit against him belonged to Garcia.

Helsley’s strikeout rate mirrors Brewers bullpen X-factor and St. Louis native Devin Williams’. His strikeout-to-walk ratio mirrors Brewers bullpen X-factor Josh Hader. Neither can match Helsley’s opponent average, which entered Friday at .009.

The legends

Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols: They are not deserving of All-Star invitations based on their play this season. Still, shouldn’t baseball do something at the All-Star break to honor two future Hall of Famers who are set to ride off into the sunset together? Especially after one of the faces of the game, Machado, called out teams for not doing more to celebrate the two?

One of the best moments of the 2001 All-Star Game came when retiring legends Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr., were honored. Ripken was voted in, but Gwynn attended as a “special guest” of the NL.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, are you reading? Hint, hint.

Sports columnists Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon preview how the Cardinals could approach the trade deadline. BenFred makes the case for Miles Mikolas as an All-Star candidate.

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