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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

First-half fantasy baseball all-stars: Batters

The knock on Joe Mauer was always a lack of power.

We knew he'd hit well over .300, walk more times than he struck out, get on base twice as often as David Dellucci and drive in 70 or 80 runs.

This, we never could have guessed -- especially not after the Twins catcher missed the first month of the season because of a back injury.

I'm no hitting coach -- and I don't play one on the Internet -- but I would think recovering from a back injury wouldn't help a player's chances of hitting a home run. In Mauer's case, he's turned into the Albert Pujols of backstops.

In 224 at-bats, he's hit 15 home runs -- two more than his previous career high -- and his 1.118 OPS is almost 200 points better than his prior best.

Aside from Pujols, Mauer was the easiest selection on the list that follows. Without further adieu, our first-half fantasy all-stars. All stats are through Wednesday night's games.

Sorry, fellas, no incentive clauses included.

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins -- Did we mention he's batting .388 and has scored 48 runs in 60 games? Runner-up: Victor Martinez, Indians. What a difference a year makes.

First base: Albert Pujols, Cardinals -- Now that he's stealing bases (10 on the season), you couldn't ask for more. He's batting .331 with 67 runs, 31 homers, 82 RBI, 34 more walks than strikeouts (69-35) and a 1.184 OPS. Runner-up: Justin Morneau, Twins. With 21 homers, he is just two away from his 2008 total.

Second base: Chase Utley, Phillies -- So much for spring training injury concerns. Utley narrowly edges Ian Kinsler, thanks to his .306 batting average, 57 runs and .997 OPS. Runner-up: Ben Zobrist, Rays. Possibly fantasy's biggest surprise, Akinori Iwamura's replacement at second in Tampa has 17 homers and 50 RBI, along with a 1.017 OPS, in only 232 at-bats. More on Kinsler in a bit.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins --
We've had fun at his expense, but only because of many owners' draft-day decision of Ramirez over Pujols at No. 1 overall. He's currently bothered by a hip injury and his stolen-base total is way down (12, after averaging 46 the previous three years), but he's still been great. Ramirez is batting .346 with 14 homers and 60 RBI. Runner-up: Derek Jeter, Yankees. Even at 35, he's a fantasy standout, batting .315 with 10 homers, 35 RBI, 55 runs and 17 steals.

Third base: Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks --
Before the season, I never would have guessed this would be the worst position at the top. Reynolds is batting only .262 and he strikes out even more often than an Indians regular (115 in 313 at-bats). But he hits for power (24 homers and 62 RBI), steals bases (14), has an .896 OPS and is on pace to reach triple figures in runs scored. Runner-up: David Wright, Mets. He's batting well and stealing bases, but what happened to his power (five homers, after totaling 63 the previous two years)?

Designated hitter: Ian Kinsler, Rangers -- Like Utley, he hits for power (20 homers and 54 RBI) and scores a lot of runs (60). He's better on the basepaths (17 steals), but will bring down your batting average (.252).

Outfielders: Carl Crawford, Rays; Jason Bay, Red Sox; and Ryan Braun, Brewers. Crawford is batting .314 with 43 steals, and Bay has done everything but hit for average (.263). Braun, however, is the best of the bunch -- .324, 59 runs, 16 homers, 58 RBI, seven stolen bases and a .962 OPS.

Runner-up: Torii Hunter, Angels. He sat out Wednesday's game with an abdominal injury, which is a concern after a fantastic first half (.305, 17 homers, 65 RBI, 56 runs, 13 steals).

Next up: The pitchers.

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