The Braves will have a franchise-record eight players on the National League team at the July 11 All-Star Game at T-Mobile Park in Seattle: Ronald Acuña Jr., Sean Murphy, Orlando Arcia, Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder.
Fans elected Acuña, Murphy and Arcia to start the game. To select the reserves and the pitchers, MLB uses a combination of player ballot votes and commissioner’s office nominations, which is how the other five Braves made the All-Star team.
The Braves’ eight All-Star selections are one off the MLB record of nine, last done by the 1959 Yankees. Before this, the Braves sent seven players to the All-Star Game twice — in 2003 and 1997.
“It’s special,” Riley said. “It’s awesome. The group of guys we have here, what we’ve done over the last month, I think it’s a testament to just what we’re capable of, one through nine. To have eight guys, it’s awesome.”
Oh, and if this All-Star group were not historic enough, there’s something else: This is the first time in franchise history that the entire Braves infield made the All-Star Game.
“To have your entire infield make the All-Star team. I said, ‘I wish I was managing the game so I could make sure those guys all played together,’” Snitker said.
“(Infield coach Ron Washington) was out there, he said it’s probably the most emotional day of his career because all of his infielders are going to the All-Star Game,” Albies said. “It’s very special to our team to have eight guys. That says a lot.”
The Braves will account for one-quarter of the NL’s All-Star squad, which has 32 players. The Braves are sending almost one-third of their 26-man roster to Seattle. Their entire infield will go, as well as two members of their starting rotation. Seven of nine members of the starting lineup (excluding the pitcher) will be on the NL team. Imagine them seeing the field at the same time.
Murphy, Arcia, Strider and Elder are first-time All-Stars. Riley and Olson will go for the second time, Albies for the third time. Acuña received his fourth All-Star nod.
The best story of the bunch might be Elder, the overlooked pitcher the Braves optioned toward the end of spring training. He didn’t break camp with the club. Three months later, he owns a 2.44 ERA, the second-best mark in the NL and in all of baseball. Elder has allowed one or no runs in nine of his 16 starts. He has five scoreless starts, and he’s pitched at least six innings in all five, and seven innings in two of them.
“It means a lot to me,” said Elder, who first called his parents to tell them the news. “This year, it’s kind of hard to put into words. I’ve really enjoyed spending time with a lot of these guys up here – Strider being one of them. I think we’ve got something special going. The guys behind me, I can’t thank them enough. Spencer, he’s striking a lot of guys out. I’m not striking guys out. These guys are putting the ball in play and the guys behind me, I wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for them.”
Then there’s Strider, the hard-throwing righty who has already proven he’s one of baseball’s most talented pitchers. Strider leads baseball with 155 strikeouts after Sunday’s start. And by holding the Marlins to three runs — two earned — over 6⅔ innings Sunday, Strider lowered his ERA to 3.66.
“It’s awesome,” Strider said of other players voting for him. “I think that’s one of the best (forms of) gratification there is this game, is just knowing that the rest of the league and your teammates think highly of you, and your coaches. I think the All-Star selection, it’s a credit to the organization, if nothing else. We have a lot of people that have put a lot into us and helped prepare us to be successful. I give a lot of credit to them.”
Olson, Albies and Riley all made it to the second phase of voting, which determined the starters. None won the starting nod for their respective position, but all were recognized for their great seasons to this point.
Entering Sunday, Olson led the NL with 28 home runs and 60 RBIs. His OPS also ranked fifth.
Before Albies hit his 20th homer Sunday, his 19 homers were tied for seventh in the NL. He also went into Sunday with 57 RBIs, the second-most in the NL.
Riley entered Sunday batting .273 with an .802 OPS. He had hit 15 homers while driving in 43 runs.
All three infielders are ready to experience All-Star Week again.
“I think the coolest thing is you get to be in the clubhouse with guys that you don’t normally play with, get to watch them work in the cage, hit (batting practice, just chop it up with them, just be on a team with them for a day,” Olson said. “It’s obviously some of the best players in the league.”
On Thursday, MLB announced that Murphy and Arcia won the fan votes for their respective positions. We knew about Acuña even before that because he received the most All-Star votes of any MLB player in the first phase of voting, which earned him an automatic starting spot.
In February, Arcia reported to North Port, Florida, as one competitor for the starting shortstop job. All along, Vaughn Grissom stole the headlines. And even long before that, when the offseason began, many pundits figured the Braves might need to re-sign Dansby Swanson or sign another big-name shortstop to avoid taking a step back.
But Arcia has validated their faith. His story can be a lesson for other players.
“Just the determination and dedication, and all that a guy needs to have to be successful in this,” Snitker said. “And where he was probably the first of February and now to be a starting shortstop for the National League in the All-Star Game is pretty good. It says a lot about the guy and his makeup and who he is.”
Phillies manager Rob Thomson will manage the NL team, as is customary because his team won the pennant last year. His job is to get everyone into the game. But think about this: In a perfect world for Atlanta fans, the Braves could make up eight of nine NL players in the field during an inning — the seven position players and either Strider or Elder.
The schedule says that, after July 9 versus the Rays, the Braves do not play again until hosting the White Sox on July 14.
There’s been one addition, though: July 11 at T-Mobile Park in Seattle. The All-Star Game might feel like another Braves game.
“Some really good stories,” Snitker said of the players going.