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If anyone's deserving, it's Pujols

It happens every summer.

It's a baseball tradition, as reliable as singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame or displaying bunting on opening day.

Today, the All-Star starters and reserves will be announced, and invariably deserving stars will be left out. This year, though, the biggest miscarriage of justice might involve the starting outfield for the National League.

Unless fans suddenly got wise during the past week, St. Louis' Albert Pujols will not be named a starting outfielder. At last count, Pujols was fourth in outfield voting in the NL, an embarrassing mistake by the fans.

Simply put, no player is having a better season than Pujols, who will make the team but should be introduced as a starter.

Pujols leads the NL in hitting at .378, 40 points higher than Colorado's Todd Helton, who was second. His 26 homers are tied with Mike Lowell and one behind Jim Edmonds. And he leads the league with 80 RBIs. That puts him in serious contention for the Triple Crown, not to mention a run at .400.

In addition, he leads the league in runs, hits, total bases, multihit games, doubles and slugging percentage. He also ranks near the top of Rays manager Lou Piniella's top hitters in the game.

"He has got an obsession with hitting," Piniella said. "But you know what? All good hitters have an obsession with hitting. He's a force. He has no weaknesses. He hits the ball hard to all fields. He reminds me of a little bigger and stronger Edgar (Martinez). He's a force up at home plate."

He should be starting in the All-Star Game, but there's a good chance he will be behind Chicago's Sammy Sosa, who was more than 100,000 votes ahead of Pujols at last count. Sosa is hitting .296 with 13 homers and 41 RBIs. Not bad, but nothing compared with Pujols.

And as far as we know, Pujols never used a corked bat.

JOSE CAN YOU SEE: Former Rays outfielder Jose Guillen isn't considered a regular with the Reds. He's their fourth outfielder. But he's the team's leading contender to make the All-Star team. Because of injuries to other players, including Ken Griffey, Guillen is having a career year: a .353 average, a career-high 17 homers and 41 RBIs in 221 at-bats.

"He is pretty legit, and I sure like to see him come to the plate," Cincinnati manager Bob Boone said. "As much as I say he's our fourth outfielder, he's our best hitter."

RELOADING: The Padres finished the first half 26-55, the worst first half in franchise history. But San Diego doesn't expect to be a bottom-feeder for long. General manager Kevin Towers said the Padres will be aggressive in acquiring players, this season and during the free-agent period next winter.

"We'll be just as much of a buyer, possibly before the end of July, as we are a seller," Towers said. "From here to opening day next year in our new ballpark is a pretty important time for this franchise."

Names being tossed around are potential free agents Miguel Tejada and Vladimir Guerrero.

ANOTHER MATSUI: Remember this name: Kazuo Matsui. He's a shortstop in Japan and is expected to follow Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki as the next sensation out of Japan. It is believed that he wants to join Ichiro in Seattle, but the Mets, Dodgers, Padres and, of course, the Yankees are interested.

GAG ORDER: Phillies pitcher Kevin Millwood, whose contract is up after this season, and Anaheim pitcher Jarrod Washburn, a free agent in 2005, have told their teams they won't talk contract the rest of the season. Millwood said negotiations might have contributed to a recent 1-5 slide, and Washburn said he is willing to risk being traded by not discussing a new deal.

"I understand that," he said. "I know that's the business of the game."

POWER TRIP: How much pull does Alex Rodriguez have with the Rangers? A-Rod gave the team a list of players he thought it should take in June's amateur draft.

"The incredible thing is Alex has a great mind for all facets of this game and sees all of them as essential for us to win," owner Tom Hicks said.

SEATTLE SLEW: Who is the Mariners' most important player? Is it Ichiro? Martinez? Jamie Moyer?

Try closer Kazuhiro Sasaki. The Mariners were 12-11 in the first 23 games he was on the disabled list with a rib injury. The Mariners hope Sasaki can return by August.

NEW PLAYER: A deal to find the Expos an owner and move them to northern Virginia or Washington might finally be making some headway. Mark Broxmeyer, a real estate developer based on Long Island, N.Y., is a serious enough player that Major League Baseball has invited him to attend the All-Star Game as its guest.

FISH BAIT: The Marlins pounded the Braves and starting pitcher Mike Hampton 20-1 Tuesday, and the ironic thing is the Marlins are paying Hampton more this season than any of their players.

It was money well spent. Hampton allowed 10 hits and nine runs in four innings.

DODGING THE ISSUE: Now that the Marlins have taken Lowell off the market, don't be surprised if the Dodgers, who were hot after Lowell, stand pat. They believe their bats, particularly the one belonging to Shawn Green, will get hot.

"There's no panic here, and there's no reason to panic," general manager Dan Evans said. "You panic when you're desperate and you're not good enough, and that's not the case with us."

OUCH: Think Piniella was tough on the Rays' Ben Grieve? Check out what Expos manager Frank Robinson said when asked if Sonny Kim would get another start after giving up six hits and four walks in 3 innings Tuesday against the Mets.

"Do I look insane? Do I look like I want to be tortured?" Robinson said. Asked if Kim would go to the minors, Robinson said, "For all I care, he can go home."

SHORT HOPS: In June, Cincinnati's Adam Dunn had five home runs. And five RBIs. St. Louis shortstop Edgar Renteria has 20 stolen bases. The rest of the team has 17. The Marlins say they won't trade Lowell, but don't be surprised if they part with infielders Derrek Lee and/or Luis Castillo. This is incredible. In Boston's recent 25-8 victory against Florida, three Marlins combined to throw 91 pitches in the first inning. Red Sox batters swung and missed three times.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

Albert Pujols of Cards may not start despite his early run at the Triple Crown.

Frank Robinson had some tough words for his struggling Expos starter.