07/07/08 10:00 AM ET
Few easy choices for NL skipper Hurdle
With home-field advantage on the line, not taking his job lightly
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
"I picked Pujols because I don't see how you can play an All-Star Game and him not be on the National League team," Hurdle said. "That is my personal opinion."
There's still the starting pitcher, a situation complicated by the fact that two starters selected through peer voting won't be available because they start for their teams too close to the July 15 game.
"There's an All-Star team left off the table, and we can go to every position and go to starting pitchers," Hurdle said. "That's the challenging part."
Hurdle said he took the task of picking his players with seriousness, since the winning league in the All-Star Game will have home-field advantage in the World Series.
With the Rockies last year, Hurdle learned how big a difference that makes. In their first World Series, the Rockies lost Games 1 and 2 at Fenway Park last year, 13-1 and 2-1, and wound up being swept.
"The first two games at home in the World Series is significantly different than going on the road and playing those first two games," Hurdle said. "We'll address it short and quick and sweet. We'll be a team for two days."
Hurdle gets to pick the starter. The Diamondbacks' Brandon Webb, who enters the week leading the league with 12 wins, and the Cubs' Ryan Dempster, who were voted by the players, are pitching for their clubs Sunday
"A lot of people probably don't pay attention to that, but it's something I had to pay attention to," Hurdle said. "There are some guys that would be in play. [The Mets' Johan] Santana would be in play. [The Cardinals' Kyle] Lohse, who's had a very fine first half, he would be in play."
The Phillies' Cole Hamels also pitches on Sunday.
Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook, who at 11 wins is one behind Webb, is under consideration, Hurdle said. He was one of Hurdle's picks. But so are the other starters on the squad -- the Diamondbacks' Dan Haren, the Giants' Tim Lincecum, the Brewers' Ben Sheets, the Reds' Endinson Volquez and the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano.
The peer voting gave Hurdle a pitching staff without a left-hander. Hurdle added Mets closer Billy Wagner -- the only player from the Mets (unless third baseman David Wright is added by the fans through the Monster 2008 Final Vote) to make the team. He joined three other closers selected by peers, the Phillies' Brad Lidge, the Giants' Brian Wilson and the Cubs' Kerry Wood.
Hurdle's picks were Cook, Pujols, Wagner, Zambrano, Braves catcher Brian McCann and Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman. Every team must be represented, so Hurdle took care of that by adding Wagner and Guzman.
Finally, Hurdle wanted to add a right-handed hitter who does well against right-and left-handed pitching, and all five Final Vote candidates swing from the right. They are Wright and four outfielders -- the Phillies' Pat Burrell, the Brewers' Corey Hart, the Astros' Carlos Lee and the Giants' Aaron Rowand.
It's likely Hurdle will have to make a decision in center field. Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who will be part of Hurdle's staff, said he and Hurdle discussed putting the Cubs' Kosuke Fukudome there. Hart is a possibility if he is added. Also, the NL likely will be replacing the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano, who is out with a broken ring finger and experienced pain when taking batting practice on Saturday.
This is Hurdle's first Midsummer Classic as manager but his second trip. He served as a coach in 2004 on then-Marlins manager Jack McKeon's NL staff.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.