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The all-California All-Star team

You could make a great team just by selecting players from the Golden State.

July 13, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

We have waited, and waited, and waited some more. We have anticipated a Freeway Series in October for 49 years now, for the Dodgers and Angels to challenge each other in the World Series.

What we have not anticipated is something just as delicious, perhaps more so: The Dodgers against the San Francisco Giants, for the right to play in the World Series.

Can you imagine?

All that hatred and bitterness, passed down from the ancestral New York homelands and nurtured among several generations of fans in California?

All the grainy images of Juan Marichal taking a crazed swing with his bat, whacking John Roseboro on the head? All the vivid images of Tom Lasorda blowing kisses to the jeering fans of San Francisco, of Barry Bonds egging on the jeering fans in the Dodger Stadium bleachers?

All the sounds of "Beat L.A.!" echoing throughout AT&T Park, all the memories of World Series championship years in San Francisco -- oh, right, there haven't been any. Scoreboard: Los Angeles 5, San Francisco 0.

We're pulling hard for the Dodgers and Giants to face off in the National League Championship Series, in a showdown for the ages.

The Dodgers have the best record in baseball at the All-Star break. The Giants lead the NL wild-card derby. Never have both teams qualified for the playoffs in the same season.

That intriguing thought led us to another one, and so here we present an All-Star team for players on the five California clubs.

The Angels, in an offense-first season for a pitching-first club, might have had the three best outfielders in the state in the first half, even without Vladimir Guerrero.

The Dodgers might have had the next-best outfielders, even without Manny Ramirez. They certainly have the most balanced lineup, as highlighted by the luxury -- or oddity -- of Matt Kemp batting eighth. They have scored 105 more runs than they have given up; no other NL team has scored even 50 more runs than it has given up.

The San Francisco Giants have the best rotation, not even counting Jonathan Sanchez, banished to the bullpen before returning to throw a no-hitter on Friday. The San Diego Padres are batting .233.

The Oakland Athletics tried to support their young pitchers by acquiring veteran hitters Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra, but the A's rank last in the American League in batting average, home runs and OPS. The kid pitchers are fine, though.

At the break, here's our All-Cal team:

Catcher: Oakland's Kurt Suzuki leads the California catchers in OPS, he has one error and he has nicely shepherded the next generation of A's arms. We tip our cap to him as well for the generous fundraising he has done for fellow Cal State Fullerton catcher Jon Wilhite, the lone survivor of the crash that killed Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two friends.

First base: San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez is a one-man show at Petco Park, a superstar obscured by the wreckage around him. Gonzalez has 24 home runs, twice as many as any of his teammates. He has as many walks as strikeouts, and it's a wonder any team ever pitches to him.

Second base: The Dodgers' Orlando Hudson has cooled lately, but he has enlivened the clubhouse all season and kept the lineup flowing from the No. 3 spot while Ramirez was suspended. He has 33 extra-base hits, and he leads second basemen in the state in runs scored and runs batted in.

Shortstop: The Angels' Erick Aybar is the best of an uninspiring lot. Aybar has made the fewest errors of any regular shortstop in the state, and his OPS is the best. Cabrera isn't even the best shortstop by that name -- he has 13 errors to Aybar's five -- with San Diego's Everth Cabrera, a Rule 5 pick, showing promise before his injury.

Third base: San Francisco's Pablo Sandoval leads all major league third basemen in batting average (.337) and OPS (.973), and he supplies much of the Giants' limited power. The only National Leaguers with a higher slugging percentage: Albert Pujols, Raul Ibanez and Prince Fielder.

Left field: Which Juan? We'll take the Angels' Juan Rivera over the Dodgers' Juan Pierre. Rivera's 16 home runs are twice as many as any other left fielder in the state, and he's batting .312 overall, .349 with runners in scoring position. Pierre took advantage of Ramirez's suspension to show he can still play his game -- singles and steals, mostly, and he's batting .355 with runners in scoring position -- and Pierre has a better OPS than Holliday.

Center field: The mentor for now, the prodigy soon. The Angels' Torii Hunter offers a vision of what Kemp could become. Hunter is batting .305 with 17 home runs, he leads all major league center fielders with 65 runs batted in and he puts the polish in the Gold Glove. Kemp's highlight-reel defense will get smoother as he masters better routes to the ball. Hunter, Kemp and Atlanta's Nate McLouth are the only major league center fielders in double figures in home runs, doubles and stolen bases.

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