(Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda at last year’s All-Star Game in Phoenix. One of those two definitely will not be back in the Mid-Summer Classic. Photo by Getty Images).
The announcement of the All-Star teams on July 1 is barely a week away. Today is the last day for fans to vote in stadiums, and the on-line voting ends next Thursday. So it seems an appropriate time to try to figure who will represent the Mariners in Kansas City on July 11.
I threw in a plural in the headline — representatives — but this doesn’t look like a year the Mariners will send more than one player. Last year, they had three — Brandon League, Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez. Hernandez wasn’t active because he had pitched the Sunday before the game.
I’d say the Mariners are down to three possibilities for the 33-man American League roster — Hernandez, Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders.
Ichiro is the only player who has showed up in the fan balloting — he was 10th among outfielders in the last update — but he’s not going to get voted in, even if there’s a surge of votes from Japan. Ichiro’s streak of 10 straight All-Star appearances (nine voted in as a starter) ended last year.It’s not going to be revived during another sub-par season, unless manager Ron Washington decided to go for him on name recognition and past glory. Not likely.
Jason Vargas was getting some All-Star buzz for awhile. That was reasonable when he was 7-4 with a 3.64 ERA, but a three-game stretch in which Vargas has gone 0-3 with a 9.33 ERA (and eight homers allowed in 18.1 innings) has pretty much wiped that out.
To review the selection rules, the nine starters (eight in the National League, where no DH is on the ballot, of course) are selected in a vote of the fans. A backup at each position, plus five starting pitchers and three relievers, are chosen via a poll of players, coaches and managers. That leaves Washington with just seven picks over which he has discretion — but remember, every team much be represented, which usually takes care of most of those picks.
I think there’s a solid chance that Felix gets voted a spot on the team via the players, coaches and managers. He’s not having his best season (4-5, 3.52 ERA, 91 strikeouts in 94.2 innings), but facing him is still no picnic. I can still see his name being at the forefront of players’ minds when they have their ballot in front of them. That said, Hernandez has been one of the five best American League starters this year, but that may not stop him.
If Hernandez isn’t voted in, Washington still has the option of selecting him as the token Mariner (and Washington watched him pitch eight strong innings in his only start against the Rangers this year). Or he can opt for a position player, which would be either Seager or Saunders. There was a point a week ago when I was convinced Saunders had passed Seager. He had raised his average to .282 with an .824 OPS, while Seager was in a bit of a slide. But in the ensuing week, Saunders has gone 3-for-26 (.115) and his average has dropped to .264. When you consider that his homers and RBIs (7, 23) aren’t overwhelming, it’s going to be a tougher sell.
Seager, on the other hand, is heading in the other direction. Since dropping down to .256 on the last homestand, he went on a rampage in Arizona (7-for-15, two homers, six RBIs) to raise his average to .269 with 10 homers and 45 RBIs. He now has a .801 OPS, compared to .762 for Saunders. On merit, Seager has surpassed Saunders — but he’s also playing the same position as Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre and Brett Lawrie. Also Evan Longoria and Alex Rodriguez, but Longoria is hurt and Seager is having a better year than A-Rod across the board. Kansas City’sMike Moustakas, whose stats are fairly similar to Seager’s, could also be a factor, because he would be popular as a hometown choice (with Billy Butler a more likely Royals selection).
There’s no way of predicting how the All-Star selections are going to go. Every year, it takes surprising twists and turns. But if I had to guess, I’d say Felix Hernandez is the best bet to be the Mariners’ representative — particularly if he pitches well in his final two starts before the selection — with Kyle Seager as the second choice.
*A twitter follower just threw out the name Charlie Furbush. His numbers certainly are impressive — 3-1, 2.30 ERA, .129 opponents batting average, but in just 27 1/3 innings. If Washington really wants to construct a staff built to win the game — something his Rangers could have used the past two years — then Furbush would be a tempting choice to get out lefties in a key situation (though he’s been equally effective against righties this year). But still a longshot.
In the same vein, Tom Wilhelmsen deserves a mention — he’s 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA, five saves in six opportunities, 44 strikeouts in 36 innings, .216 opponents average. But again, a longshot.