The Washington Nationals will send four players to this year’s All-Star Game, tied for the most in the D.C. history of the franchise. Bryce Harper was voted in as a starter for the third time in his career. Wilson Ramos and Daniel Murphy were chosen as reserves — Ramos’s first all-star selection and Murphy’s second. Stephen Strasburg is the only Nationals pitcher to make the team, chosen to a loaded National League pitching staff, a statistically deserving and sentimentally appealing choice given the game will be played in his home town of San Diego.
“The guys that are headed there, I think they deserve to be headed there,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “I would have liked to have seen Max Scherzer make it and I would have liked to have seen Danny Espinosa. But Danny came on kind of late for the voting. I’m sure he’s on the radar in people’s minds for next year.”
Harper hovered among the top outfield vote-getters throughout the process despite a relatively slow first half — though the extent of the expectations surrounding the reigning NL MVP may be best illustrated by the fact that a “relatively slow” first half included winning National League player of the month in April.
His 17 home runs are tied for the eighth most in baseball; his on-base percentage is .404, tied for seventh best in the majors; and he leads the majors in walks with 66 entering Tuesday night. This will be Harper’s fourth all-star game, third as a starter. Harper is 23 years old.
“It’s awesome. Just want to thank the fans for sure. All across the country, and definitely all the Nats fans, for getting me in there,” Harper said. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. Just going to enjoy it with the family and just really enjoy those couple days.”
As Harper has produced somewhat less than last season, Murphy and Ramos have helped the Nationals maintain a formidable middle of the order. Murphy entered Tuesday night’s game first in the National League in batting average (.347); Ramos entered the game second (.340). Murphy is third in the National League in slugging percentage, while Ramos is ninth.
According to Major League Baseball, Murphy finished 88 votes shy of the Cubs’ Ben Zobrist for the starting second baseman spot in the NL lineup. Zobrist finished with 3,013,407 votes. Murphy finished with 3,013,319, which was more than Harper received to start in the outfield (2,865,095).
“This is a tough league, and being an All-Star is humbling. I’m excited for it,” Murphy said. “And Ben Zobrist, if he’s the starter from what it sounds like, is having a fantastic year, and he’s well-deserving.”
Murphy looked like a smart value when the Nationals signed him to a three-year, $37.5 million deal this offseason. He has turned himself into one of the best values in baseball this season and made as much impact as any player to change teams this offseason. The 31-year-old entered Tuesday night leading the National League in hits and multi-hit games. He is second among National League second basemen with 14 homers. His .966 OPS is fourth in the National League. Major league second basemen as a whole have an OPS of .753.
Ramos, meanwhile, has finally emerged as the elite offensive catcher the Nationals waited for through injuries and inconsistency. At 28, Ramos is compiling one of the best offensive seasons by a catcher in the last decade. He leads all major league catchers in average, is tied for the lead in home runs, and has the fewest strikeouts of any catcher with 35 entering Tuesday. He is the only player in baseball to improve his average more than 100 points this season. He finished third in the voting that was won by Giants catcher Buster Posey.
“Willy, can’t say enough about him and how he’s done this year,” Harper said. “I might be a little biased and stuff, but I think he should be starting.”
Ramos was a Gold Glove finalist last season but lost out to Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. Baker said he could see the emotion in Ramos’s face when he found out he made the team
“I’m excited to be part of the All-Star Game,” Ramos said. “And I made a promise to my grandma when my grandfather passed away [earlier this season] that I was going to try to make the most of this season and play as well as possible, including obviously this selection. So I’m very, very excited.”
Strasburg, meanwhile, heads home for his first All-Star Game since 2012. Strasburg grew up in the San Diego area and played college baseball at San Diego State. Before he signed his seven-year extension with the Nationals earlier this season, many believed Strasburg would consider a return to Southern California as a free agent this winter. If the Nationals’ rotation holds, Strasburg would be on six days’ rest for the game Tuesday night.
“Stoked for Stras,” Harper said. “I hope he gets that start. I think he deserves it, being 11-0, hopefully 12-0 before he gets there, that’s huge. Going home to San Diego, of course, being able to throw in front of his home town, that’d be awesome as well.”
Strasburg became the Nationals’ all-time strikeout leader earlier this season and is the only qualified starter in the majors with a winning percentage of 1.000 (11-0). The Nationals have won 17 of the last 18 games he has pitched.
The National League is loaded with starting talent — much of it, it seems, on the disabled list. Strasburg’s statistics stand up against the league’s elite: His 2.71 ERA is 11th among NL starters. His 123 strikeouts are fifth despite missing two starts. He is holding opponents to a .208 batting average against him, tied for seventh best.
Scherzer, who leads the National League in strikeouts, probably had the best statistical case of those Nationals not chosen to the team. He is holding batters to a .195 average, and his 4.84 strikeout-to-walk ratio trails only Clayton Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard among National League starters. But he has also allowed more home runs than any starter in baseball, which has pushed his ERA to 3.21 — not bad, of course, but not good enough to jump onto a National League pitching staff that includes stingier options like Jose Fernandez and Madison Bumgarner.
In the National League, only the Cubs have more players heading to San Diego than the Nationals do. The last time the Nationals had four players selected was 2012. Harper and Strasburg were in that group, too. Ian Desmond was also an all-star that year. He’ll be going this year, as well, as an outfielder representing the American League.