The fate of the Brandons

Brandon Crawford was not thrilled.

As the shortstop stood in front of his locker, preparing for batting practice, the All-Star selection show played on the clubhouse TVs and a group of reporters huddled behind him.

“I’ve heard as much as you guys,” Crawford explained, as the scrum inched closer, waiting to find out if they could ask him about becoming an All-Star for a second year in a row.

They couldn’t. Crawford was about to become the most egregious omission from the 2016 National League roster.

“It sucks, honestly,” Brandon Belt said of his good friend’s snub. “He should be there. It would have been fun to play with him. He’s been kind of a battery mate for me in the infield. So, it would be nice to have him there.”

The trouble began for Crawford when fans voted Addison Russell into an all-Cubs starting infield. Russell, 22, is the seventh-best NL shortstop, in terms of fWAR.

“What kept him out of it, got me in,” said Belt, who earned his first All-Star nod by winning the Final Vote competition. “So, it’s hard to say anything bad about the fan vote. That’s probably why he’s not there right now.”

Like Crawford, Belt is a San Francisco Giants franchise cornerstone who just turned in an outstanding first half. Also like Crawford, Belt is a star locally with a national profile that remains unusually low.

“I would agree on both,” said manager Bruce Bochy when asked if the broader baseball world underrates the Brandons. “I think part of it is being out West.”

Crawford also pointed to geography to explain the lack of respect.

“I think here on the West Coast we do get overlooked a little bit more than some other teams,” Crawford said. “But I mean, it is what it is.”

There’s no way to fully grasp the brilliance of Crawford — especially in the field — without watching him perform on a daily basis.

The 28-year-old routinely makes plays that he has no business making. Crawford is equally adept at ranging to his right or left or flying in to field a high chopper with his bare hand.

And he does it with an undeniable degree of California cool.

“Even though [Crawford’s] been on an All-Star team and voted on by his peers, I don’t think he gets enough credit for how good he is or enough attention,” Bochy said.”This guy’s so gifted defensively. He’s as good as anybody in the game I think at short.”

The numbers back up the eye test and his boss’ praise. According to FanGraphs, Crawford hasn’t just saved more defensive runs than any other shortstop in baseball, but as many as any player in the big leagues.

“Then you look at what he does with the bat. He’s a big RBI guy for us,” Bochy added of the left-handed hitter, who has driven in the most runs among NL shortstops.

RBIs remain a highly problematic measure of offensive production. Crawford is a major beneficiary of batting directly behind Belt and Buster Posey, who own .407 and .366 OBPs, respectively. That sequencing has yielded 61 RBI at the break.

But Crawford’s offensive rise began last season and has continued into the opening half of 2016. Last year, he posted career highs in OPS+ and wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus), which quantifies how effectively a hitter creates runs while accounting for ballpark factors.

He’s approaching those figures again in the opening months of 2016 and his OPS is actually higher this year than it was a season ago.

Thanks to his glove and his bat, Crawford has emerged as one of the premier players in the league. By fWAR, Crawford is the fourth-most valuable player in the NL. But the Dodgers’ Corey Seager was selected to be the reserve, and Aledmys Diaz, of the Cardinals, was added after teammate Matt Carpenter suffered an injury.

Belt has also entered that conversation and deserved much better than to need a backdoor entrance into Petco Park for the Midsummer Classic.

Belt’s glove work has been characteristically strong, as the 26-year-old has saved the second-most defensive runs among MLB first baseman. It’s with the bat where Belt has truly broken out.

The left-handed hitter’s .301/.406/.523 slash line would be plenty impressive — even if he didn’t play at AT&T Park where triples alley swallows up home runs and stifles power numbers. The dimensions of his cavernous home digs help explain how Belt has tallied an NL-best 27 doubles while notching just 10 home runs.

To fully grasp just how productive Belt was in the first half, look to his wRC+. By that measure, Belt is the fifth-most productive hitter in the NL.

Those are the credentials of a fringe MVP candidate. Not a fringe All-Star.

Crawford insisted that neither he nor his teammate are worried about the lack of buzz.

“I mean, we don’t really think about that,” Crawford said, explaining that he’ll spend the break relaxing with family and giving his body a rest. “We’re more focused on winning games than how much press or media we’re getting across the country.”

With two World Series rings apiece, Crawford and Belt have already done a lot of winning in their Giants careers. Now, as Hunter Pence spends the majority of a second season on the disabled list and many of the other Even Year heroes have moved on or retired, Crawford and Belt are poised to join Posey and Madison Bumgarner as the stars of yet another promising core.

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By Al Saracevic