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Trivia time: Can you name the starting shortstops, as voted by the fans, for the American League and National League in the 2008 All-Star Game?
That would be Derek Jeter and Hanley Ramirez.
How about 2009?
Derek Jeter and Hanley Ramirez.
You guessed it. Derek Jeter and Hanley Ramirez.
OK, one more. In the first month and a half of the 2011 season, which two shortstops have hit a combined .230 with just four homers and 25 RBIs?
Well, wouldn't you know it? It's Derek Jeter and Hanley Ramirez.
With the All-Star ballots out and the season well under way, a slow start for this oft-prescribed pair could lead to a shortstop shakeup at the 2011 Midsummer Classic, which takes place on July 12 at Phoenix's Chase Field.
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Both Jeter (.255 average, .625 OPS through Monday) and Ramirez (.204, .577) have time to turn things around and get back in the voters' good graces. And ultimately, their sheer popularity may carry them. Jeter, after all, has been voted into the starting lineup in six of the past seven years, and Ramirez has been a star ever since winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2006.
Because Ramirez is just 27, there is plenty of reason to believe he'll snap out of his season-opening slump.
"As long as he keeps playing hard, with high energy, he is going to be fine," Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said.
But to focus solely on Ramirez and Jeter would ignore many other worthy All-Star candidates at the position.
Troy Tulowitzki's scorching September last year and awesome April for the Rockies this year have certainly thrust him into a prominent place in the conversation. Tulo has cooled considerably the past few weeks, batting just .205 over his past 22 games entering play on Tuesday. But his 10 home runs were the most among all shortstops in the Majors, his 26 RBIs were second-most and his .851 OPS was tops in the NL at the position.
Sticking with the NL, what about Sports Illustrated cover boy Starlin Castro, who, at just 21 years old, was batting .331 with an .794 OPS for the Cubs?
"Hitting is a hard thing, the hardest in sports, but when you go back and watch the kid and watch him expand, you're like a kid in the candy store," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "Everything he's swinging at is leaving the bat on the line and finding holes."
Castro continues to impress defensively, too. That's a trait he shares with the Mets' Jose Reyes, a three-time All-Star who is off to a heck of a start for the Mets. Amid rampant trade rumors, he's hit .313 with an .833 OPS and a league-leading 16 stolen bases.
Though not nearly as flashy as Castro and Reyes, the D-backs' Stephen Drew is also worth a look. He's hit .276 with an .791 OPS, two homers, nine doubles and 25 RBIs, taking over the cleanup spot in manager Kirk Gibson's lineup.
"He's just a pure hitter," Gibson said.
The AL has its share of pure-hitting shortstops, too.
The Tigers' Jhonny Peralta avoided his annual April slump and is batting .305 with six homers, 23 RBIs and an .882 OPS. Asdrubal Cabrera, the man who replaced Peralta at short in Cleveland, is hitting .289 with six homers, 26 RBIs and an .837 OPS for the surprising Indians. He's also been a major defensive asset while rebounding from an injury-plagued 2010.
Maicer Izturis has had a huge impact on the Angels getting back into contention, batting .331 with 11 doubles, three homers and an .855 OPS.
"We'd like to have three Izzys," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We have one right now, and we want to build with him."
The Red Sox were fortunate to have Jed Lowrie on their bench, ready to assume the shortstop duties from a struggling Marco Scutaro. Lowrie took over and has hit .320 with three homers, 18 RBIs and an .856 OPS.
Four shortstops who all have serious plate potential but have gotten off to a bit of a slow start are Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox, the Rangers' Elvis Andrus, the Nationals' Ian Desmond and the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins.
If it's pure glove men who capture the imagination, the Braves' Alex Gonzalez or the Royals' Alcides Escobar are not to be overlooked. The latter is not to be confused with the Blue Jays' Yunel Escobar, though he's no slouch at short, either.
Obviously, the All-Star ballot presents plenty of candidates to start at shortstop. It will be interesting to see if any of them beats Jeter or Ramirez.