KANSAS CITY -- The story leading up this week's All-Star festivities, as they pertain to the Cincinnati Reds, was as much about who wasn't coming as who was. Did Tony LaRussa let an old grudge get in the way of giving Johnny Cueto and Brandon Phillips what seemed their rightful place on the National League squad? Or was it simply a numbers game?
"I think everyone has their own opinion on that," center fielder Jay Bruce said. "I can't imagine that that would play into this. But it wasn't my decision, and I don't really have much of an opinion about it, because it's all just opinion. I'd like to think that there is integrity on both sides."
Rather than harp on the issue, let's focus on these facts: The Reds have three representatives -- Bruce, Joey Votto and Aroldis Chapman -- at the Midsummer Classic, and you can make a compelling case that they were deserving of two more. And that says a lot about the overall state of Cincinnati's roster here at the break.
"When they did the voting, we were in first place," Votto said. "Generally the first-place clubs have a few more [reps] than most. There are some middle-of-the-pack teams that have two or three guys here. But I think, at the time, all five guys were deserving."
Votto, no doubt, is deserving of his spot in La Russa's starting lineup. He has the 7.34 million fan votes to show for it. And La Russa has opted to slot Votto into one of that lineup's most prominent spots -- the cleanup spot.
It's a well-earned honor for the former MVP, whose .348 average, 14 home runs, 63 walks, 35 doubles, 48 RBIs and league-leading 1.088 OPS have been indispensable for the Reds' offense.
But coming into the Classic, there were questions regarding Votto's physical ability to participate, given the knee inflammation issues he's endured in recent days. That Votto will tough it out and play Tuesday night is no surprise, but it remains to be seen how much he'll play. The NL, though, is rather light in the first-base department, with the Cubs' Bryan LaHair the only other full-time first baseman on the roster in this first season since Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder deserted the Senior Circuit.
National League lineup
1. Carlos Gonzalez, COL
2. Melky Cabrera, SF
3. Ryan Braun, MIL
4. Joey Votto, CIN
5. Carlos Beltran, STL
6. Buster Posey, SF
7. Pablo Sandoval, SF
8. Dan Uggla, ATL
9. Rafael Furcal, STL
Matt Cain, SF
Asked how many innings he'll be in there, Votto was non-committal.
"That's totally up to Tony," Votto said. "I want to play in every single inning of every game I play in. But Tony and I will talk about that, and he'll figure out the best plan. He's a very conscientious and very professional manager, and I really look forward to playing under him. The riff-raff of the Cardinals-Reds stuff doesn't skew my perspective of him and the Cardinals' organization, in general."
Though La Russa passed over Phillips and Cueto, he cast a ballot for Bruce as an NL reserve. Bruce has been his customarily streak self this season, but his 18 homers and 56 RBI lead the Reds and rank fourth and seventh, respectively, in the league.
Bruce's blasts are a big reason the Reds are right in the thick of the NL Central race. They entered the break a game back of the surprising Pirates, but they feel confident the second half will result in a run.
"We played well enough in the first half," Bruce said. "I think everyone always wants to play better. This is a good division. There are three teams at the top that are going to be in the conversation all year. The Cardinals speak for themselves, and the Pirates are here to stay. We control our own destiny, and if we play well, I believe we'll take care of what we need to take care of."
Chapman, a first-time All-Star, has, for the most part, been taking care of business in the ninth for the Reds. The 24-year-old Chapman entered the break with a 1.83 ERA in 35 appearances, with an astounding 71 strikeouts against just 12 walks.
Until June 10, Chapman went 29 innings without allowing an earned run, but a rough stretch of eight appearances in June that resulted in a 9.82 ERA and two blown saves was a sore spot on an otherwise sparkling first half.
Chapman's diamond-studded watch was sparkling Monday at the All-Star media session, and so, in a more figurative sense, were his eyes as he talked about the long road from Cuba to All-Star status.
"I'm really happy for what is going on," he said through an interpreter. "I can't believe where I am. Even a couple years ago, a long time ago, I was only able to listen and see all these players through a video game or watch a DVD from somebody. Now, being here, I can't believe it. I can't believe I'm here."
It was suggested to Chapman that, should he enter Tuesday's game, fans will be hoping to see him flash a 100-mph-plus fastball.
"I think you're right," he said. "People want to see that three digits there. But I really don't think about those things when I'm working."
Chapman, Votto and Bruce were all ready to go to work in the Midsummer Classic, while Phillips and Cueto, controversially, were on hiatus. But better to have too many deserving All-Star candidates than not enough.
"In my opinion, they were deserving," Bruce said. "I don't really have anything to say as far as all the controversy around it goes. I wish they were here. We played well in the first half and they were a huge part of our success. Hopefully they'll have many more All-Stars to represent our team."
The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 7:30 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2012 MLB.com All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on MLB.com.