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MLB All-Star Game: As the NL catcher race heats up, a split within the Yadier Molina campaign on strategy

Challenger Jonathan Lucroy's attack ad against Yadier Molina has left the five-time incumbent's campaign divided as the All-Star race heads down the home stretch.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, the National League All-Star race heated up with Jonathan Lucroy (C, MIL) launching an unprecedented attack ad on five-time incumbent Yadier Molina (C, STL).

The online ad attacks Molina for being a Cardinal and calls for a change at catcher for the NL All-Star squad:

Yadier Molina is a great catcher, but did you know he plays for the St. Louis Cardinals? Do you want another St. Louis Cardinal to star in an All-Star Game? Isn't there a better way?

At least one independent poll has Lucroy surging and some Molina supporters fear that the race may be tightening.

"Earlier in the year, folks viewed the Milwaukee effort as a cute challenge that would quickly fade," said Dr. James Davis, a University of Missouri political science professor specializing in the All-Star Game. "With this ad, there’s a fear that Lucroy can close some ground on the strength of his record with Milwaukee and his anti-Cardinal framing of the race. It appeals to his base in Milwaukee and voters in places like Cincinnati. Think about it. How many Reds fans even know their starting catcher’s name? But they know Molina and will vote for the anti-Molina candidate. It’s a shrewd political gambit that the Lucroy campaign is running."

The Lucroy campaign’s shot across the Molina campaign’s bow has the St. Louis-based operation scrambling, according to several senior aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about internal campaign strategy or tactics. The Molina campaign has divided into two camps: one who wants an immediate and forceful rebuttal and another who feel the incumbent should stay above the fray because of his sizable lead in internal tracking polls. According to those familiar with internal deliberations, Campaign Field Manager Mike Matheny sided with those who advocated for the avoidance of a head-on confrontation with the Lucroy campaign.

It wasn’t until Wednesday—two days after the Lucroy spot first ran—that Matheny made himself available to the press on the subject, stating:

"I think you have to take it in the nature in which it was meant and it was meant to be geared toward their fan base," Matheny said. "It was just amazing that it was that much directed at our organization. I think that part probably caught me off-guard the most.

"Not saying that's surprising. We've gone through this the last few years, especially last year with the Cardinal Way stuff getting blown way out of proportion. I think it can put a bad taste in a lot of peoples' mouth. But in defense of the recognition that our guys have had -- whether it's having a number of guys on the All-Star team -- that stuff isn't just handed out. These guys have worked hard for that. They have deserved it, and they have earned it, and I don't think that's anything for us to apologize for."

Matheny’s statement to the media came in concert with the candidate himself sending out a tweet, stating that he loved haters and seemingly challenging non-Cardinals fans to vote against him.

The disjointed response has the St. Louis brain trust scrambling. "I love Mike," said a senior staff member. "He’s a people person, a great motivator. But when it comes to campaign strategy and tactics, he’s in over his head. The way the campaign has handled Lucroy’s attacks shows his shortcomings in this area. So do his bunt orders and pitching changes."

"No one is better on defense than Yadi," said another senior aide. "When it comes to fielding security, Lucroy can’t hold a candle to him. No one can. Why aren’t we beating Lucroy over the head with Yadi’s superior record on defense issues?"

But not everyone at Molina campaign headquarters is concerned.

"The Lucroy campaign is desperate," said Deputy Field Manager Jose Oquendo. "They have no chance, so they’ve resorted to cynical political attacks on Yadi. We aren’t going to join them down in the gutter to sling mud. All-Star voters will reject their politics-as-usual approach to the catcher race and re-elect Yadi."

Lucroy campaign surrogates have hit the airwaves to complement the new ad blitz. In response to a question for a comparison between Molina and Lucroy on MLBN’s Intentional Talk program, former Cardinal and current Brewer Kyle Lohse said, "I’m not here to talk about the past. I don’t think voters want to hear about the past. This election will be decided by who is the best All-Star catcher candidate for the future of the League. And I think that candidate is Jonathan Lucroy. That’s why I’m voting Lucroy for NL All-Star catcher."

Jason LaRue, former Cardinals catcher and a Molina campaign surrogate also appearing on the show, scoffed at any comparison between Lucroy and Molina. "I’ve served with Yadier Molina," said LaRue. "And Lucroy is no Molina."

The veil of Midwest nice has been lifted and a good ol’ fashioned bare-knuckle political fight has broken out in the NL Central. Will it change the outcome in this year’s All-Star vote? Only time will tell.