Tough to avoid this question as we’re now in the final two weeks before the annual All-Star Game. Who should be going to Kansas City for the Mariners?
First, let me say that questions like these are one reason I don’t even bother watching the All-Star Game in the first place most years. I don’t like the idea of automatic inclusions of guys who play for also-ran teams and aren’t really standouts in the first place as far as being one of the top-25 players in each league.
So, who will the Mariners be sending? Probably Felix Hernandez, based on name recognition mostly.
The Mariners this morning have the worst record in the American League and I guarantee you most fans, managers and coaches don’t spend all that much time thinking about what’s going on here in Seattle. So, when it comes to picking an all-star from here, names like Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders and others won’t be on their lips.
No, it’ll be something like “Oh, how’s that Ichiro Suzuki doing? Is he still there? Oh, not so good any more? OK, uh…oh, wait! Felix Hernandez. He won a Cy Young last year, or, uh, recently, no?”
And that’ll be it. Never mind that Hernandez has merely been good at times this year, not great. I am no longer confident the Mariners will win most nights he takes the mound. For me, it’s just a coin flip. And that doesn’t scream “All Star!”
Maybe it does for some of you. If so, that’s probably why you’ll be watching the game while I’ll be hunting for a good Washington Syrah in some local restaurant, content to read about the game in the boxscores.
Because for me, the guy who most deserves to be an all-star is the M’s current closer. No, not Brandon League. The guy who is now the closer — Tom Wilhelmsen.
If you listened to me on my Talkin’ Baseball segment on Sports Radio KJR this morning, I discussed this with host Mitch Levy. Wilhelmsen had what I consider to be his defining moment earlier this month in Anaheim. I thought it was a month and a half ago, but it’s been a long month for the team and thus I was off on the timing. It was three weeks ago that Wilhelmsen stared down Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo with a game on the line and held on to beat the Angels.
Since that point, he’s been untouchable.
Including that night, over the last nine games, Wilhelmsen is 5-for-5 in save opportunities with 13 strikeouts against two walks, a 0.00 ERA and only four hits allowed. He’s held opponents to a .121 batting average and a .194 on-base-percentage during that stretch.
Now, that’s not just where he started being good.
But that Anaheim game is the night when I believe manager Eric Wedge and the Mariners figured out that this guy could be their closer in any situation.
As I mentioned on-air, Wilhelmsen has been real, real good for a very long time as both a closer and a set-up man. That knee-buckling curve ball he threw to Alex Rios in Chicago right before that Anaheim game has been replayed over and over again on the internet.
Wilhelmsen’s stuff is just filthy — an overused term by those who talk baseball but entirely apt in this case. When he’s on, hitters can’t touch him. And he’s been on for a while.
There was a stretch of three straight games in New York and Boston where Wilhelmsen and the entire Mariners team got roughed up a bit. Right after that, from May 17 on, he’s posted a 1.50 ERA with 24 strikeouts, just three walks and has held opponents to a .145 batting average and a .197 on-base-percentage, all the while taking on greater responsibility.
For the year, his 2.84 ERA, 47 strikeouts and 11 walks with a .218 batting average against are good enough to merit all-star consideration. But in context with what he’s done since being moved into more prominent roles, I believe he’s now the best pitcher this team has on staff.
Best in terms of what he’s actually doing performance-wise with his talent on a consistent basis.
So, for me, he’s the one guy I’d like to see in the All-Star Game because I believe he symbolizes the best of what this team has offered up the first half of the season.
Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders would be my two position player choices. I just think there are others at their positions in the AL who are more deserving and have been more consistent. And who have the name recognition.
The more deserving of the pair? Probably Seager, just based on some of the key hits he’s delivered. But he’s tapered off for a while now, while Wilhelmsen has progressively come on stronger and stronger.
Anyhow, that’s my M’s pick.
Now, on to more important stuff: this team should not be the worst in the AL now that we’re in the fourth year of this rebuilding plan. When we discuss all-stars, players of that caliber are expected to live up to expectations. This team is underperforming the very minimal ones placed on them in this not-so-tough market at the beginning of the season.
Want to keep your fans? Start producing more. Otherwise, that’s asking a lot. This is MLB, not some minor league finishing school. The ticket prices haven’t changed. The quality of baseball has to get better than this between now and season’s end.