Assessing early candidates for NL All-Star Game starting pitcher

Could Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina be the starting battery for the NL in the All-Star Game?
Could Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina be the starting battery for the NL in the All-Star Game? (USATSI)

More: AL All-Star starting pitcher frontrunners

Wednesday, I took a look at the frontrunners to start the All-Star Game for the American League, given that we're just about a month away. That means it's now time to do the same with the National League.

As I noted in the AL version, it's important to note these aren't my picks as the best pitchers or the most deserving to start. I'm attempting to size up the contenders to actually start the game, and it's St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny making the choice.

Matheny's never chosen an All-Star starter before, so again we'll have to rely upon history. Here's what I said yesterday on the matter:

Generally speaking, the formula for picking an All-Star Game starter includes judging on old-school stats (think W-L, ERA and maybe K), career pedigree (think established stud over upstart, unless it's a phenom who has been hyped for a while) and, of course, familiarity (think choosing one's own starter if he's in the mix). Playing for a contending team doesn't hurt, either. And, of course, if Tony La Russa is deciding, knuckleballers are eliminated from consideration (I kid, I kid).

One final note: I'm not going to get into working through which pitchers are set to start the Sunday before the All-Star Game -- and are therefore ineligible to pitch in the actual All-Star Game -- because of so many factors that cause rotation shifts, such as rainouts, injuries and general moving within certain weeks. We just can't know how that Sunday will look.

With this in mind, I see one clear frontrunner while everyone else is a backup plan.

1. Adam Wainwright , Cardinals

Wainwright definitely deserves to be in the mix based upon merit. He's 9-3 with a 2.15 ERA and has already thrown over 100 innings. He's a known star among even casual fans, has a few World Series rings, has been an All-Star a few times and has never started the game.

What pushes Wainwright into the stratosphere here is that his manager is the one making the selection. Not only that, but it looks like Yadier Molina is going to be the starter behind the plate. Why wouldn't Matheny have his own catcher begin the game with his ace as the battery?

If things continue along this path, it isn't even a discussion. It'll be Wainwright. Surely some would whine about favoritism, but he'd be a deserving selection and it makes sense to work with his own catcher.

Of course, Wainwright is currently having his elbow examined by a doctor and he could also pitch on the Sunday before the All-Star Game. So let's look at the rest of the group, shall we?

2. Tim Hudson, Giants

A lifetime achievement award? Hardly. Huddy is 6-2 with a 1.97 ERA and 0.96 WHIP for the best team in the NL.

Still, there has to be some sentiment here. Hudson has long been one of the most respected players in baseball by his peers. He's been to three All-Star Games, but only appeared in game action once -- all the way back in 2000 as a rookie. In this his 16th season he's coming back from a gruesome broken ankle that ended his 2013 campaign.

Let's say Wainwright is a no-go for whatever reason while Hudson has continued to pitch very well up until All-Star week. It would have to be awfully hard for Matheny to not pick him, right? My guess is if the game were this week, Wainwright would be held out due to his elbow and Matheny would pick Hudson (of note: Hudson just threw seven shutout innings against the Cardinals on June 1). 

3. Madison Bumgarner , San Francisco Giants

The 24-year-old southpaw is dialed in right now, sporting a 1.24 ERA in his last four starts. On the season, he's 8-4 with a 2.67 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 87 2/3 innings. He was an All-Star last year, already has two World Series rings and his Giants also boast the best record in all of baseball. He'd make a fine selection, as I think he's headed for a top three finish in the Cy Young voting this year.

4. Zack Greinke , Los Angeles Dodgers

Believe it or not, Greinke's actually only once been an All-Star before, but he won the Cy Young that year and pretty much every casual fan knows who he is. He's also having yet another very good season. Right now, he's 8-2 with a 2.62 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 79 innings (entering his Thursday start). He has hit a bit of a rough patch in the last three starts, though it hasn't been awful, and the Dodgers are considered a disappointment to this juncture. It's worth wondering if that would matter, but we also have a month-plus until Matheny makes his decision.

5. Johnny Cueto , Cincinnati Reds

There's an argument to be had for Cueto to be first or second, but for two issues:

1. His record is 6-5 and that matters because it doesn't seem All-Star-starter-worthy to those who hold that stat dearly -- even though his teammates are what cost him a better record.

2. There may still plenty of lingering resentment toward Cueto from the Cardinals regarding the brawl in Cincinnati from 2010 when he cleated Jason Larue in the head, which eventually ended Larue's career. It would be hard to see Matheny picking him, especially with Molina -- who was a central figure in that brawl -- being the catcher.

Cueto's on-field stats are excellent. He's leading the majors with a 1.85 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, three complete games and 102 innings pitched. He also leads the NL with 109 strikeouts.

I listed him fifth because he deserves consideration, but I just can't see any scenario where he starts the All-Star Game this season, under the circumstances.

Don't forget about: Julio Teheran , Atlanta Braves ; Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann , Washington Nationals ; Jeff Samardzija , Chicago Cubs , if he miraculously found a way to get his record at least two games above .500. Kyle Lohse of the Milwaukee Brewers ? Maybe, if the record got to something like 12-2 (he's 7-2 now).

Pour one out for Jose Fernandez , by the way.

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