It’s weird to think that the Mariners, who have been the American League’s most disappointing team, hands down, and who were mired with the second-worst record in the league (to only hopeless Baltimore) for much of the season, could wind up with multiple All-Stars.
But that could very well be the case. Ichiro, of course, is a given. He led all outfielders in the voting in the latest tally, and always gets a surge at the end when international votes are counted.
And there’s a decent chance that the Mariners, whose starters lead the American League with a 3.59 earned-run average, will place a pitcher on the All-Star team.
But here’s the dilemma: Assuming that the M’s get just one All-Star besides Ichiro (and do they really deserve three this season?) who would it be?
I think you could make a case for four of their starters:
—Doug Fister, who still ranks atop the ERA list at 2.45 (tied with Tampa Bay’s David Price), was probably the M’s top All-Star contender until he came down with a tired shoulder after his May 31 start against the Twins. He’s been on the disabled list ever since, missing four starts. By the time he returns next Saturday at Milwaukee, Fister will have just two more starts to make his case before the All-Star teams are announced on July 4. He’s been brilliant, but nearly a month on the sidelines could well be his All-Star undoing.
—Cliff Lee knows all about spending a month on the sidelines. He didn’t debut this year until April 30 after suffering an abdominal strain in spring training, but since he’s been back, Lee has most definitely pitched like an All-Star. His start tonight will be his 11th; most of the other top starters in the American League have 14 starts or 15 starts. The AL selectors — five starting pitchers are chosen by a vote of the players, with manager Joe Girardi rounding out the 13-man (10 starters) staff — could look at Lee’s 2.55 ERA (fifth in the league), his three complete games (tied with Joel Pineiro for the league lead), his league-leading 0.90 WHIP, or his ridiculous 16.75 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
—Jason Vargas has merely thrown 12 quality starts out of his 14, ranks just behind Lee with a 2.66 ERA, and is finishing the first half with a flourish (4-0, 2.11 over his last nine starts).
–Oh, yeah, Felix Hernandez, remember him? The Cy Young runnerup from last year? He has the highest ERA among the four Mariner starters under consideration (3.39), but he’s hardly been chopped liver. He’s third in the AL with 97 strikeouts, is tied for sixth in FanGraphs xFIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) stat, leads the league in innings pitched (103.2), and has pitched at least seven innings in nine of his 15 starts). With a little more run/relief support, Hernandez’s 5-5 record could easily be 8-2.
I believe if I had to take one, I’m leaning toward Cliff Lee. Unless, of course, Cliff Lee is a Minnesota Twin by then. Then my inclination is to go with Felix Hernandez in a close call over Vargas.
What do you think?