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Most competitive 2023 All-Star Game ballot races

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Read our story on the balloting format, which includes two phases of fan voting to determine the All-Star starters.

It’s always a little stressful to fill out an All-Star Ballot. Is it stressful for you to fill one out? There are all sorts of different ways to go about it: Purely by statistical merit. By emotion. By geographic loyalty. By the number of vowels in their last name. However you want! It’s your ballot!

But if you’re putting your best foot forward and giving it your honest-to-goodness top shot at getting the right pick at every spot, some positions are easier than others. Voting for Ronald Acuña Jr.? Not difficult. Trying to figure out the right choice for the following five positions? Quite difficult.

Here’s a rundown of the five toughest spots at which to make an All-Star Ballot pick. There are no right answers here. But if it makes you feel better, there are no wrong ones, either.

All stats are through Wednesday’s games.

Ordinarily, you could just plug in the previous year’s MVP here and call it a day. You could still do that, if you wanted to: Paul Goldschmidt is off to his typically solid start. But he’s not exactly lapping the field like he did last year, and besides, his team has struggled mightily all season.

Besides, there are other options matching or surpassing Goldschmidt at this point. Pete Alonso already has an MLB-best 22 homers and seems to be setting a different Mets homer record every other night. Matt Olson has slowed a little after a torrid start but is still a linchpin for the first-place Braves. And the man Olson replaced in Atlanta, Freddie Freeman, is having a second consecutive fantastic season for the Dodgers, something he’s somehow doing quietly, again. (He also has the highest OPS of any NL first baseman on the ballot.) And then there are under-the-radar picks, such as the Giants’ LaMonte Wade Jr., who are also performing well. This position remains forever stacked.

You always end up fretting about how you’re going to fill out this spot on your ballot. After all, the second- and third-place finishers in the NL MVP race last year, Manny Machado (Padres) and Nolan Arenado (Cardinals), play this position. You imagine those guys battling each other out for this spot for years to come. The problem is that neither one of them is playing particularly well in 2023. Arenado’s production has wildly fluctuated — and by his own admission, he’s pressing and making mistakes he rarely makes — and Machado is off to by far the worst start of his career.

The Braves’ Austin Riley could be your fill-in here, but he’s not quite at the level of production he was last year. Max Muncy? He’s back hitting homers again for the Dodgers, but his average is hovering just above .200. So could the answer here be … J.D. Davis? The Giant is leading everyone at this spot in OPS, if you can believe that. Someone’s going to get hot soon out of this group, right?

It’s beginning to feel a little like the early 2000s in here, as the American League is filled to the brim with shortstops. You’ve got MVP candidate Wander Franco, who is leading his Rays to the best record in baseball. You’ve got Bo Bichette, who might actually be the best player on the Blue Jays right now. You’ve got reigning World Series MVP Jeremy Peña with the Astros. And oh yes, there’s the Rangers’ Corey Seager, who is back from injury and smashing the ball for a first-place team.

Even with Carlos Correa, Field of Dreams Game star Tim Anderson and potential future stars Bobby Witt Jr. and Anthony Volpe going through some struggles, this is a loaded position. This ballot isn’t just busting at the seams now; considering the youth of these players, it’s going to be like this for years to come.

And then we have the other league’s shortstops. Willy Adames, still looking for his first All-Star nod? He’s hitting .205. Free agent big-ticket item Xander Bogaerts? After a hot start, he’s putting up the lowest OPS of his career. Three-time All-Star Brandon Crawford? He’s hitting .190. Four-time All-Star Francisco Lindor? .213. Trea Turner was supposed to be the guy at this spot, but he’s off to the worst start of his career, too. Fellow free agent signee Dansby Swanson could be the pick, but the best numbers belong to … Reds rookie Matt McLain? McLain, Arizona’s Geraldo Perdomo and Atlanta’s Orlando Arcia rank 1-2-3 in OPS among this group.

For years, this was a forever debate at this position: Buster Posey or Yadier Molina? That argument may be relegated to Cooperstown moving forward. But the NL catchers are doing their part to fill the void left by those retirements. The Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto has set the standard at the position the last few years, though he’s been mostly average at the plate this year.

That puts him far behind the hottest debate: the Braves’ Sean Murphy or the Dodgers’ Will Smith? They’re both MVP candidates — or they would be if it weren’t for Ronald Acuña Jr. — and they’re both as solid a vote as you could possibly make. But which one? I leave that choice up to you. It might be the toughest one on this board.

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