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A mix of Cards in the All-Star hunt

A mix of Cards in the All-Star hunt

The Cardinals' lead over the Cubs in the National League Central is widening, but the All-Star battles between a couple of Cards and their Chicago counterparts are just starting to heat up.

For weeks now, St. Louis has had three players who would be starters in Detroit if the balloting were to end early. But all of them are now being challenged, and it's up to Cardinals fans to keep their candidates in the hunt.

Albert Pujols, a perennial MVP candidate, is getting a serious run from Chicago's Derrek Lee at first base. Lee is having an MVP-caliber season and closing in on Pujols as balloting reaches the home stretch. However, for fans who believe that the All-Star Game should honor the best overall player, not necessarily the guy having the hottest two months, it's time to vote for Pujols.

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A somewhat similar situation exists at third base, where Scott Rolen's lead over the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez is also dwindling. Though Ramirez is having another strong season, Rolen is widely acknowledged as the NL's best all-around third baseman. He recently returned from the disabled list, and can once again start putting up the numbers to bolster his case.

The Cardinals and Cubs don't face each other on the field again until late July, after the Midsummer Classic has taken place. So in the meantime, those looking for an I-55 rivalry fix can get it by casting their votes for the All-Star Game.

Another Cardinal is right in the hunt for what would be his first All-Star appearance, though shortstop David Eckstein is battling a Dodger, not a Cub. Eckstein, who's off to his hottest start in some time, remains in second place in the voting, behind the Dodgers' Cesar Izturis.

The Los Angeles gloveman increased his lead over Eckstein in the latest round of results, but his advantage is far from an insurmountable one.

There's another Cardinals-Dodgers battle at second base, where Jeff Kent holds a sizable lead over Mark Grudzielanek.

Jim Edmonds stands second among outfielders, with the Marlins' torrid Miguel Cabrera trying to earn a start over the seven-time Gold Glove center fielder.

A few other Cardinals are still in the mix at their respective spots, but they are longer shots than their teammates. Yadier Molina stands fifth among catchers, with a lot of ground to make up. Larry Walker is hanging in sixth among outfielders in what may turn out to be his final big-league season. And Reggie Sanders, despite an excellent season, is down in 14th place in outfield balloting.

Pujols is a three-time All-Star at three positions, and he'll be going for his first repeat performance at a position this year. Rolen has represented the National League in each of the past three seasons, and Edmonds is a three-time All-Star.

Three Cardinals were starters in 2004 in Houston, with Pujols and Rolen joined by Edgar Renteria. Rolen was the NL's leading vote-getter in 2004, and Pujols led the league in 2003. Walker (five times), Sanders (once) and Grudzielanek (once) have all been All-Stars. Molina and Eckstein have never been selected to the Midsummer Classic.

Fans can vote now at MLB.com and StLCardinals.com, as well as at some Major League ballparks. Voting at Busch Stadium lasts through June 26 and online balloting runs through June 30, with the 2005 All-Stars being announced on July 3.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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