Quick! With both the Rays and Marlins residing in first place this late into the season, now's as good a time as any to put together the Stew's look at the Sunshine State All-Star Team. We'd wait until the two teams meet in June, but who knows if they'll keep their current perches that long.
While we're assuming one of the Florida newspapers has tried such a gimmick at some point over the last decade — even with their tongues planted firmly in cheek — this is probably the first national attempt to meld a serious super team from the suprisingly deep talent pools in St. Petersburg and Miami.
Listed below, then, are our picks for the best lineup that doesn't pay any state income tax. Since the Rays and Marlins have the two lowest payrolls, it's a value-packed bunch. The combined salaries for the players comes in at $21.7 million and the roster's average age is 25.6 years old. Loaded GMs in major markets, are you reading this? Thought so.
Catcher — Dioner Navarro, Rays
Lotto numbers: .375 average, 1 HR, 12 RBI
Navarro is 6-for-9 in his last three games with 2 RBI and is 5-for-10 in his career against Mike Mussina, whom he will face tonight when the Rays take on the Yankees. Navarro has also done a great job behind the plate and has become popular with the pitching staff. "He's done a great job this year," Andy Sonnanstine said. "He instills a lot of confidence in me when I pitch, and he seems to be right on point with his pitch selection. A lot of times I just go out there, trust him and play the game — just kind of let it play out." (MLB.com)
First Base — Mike Jacobs, Marlins
Lotto numbers: .269 average, 9 HR, 24 RBI
Jacobs has been out of the starting lineup for almost a week because of a quad injury, but the Marlins are hopeful that he can be back in the lineup soon, possibly by Friday. (Palm Beach Post)
Second Base — Dan Uggla, Marlins
Lotto numbers: .294 average, 12 HR, 29 RBI
Uggla is one of the hottest hitters in baseball. The second baseman is 14-for-31 over his last nine games, with 6 HR, and 13 RBI. "He's carried us for about a week now," hitting coach Jim Presley said of Uggla. "I know he got off to a slow start, but he's stayed aggressive." (MLB.com)
Shortstop — Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Lotto numbers: .325 average, 9 HR, 23 RBI
The best bargain in baseball today, Ramirez is expected to sign a new six-year, $70 million dollar contract on Friday, the biggest contract in Marlins history. Uggla knws how important he is to the franchise. "Hanley is one of those guys I'm lucky to be playing next to," he says. "He makes all of us better. I've seen him do a lot of things and he still amazes me every single day with his talent or something he does on the field. He plays the situation through his mind before it happens and knows what to do." (USA Today)
Third Base — Jorge Cantu, Marlins
Lotto numbers: .276 average, 5 HR, 16 RBI
Cantu actually spent parts of four seasons with the Rays, but struggled the last two years in both Tampa Bay and Cincinnati, playing in just 52 major league games. He seems to have regained his confidence with the Marlins, though. "I love this team," Cantu said in an interview a few weeks ago. "This team hustles, day in and day out. Look at the way we're playing. We're in first place. Everything is rolling for us. It's a great feeling to be part of a winning team.'' (Miami Herald)
Left Field — Carl Crawford, Rays
Lotto Numbers: .287 average, 3 HR, 23 RBI
You can definitely make a case for Marlins LF Josh Willingham here, but let's be serious: Crawford is three years younger, and is a proven All-Star. Crawford hit .315 last year with 11 HR, 80 RBI, and 50 SB. Willingham hit .265 with 21 HR, 89 RBI, and 8 stolen bases. Crawford is 6-for-15 over his last four games, with a home run and three RBI.
Center Field — B.J. Upton, Rays
Lotto numbers: .287 average, 3 HR, 25 RBI
Yet another person who has crushed Mussina in his career. Upton is 5-for-13 lifetime against him with an HR and 4 RBI. "It's still early," Upton said. "We're starting to win some ballgames, but at the same time I don't think anyone is satisfied with what we're getting right now. We have to continue what we're doing, and hopefully we'll create a little more buzz." (NY Times)
Right Field — Jeremy Hermida, Marlins
Lotto numbers: .310 average, 4 HR, 19 RBI
Hermida is in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak, where he has gone 10-for-29 with 2 HR and 6 RBI. "We've been on a roll lately,'' Hermida said. "Our confidence is high. It's just 'fight to the last out.' '' (Palm Beach Post)
Josh Willingham, Marlins
Lotto numbers: .341 average, 6 HR, 16 RBI
Before going on the DL because of back soreness on April 28, Willingham was the hottest hitter on either team. Sadly for Marlins fans, it looks as if he might be on the DL a little longer. He tried to take some BP on Monday, and still didn't feel right. "We're going to take it easy with him," manager Fredi Gonzalez said of his primary cleanup hitter. (MLB.com)
Scott Olsen, Marlins
Lotto numbers: 4-1, 2.63 ERA
Olsen has lasted at least six innings in every one of his starts, except for a five inning effort in his only loss of the season on April 30 to the Dodgers. The pitcher seems a little shocked at his early success. "I don't think I would have thought things would have gone this well, that's for sure," he says. (AP)
James Shields, Rays
Lotto numbers: 4-2, 3.14 ERA
Shields was dominant in his last outing against the Angels, going the distance, while giving up just one hit, in a 2-0 win. He has not fared as well against tonight's opponent, the Yankees. He is 0-5 with a 7.83 ERA in six career starts.
Mark Hendrickson, Marlins
Lotto numbers: 5-2, 3.91 ERA
The former NBA player was credited with the loss last night, after going five innings, and giving up four earned runs. Earlier in the season though, Hendrickson went on a tear, winning five of six starts.
Andy Sonnanstine, Rays
Lotto numbers: 5-1, 5.07 ERA
The right-hander has won four of his last five starts, and given the Rays some much-needed depth in the rotation. He seems to be having a lot of fun this season. "I've had to fight and claw my way to the top every year, at every level, and it hasn't been easy," he said. "But that is part of my personality." "I don't want this to come out wrong," Sonnanstine said, "but it's like you have to know you are better than the best player out there, even if you aren't. So what I'm going to be throwing to one of the best hitters in the game, I have to know I'm going to get him out." (Tampabay.com)
Troy Percival, Rays
Lotto numbers: 0-0, 2.40 ERA, 9 saves
The Rays took a chance on the veteran closer and he has not disappointed. He has blown only two saves all season, including one last night to the Yankees. Even after that though, Percival knew his team could pick him up. "I'm going to bend sometimes, but I just do my damnedest not to break," said Percival. "The confidence I have in this team is, I was out on that mound and what I told myself was, 'Don't give up two because our bullpen is strong and we've got a lot of heart.'" (TBO.com)
Kevin Gregg, Marlins
Lotto numbers: 3-2, 2.89 ERA, 7 saves
Gregg, the Marlins closer, and the highest-paid player on the team, has been very consistent in the 'pen for the second year in a row. Last season, he finished with 32 saves, and a 3.54 ERA.
Dan Wheeler, Rays
Lotto numbers: 0-2, 1.29 ERA
Another day in paradise: Rays GM Andrew Friedman deserves a lot of credit for picking up Wheeler. The tall right-hander has given up just three earned runs this season, in 18 appearances. How many teams would like to have him in their bullpen right now?
Renyel Pinto, Marlins
Lotto numbers: 1-1, 0.70 ERA
Pinto has not given up an earned run since April 26. "He has a certain swagger when he goes out there because he knows he's good,'' catcher Mike Rabelo said. ``He's been awesome, taking the ball every day for us no matter if it's righties or lefties. We've been able to rely on him every day. He has great confidence, and you need that in the game. He also has a nasty changeup. Everything's clicking for him.'' (Miami Herald)