(Here’s the latest Mariners’ minor-league report).
If a poll were done to pick the most disappointing team in baseball over the first half of the season, the Mariners and the Cubs would probably battle it out neck-and-neck.
But the M’s have a chance to do something they’ve accomplished just seven times in their previous 33 years: Place more than two players on the All-Star team. The All-Star teams will be announced Sunday, with one spot left open for the fans’ “Final Vote.” The rosters this year have been expanded by one to 34 players, including 13 pitchers.
Ichiro is a given. As Mariners’ manager Don Wakamatsu said yesterday, “I think it’s a dead giveaway when you’re the star of the All-Star commercial.”
And also when you’ve been comfortably among the outfield leaders in every weekly voting tally, and have been voted a starter in eight of your nine seasons, and are hitting .331.
I also think there’s an excellent chance the Mariners’ two stud pitchers, Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez, will both make the team. Lee, despite missing the first month, seems like a lock with his 2.45 ERA (tied for second in the AL with Boston’s Clay Buchholz, trailing only Tampa Bay’s David Price’s 2.42), his league-leading five complete games, and his increasingly legendary 15.6-to-1 strikeouts to walks ratio, which would be a major-league record if it holds up.
Of course, there’s the question of whether Lee will be a Mariner by the time the All-Star Game is played July 13. I’ll just assume he’ll still be a Mariner tomorrow — big assumption, I know — and let it go at that for now. (If Lee is chosen for the AL squad, then traded to the NL before the game, that will really mess things up. Bud Selig is getting a headache just thinking about it).
Now, a quick aside to explain how the All-Star team is chosen. Fans, of course, select the starters — nine in the American League (including the DH) and eight in the National League (though baseball changed the rules this year so that the NL will use a DH even in National League parks from now on; it’s a moot point in 2010 since the game is in Anaheim).
After that, a players ballot is used to select a backup at each position, as well as eight pitchers (five starters and three relievers). The All-Star managers (Joe Girardi for the AL, Charlie Manuel for the NL) then fill out the rosters in consultation with the commissioner’s office and other managers in the league. The final spot is by the “Final Vote” of the fans from a ballot of five players in each league chosen by the commissioner’s office. Every team must have at least one All-Star.
This year, via a new rule, pitchers who start on the Sunday before the All-Star Game are eligible to be chosen All-Stars, but will be replaced on the roster, as will injured players and those who choose not to participate.
Joe Girardi just watched Felix Hernandez pitch what Girardi called the best game he’s seen all year by an opponent — a two-hit shutout at Yankee Stadium. Girardi has a vested interest in the American League winning again, and maintaining home-field advantage for the World Series, as they have had every year since the rule was instituted giving that honor to the All-Star winner. I think Girardi will want to have Felix on his staff.
And I doubt it will come to that. When players vote on their pitching choices, they’re not going to mull over the statistics (with which Felix can make a pretty strong All-Star case) too closely. They’re going to go predominantly by the NF stat: Nastiness factor. Felix probably ranks in the top one or two when it comes to an uncomfortable trip to the plate for an opposing hitter. I believe he’ll be comfortably among the top 5 in the player vote. Lee might be, too, but if not I can’t see Girardi leaving him off.
With Erik Bedard currently slotted in to the Sunday, July 11 start, both Felix and Lee are safe for playing. We’ll find out tomorrow if they make the squad — and then we’ll wait to see if they’re still Mariner teammates on July 13.
Here are the times the Mariners have had more than two All-Stars:
1995: Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez
1996: Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Dan Wilson
1997: Joey Cora, Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez
2000: Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Aaron Sele
2001: Bret Boone, Mike Cameron, John Olerud, Edgar Martinez, Ichiro, Freddy Garcia, Jeff Nelson, Kazuhiro Sasaki
2002: Ichiro, Freddy Garcia, Kazuhiro Sasaki
2003: Ichiro, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Bret Boone
Note that the Mariners had winning records in all those year: 79-66, division title in 1995, 85-76 in 1996, 90-72, division title in 1997, 91-71, wild-card berth in 2000, 116-46, division title in 2001, 93-69 in 2002, 93-69 in 2003.
The 2010 Mariners are currently 33-46, which projects to a final record of 68-94.