It’s mid-July, time for two of the summer’s highlight sporting events — the All-Star Game and the ESPYs.
The All-Star Game determines which league has home-field advantage in the World Series (I’ll never understand that one) and the ESPYs hands out trophies to people who already have a lot of them. (How in the world is Lauren Hill NOT receiving the courage award?).
Anyway, we’re combining the events and giving them a Hoosier touch with All-Star break awards for major-league players with Indiana ties.
Though just one of these players is in Tuesday’s game in Cincinnati (8 p.m., Fox), several are playing key roles for their teams.
(Statistics are through Sunday night)
• BEST WAY TO FINISH A GAME
Drew Storen (Brownsburg) stakes that claim repeatedly. He has 25 saves, near the top of the National League, in 33 appearances with a 1.89 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 32 innings. He has just two blown saves, but apparently all that wasn’t good enough for him to land a spot on the All-Star team. Highlight: May, in which he had 11 saves and a win in 13 appearances. He didn’t allow a run.
• BEST CAMEO
Kyle Schwarber (Indiana University) was with the Chicago Cubs for a week and flashed a .364 batting average as a designated hitter with a home run, a triple and six runs batted in. Cubs fans can’t wait for him to return, but he’s currently in Triple-A. Though with regular catcher Miguel Montero having injured his thumb, it’s not out of the question that Schwarber could start the season’s second half with the Cubs. Schwarber helped his cause by winning the MVP award for the MLB All-Star Futures Game on Sunday. Prospects: He’s hitting .333 in Iowa, so they’re quite good.
• ROUGHEST CAMEO
Alex Meyer (Greensburg) started the season as a Triple-A starter but struggled and got sent to the bullpen. He found a groove in that role, earning a call-up to the Twins. However, he got hit hard in two appearances and was sent back down. Prospects: Minnesota is fighting for a playoff berth, so cracking the lineup again won’t be easy.
• BEST RETURN AFTER A LONG UNWANTED BREAK
Clayton Richard (McCutcheon) hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2013 because of arm and shoulder trouble. He signed with the Pirates organization and excelled for the Indianapolis Indians, activating a contract clause that prompted a trade to the Chicago Cubs. He went 6 1/3 innings to pick up a win in his return start July 4. Can he stick? Considering the Cubs are a playoff contender, they’ll probably have a quick hook if he doesn’t remain effective.
• HEAVIEST LUMBER
Adam Lind (Anderson) has 15 homers, 52 RBIs and a .292 average for the Brewers. What’s next: Milwaukee isn’t making the playoffs, so just keep swinging. Maybe a contender will take interest in his bat for the stretch run.
• BEST WAY TO START AN INNING
A.J. Pollock (Notre Dame) is batting .299 with 11 homers for the Diamondbacks. He also has 19 stolen bases, so opposing pitchers must keep a close eye on him. Travel plans: He’s heading to Cincinnati as a National League All-Star.
• HARDEST LUCK STARTER
Kyle Gibson (Greenfield-Central) of the Twins would rather forget his first start of the season (six runs in 3 2/3 innings) but has been solid since. His ERA is 2.85 and he has 78 strikeouts against 36 walks. However, the Twins have scored two or fewer runs in eight of his 18 starts. It’s a marathon: Minnesota is in the playoff race, so the Twins need him to remain effective, even if the support is spotty.
• BEST SITUATION TO RETURN TO
Lance Lynn (Brownsburg) missed a couple of weeks with an arm strain, but he returned to the Cardinals’ rotation in late June. He had three consecutive stellar starts, but was roughed up for five runs on nine hits in four innings of work against the Pirates on Friday. He’s 6-5 with a 2.90 ERA. Keep rollin’: No worries here. St. Louis has the best record in the majors and he’s a key part of keeping the Cardinals on top.
• MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE
Clint Barmes (Vincennes) is sporting his best batting average (.282) by far since the 2008 season, earning more time as the Padres’ shortstop. Shaky ground: San Diego is reportedly in search of a regular shortstop, so Barmes’ bat needs to stay relatively warm.
• LEAST CONSISTENT PERFORMER
Kevin Kiermaier (Fort Wayne) started the season as the Rays’ leadoff hitter, but he has suffered through some of the same issues as his teammates, who are near the bottom of the major leagues in batting average. He hit .306 in April, then his average plummeted to .225 at the end of May. He raised it to .256 by the end of June, but he still isn’t the regular leadoff man. Back to the top? Just a hint of a hot streak should put him back in the leadoff spot. No one else on the Rays is claiming it.
• BEST WAY TO HOLD A LEAD
Pat Neshek, Astros (Butler, 3-1, 2.70 ERA, 20 holds), Tommy Hunter, Orioles (Cathedral, 2-2, 4.17 ERA), and Joe Thatcher, Astros (Kokomo/Indiana State, 1-3, 3.38 ERA) have been strong at keeping their teams ahead or close until the closer comes in.
• NEED A CATCHER? TAKE YOUR PICK
Tucker Barnhart, Reds (Brownsburg, .247, 3 HRs), Kevin Plawecki, Mets (Westfield/Purdue, .231, 2 HRs), Josh Phegley, A’s (Terre Haute/IU, .269, 5 HRs), Drew Butera, Royals (Evansville, .189) are sure-handed catchers who know how to call a game. Who has the best future? It’s hard to say long-term, but for this year, Butera got traded from the Angels to the team with the American League’s best record, so he’s in a good spot.
• HOPING FOR A BETTER SECOND HALF
Jeff Samardzija, White Sox (Valparaiso/Notre Dame, 6-4, 4.02 ERA as No. 2 starter for a sub-.500 team. However, he had a complete-game shutout in his last outing); LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies (Gary, 2-1, 3.72 ERA, demoted from closer to middle relief); Aaron Barrett, Nationals (Evansville, 3-2, 4.84 ERA, came off the disabled list and pitched a scoreless 7th inning for the Nationals on Friday); Micah Johnson, White Sox (Park Tudor/IU, began season as starting second baseman, hit .270 and was sent to minors); Jarrod Parker, A’s (Ossian, still recovering from Tommy John surgery); David Phelps, Marlins (Notre Dame, 4-5, 3.86 ERA, performances have varied wildly; he has 14 starts but has come out of the bullpen in recent weeks); Justin Masterson, Red Sox (Bethel, missed time to injury and is 3-2 with a 6.00 ERA); Eric Stults (Argos/Bethel, 1-5, 5.85 ERA with the Braves, who released him; in Dodgers organization), Jordan Schafer (Hammond, hit .217 before Twins released him).