Not all the stars were in Miami this week.
While the big names get the press and the All-Star bonuses, many top performers have flown under the radar this season. Whether it's because their teams aren't contending, or because they share their clubhouse with superstars who grab the spotlight, these players don't get the due they deserve - and yet without them, their teams probably aren't in the positions they are today as the home stretch beckons.
Here are five unsung heroes from the first half of the 2017 season.
There was some thought that Washington would consider dealing Gonzalez last offseason following his career-worst campaign. Well, general manager Mike Rizzo's probably very glad he held onto the 31-year-old, who's regained the form that garnered him a third-place Cy Young finish in 2012. Gonzalez's first-half ERA of 2.86 is even lower than his 2012 number (2.89), and though he's walking a few more guys, he's resumed his role as an effective No. 3 starter behind the big two of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
Shaw fell out of favor in Boston after a disappointing 2016, his second big-league season. In Milwaukee, he's finally living up to his potential. While teammate Eric Thames' post-Korea resurgence was grabbing most of the headlines, Shaw quietly put together a remarkable first half for the surprising Brewers. He's already surpassed his home-run total from last year (19 at the break), and owns a career-best .299/.367/.570 slash line, plus 22 doubles and seven stolen bases in seven attempts. And he's done it while shuttling between the ballpark and hospital, where he's been visiting his newborn daughter since mid-June. Though he wasn't named to the All-Star team, Shaw's in the midst of an All-Star-caliber season, and is a truly remarkable story.
If there's a reason the Pirates remain on the periphery of contention in the NL Central, it's probably their dynamic young reliever acquired in a heist from Washington last July for Mark Melancon. Somehow, the 26-year-old Rivero was passed over for the All-Star team despite a 0.76 ERA that's the lowest among qualified relievers - yes, even lower than Kenley Jansen's - along with a 0.72 WHIP and 10.5 K/9 in 47 1/3 innings. Rivero only has six saves because he wasn't closing until June, so much of this work was done in middle relief, making his surprising season all the more impressive. Hey, Nationals, think you might want a do-over on that trade?
Has there ever been a better match than Mark Reynolds and Denver's thin air? Reynolds, who also spent last season with the Rockies, signed a minor-league deal with the club over the winter, and only became the starting first baseman when marquee free-agent acquisition Ian Desmond broke his hand in spring training. But Reynolds, known as much for his proclivity to strike out as his prodigious power, rewarded the Rockies' faith by turning into an all-around fearsome hitter with 19 homers and a personal-best .284/.379/.513 line. He's still striking out a lot, and sure, Coors Field has made a bit of an impact, but Reynolds' work this season has been as big a reason as any that Colorado's surprising a lot of people in the ultra-competitive NL West.
There are plenty of superstars on the AL-leading Astros, but Gonzalez - manager A.J. Hinch's on-field Swiss army knife - might be the most critical piece of their roster. Gonzalez has plugged a lot of holes by played six positions in the field this year, spending the most time at left field, first, and third. But more importantly, whenever and wherever Hinch slots him into the lineup, Gonzalez has been hitting, as evidenced by his .308/.391/.576 line and 16 homers that rank third on the team. Obviously, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve get much of the attention, but Gonzalez should not be overlooked when watching this potential championship club.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)