Several surprise candidates for All-Star teams

Backup catcher Gattis tops list including Segura and Donaldson, among others

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White Sox manager Robin Ventura on his selection to the AL All-star team.

Can a backup catcher be an All-Star?

Absolutely, if Evan Gattis is the backup catcher in question. The Braves rookie lost his spot in the lineup when Brian McCann was activated from the disabled list, but he just keeps bashing the ball, most recently as a pinch hitter.

Gattis entered the weekend as one of only 10 National League players with a .900-plus OPS over at least 150 plate appearances. He had homered four times in eight at-bats as a pinch hitter, most recently Monday. It was his 14th homer overall and made him 6-for-8 with 11 RBIs as a pinch hitter.

"I don't know how or why it's working out the way it is," said Gattis, who is following Josh Hamilton's trail from substance abuse to success.

Who does? But I know Gattis deserves serious consideration for the All-Star Game next month in New York.

Some others who could be first-time All-Stars at Citi Field:

Brewers shortstop Jean Segura: It's a shame he got 166 plate appearances last season because otherwise Segura would be running away with Rookie of the Year honors. Acquired from the Angels in the Zack Greinke trade last year, he has jumped into the top tier of shortstops with athleticism that is obvious in the field, at the plate and on the bases. He entered the weekend leading the NL in hits and triples while batting .336.

A's third baseman Josh Donaldson: The Cubs drafted him 48th overall in 2007 as a catcher, and he was a little-debated piece included in a six-player trade for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin only a little more than a year later. Now he has developed into a very consistent run producer. He doesn't get a lot of attention on a roster with Yoenis Cespedes, but he's hanging with Evan Longoria and Adrian Beltre in OPS, having added about 200 points from last season.

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis: The Rangers' acquisition of Beltre left no place for Michael Young to play, so Young became a primary designated hitter. That left no room for the all-or-nothing Davis, who was traded to Baltimore for Koji Uehara. That 2011 deal has become huge for both teams as everything has come together for Davis as a hitter. He's leading the AL in home runs, which makes him the biggest threat to keep Miguel Cabrera from winning the Triple Crown in back-to-back years.

Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown: Duh. The scary thing about the late-blooming slugger is he just keeps getting better and better. His OPS jumped from .681 in April to .991 in May and was 1.103 for the first half of June. He entered the weekend projected to deliver 46 home runs and 116 RBIs.

Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter: A corner infielder throughout his minor league career, the 27-year-old Carpenter is thriving since being given a chance to play every day. He filled in at third base for David Freese early and has become a regular at second, giving the Cardinals another AL-style option in their deepest-in-the-NL lineup.

Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava: The 30-year-old had a 76-RBI season between Pawtucket and Boston in 2010 but never has been seen as more than an extra guy. He has been more than that this year, on track for 20-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs. As remarkable as Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester have been, the Red Sox's first half has been as much about Nava, Mike Carp and Mike Napoli as them.

Rays first baseman James Loney: The Dodgers gave up on him, and he went to the Red Sox in the 2012 blockbuster and then signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Rays. The 29-year-old is giving Joe Maddon his best year since 2007, when he hit .331 with 15 homers in 96 games for the Dodgers. It's always tough to make the All-Star team as an AL first baseman — ask Paul Konerko — but Loney's in the discussion.

Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera: The little known switch-hitter is running away with the stolen-base race in the NL while doing a good job at the top of the order. His WAR is 2.8, just ahead of Yadier Molina and Jose Bautista. That's good company.

Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma: He's outpitching Felix Hernandez, who signed a $175 million contract extension in February, and all it took Seattle to get his rights was $1.5 million. The A's had won his posting for $19.1 million after the 2010 season but couldn't get a deal with him. He pitched in Japan that season and came to the Mariners a year ago, showing promise. He has settled in to be one of the AL's best pitchers. The Mariners could get a lot if they traded him.

• Cubs left-hander Travis Wood: Nothing about him jumps out at you, but he's a terrific athlete and has developed into an ultra-reliable starter. Twelve of his first 13 outings were quality starts, and he entered the weekend ranked 10th among pitching qualifiers with a 1.00 WHIP.

• Cardinals closer Edward Mujica: The 29-year-old Venezuelan is with his fourth team. He has turned into an extreme strike thrower, which has helped him thrive as a closer. He replaced the injured Jason Motte and has been piling up saves without the usual hiccups. He didn't get his first save until April 18, but the Pirates' Jason Grilli (an almost certain first-time All-Star) was the only NL closer ahead of him entering the weekend.

Saucy pitching: With manager Ned Yost seemingly on the verge of a pink slip, the Royals won eight of nine to stir thoughts of a second-half run into playoff consideration. The turnaround started on the day Billy Butler passed out free jars of a barbecue sauce being marketed as "Billy Butler's Hit It A Ton'' sauce but has more to do with consistently good pitching than tasty ribs and brisket.

The Royals entered the weekend having limited opponents to three runs or fewer in 12 consecutive games, a franchise record. They had a 3.40 staff ERA, the best in the American League.

"I'm proud of our pitchers, and I'm proud of the body of work that they've put forth so far," Yost said. "Being atop the American League in ERA states how good our pitching is."

As we say often, if you have pitching, you have a chance.

Missing-man formation: Ian Kinsler could be activated from the disabled list Sunday. The Rangers should roll out a red carpet for him, as they are 27-14 with him in the leadoff spot and won only 11 of their first 25 games with Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar batting leadoff.

"He is our igniter," manager Ron Washington said. "When we lost him, we knew we would suffer. We just have to weather the storm. The top third of the lineup is where things get started. We just haven't been very consistent."

Kinsler admits he still is experiencing some soreness from the stress fracture in his rib but pushed the team to send him out on a rehab assignment Tuesday, hoping to play in the upcoming series against the A's.

"Absolutely that has something to do with wanting to get back," Kinsler told the Dallas Morning News about the struggling offense. ``We are playing the team that is right there with us in the race. It's a big series. I want to be ready to help."

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers

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