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Athletics lead AL — in All-Star snubs
They can’t get a new ballpark. Raw sewage flooded parts of their current ballpark. So, the least baseball could do for the Oakland Athletics would be to give them more than one All-Star, right?
The A’s, after all, are the defending AL West champions. They’re leading the West again, rolling along with the second-best record in the AL. Over the past 365 days, their 103-63 record is the best in the majors.
And they get one stinking All-Star?
Ah, there are reasons. There always are reasons. And I’m guessing that at least one of the injustices — the exclusion of right-hander Grant Balfour, the only AL closer who has not blown a save this season — will be corrected.
Righty Bartolo Colon, the Athletics’ only selection, is scheduled to start next Sunday, two days before the All-Star Game. That alone could open a spot for Balfour, according to the “Sunday Pitcher Rule” in the collective-bargaining agreement.
The rule gives pitchers who start the Sunday before the ASG the option of participating or not participating. If they participate, they cannot pitch more than one inning. If they elect not to participate, they are replaced on the roster but treated in the same manner as other All-Stars, and encouraged to attend and be announced at the game.
So, Colon can take one for the team, creating an opening for Balfour. The withdrawals of other Sunday starters or injuries also could lead to extra roster spots. AL manager Jim Leyland alluded to possible adjustments Saturday, saying, “I wouldn’t jump the gun on anything, because things do change.”
Leyland, of course, will take the hit for the Great Oakland Snub, and his five-player, final-man ballot, as we shall see, is absurd. But with his bullpen, all he did was try to balance his left-handers and right-handers.
The players elected righties Mariano Rivera of the Yankees and Joe Nathan of the Rangers, overlooking Balfour. Leyland added lefties Glen Perkins of the Twins and Brett Cecil of the Blue Jays, both of whom have been brilliant.
Balfour has excelled against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .571 OPS, but Perkins has been even better (.526) and Cecil downright absurd (.293). The game determines home-field advantage for the World Series. Can’t fault Leyland for choosing the optimal pieces. Can’t fault him at all.
The other Oakland snubs — shortstop Jed Lowrie, outfielder Coco Crisp, even third baseman Josh Donaldson — are less egregious. The fans elected the Orioles’ J.J. Hardy at short, the players picked the Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta. Crisp missed time with a strained left hamstring, and the fans and players picked six outfielders ahead of him. Donaldson, well, he just got caught up in an unfortunate numbers game.
The Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, naturally, is the fans’ elected starter at third base, while the Orioles’ Manny Machado was the players’ selection. Leyland went with three second basemen, choosing the Indians’ Jason Kipnis to go with the fan’s pick, the Yankees’ Robinson Cano, and players’ choice, the Red Sox’s Dustin Pedroia.
But the manager also bypassed Evan Longoria at third, instead picking Ben Zobrist, who offers versatility as a switch-hitter and multi-position player, as his only Ray.
All that is understandable. What is not understandable is Leyland’s final-man ballot, which should have been something like this: Donaldson, Longoria, the Angels’ Howie Kendrick, Rangers’ Adrian Beltre and Red Sox’s Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Nava or Jose Iglesias.
Leyland instead chose five setup relievers — the Jays’ Steve Delabar, Yankees’ David Robertson, Red Sox’s Koji Uehara, Rangers’ Tanner Scheppers and Tigers’ Joaquin Benoit. It’s nice to see such pitchers get recognition. But at the expense of worthy position players? Please.
NL manager Bruce Bochy put together a much more representative and intriguing final-man ballot — the Nationals’ Ian Desmond, Braves’ Freddie Freeman, Giants’ Hunter Pence and Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez. That’s the way the ballot is supposed to be used — as a last resort for deserving players (and in the case of Pence, as a reward for one of Bochy’s own).
Some other thoughts on the selections:
* The snub of Desmond stemmed in part from the sudden returns to health of the Padres’ Everth Cabrera, who returned from a strained left hamstring on Friday, and the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki, who could return from a fractured right rib on Thursday.
Bochy likely would have named Desmond to replace Tulowitzki, the fans’ choice, and still could make such a call if Tulowitzki suffers a setback. The players elected the Brewers’ Jean Segura at short. Bochy chose Cabrera as his only Padre — the correct decision.
Desmond is fifth in the National League with 40 extra-base hits, and entered Saturday 19th with an .830 OPS. Segura was slightly above him in the latter category at .849, while Cabrera was at .773 with an NL-leading 31 stolen bases in 38 attempts.
* I screwed up on Twitter when I named a few NL starting pitchers who could forfeit their spots because they were pitching this Sunday, when actually it’s next Sunday that matters.
I deleted the tweet quickly, but was still kicking myself for making such a stupid mistake when the Giants made me feel better by doing something even dumber, batting out of order in the game I was working for MLB on Fox.
In any case, two starters on Bochy’s All-Star staff, Travis Wood and Adam Wainwright, are scheduled to pitch next Sunday. If those spots become available, I’m betting one will go to Bochy’s closer with the Giants, Sergio Romo. The other could go to another reliever — the Cardinals’ Edward Mujica, Pirates’ Mark Melancon, Rockies’ Rex Brothers — or perhaps the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg.
* Some Cardinals fans howled when I chose the Braves’ Freddie Freeman over the Cards’ Allen Craig in my All-Star selections. Bochy agreed with them, picking Craig because of his slightly better offensive numbers and defensive versatility.
I won’t argue — Craig is one of the game’s best hitters — but it does seem odd that the Braves have only one All-Star, closer Craig Kimbrel, despite leading the NL East all season. Freeman certainly is worthy — he’s a better defender than Craig — but I give him little chance against Puig in the final-man vote.
* And finally, here’s to Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro, who was named to his first All-Star Game, at age 37.
Bochy feared backlash if he named Scutaro, but it’s not as if a worthy NL second baseman got snubbed; both the Reds’ Brandon Phillips (fans’ choice) Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter (players’) made the team.
Scutaro, lest anyone forget, was the MVP of the 2012 NLCS and a pivotal figure in the Giants’ march to the World Series title. He also has performed admirably this season while fighting through back trouble.
The Giants’ athletic training staff gave Scutaro four “adjustments” before and during Friday night’s game. Scutaro’s back is not aligned properly, and one of his legs is a half-inch longer than the other, requiring him to wear a lift in his shoe to make them even.
This is a player who did not become a full-time regular until 2009, his eighth season in the majors. The Giants rewarded Scutaro with a three-year, $20 million free-agent contract last offseason. His All-Star selection is a different form of reward, a fitting honor for a model player.