AL All-Star starting spots going down to wire
Avila challenging Martin, Ellsbury gains on Hamilton
With All-Star Game fan voting speeding toward Thursday's conclusion, it looks as though the American League balloting has come down to at least two head-to-head battles.
The Yankees' Russell Martin vs. the Tigers' Alex Avila for the nod behind the plate.
The Rangers' Josh Hamilton vs. Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury for the final spot in the outfield.
With in-stadium voting completed, leaving the online ballot as the only remaining way to vote, Tuesday's final AL voting update revealed quite a bit of separation and AL East dominance.
Four members of the Yankees (second baseman Robinson Cano, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, shortstop Derek Jeter and center fielder Curtis Granderson), two Red Sox (first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and designated hitter David Ortiz) and one Blue Jay (outfielder Jose Bautista) all increased their leads and look to be in prime positition to take the field together on July 12 at Chase Field in Phoenix.
But in a week in which those seven improved their margins and no turnover took place at any of the top spots, the situation at catcher and the third outfield spot only grew tighter.
Hamilton and Ellsbury have stood respectively at Nos. 3 and 4 since the June 12 update. Over the past two weeks, the distance separating them has gone from 351,624 to 151,085 to 121,325.
Hamilton, last season's AL Most Valuable Player who lost five weeks to a shoulder injury, has started the All-Star Game each of the past three years and entered Tuesday hitting .293 with seven homers and 35 RBIs after missing time on the disabled list. Ellsbury, meanwhile, sports a .365 on-base percentage with nine homers and an AL-leading 25 steals in hopes of making his first All-Star Game appearance.
Heading into the year, many might have thought that Boston's outfield representative would be a guy named Carl Crawford, not Jacoby Ellsbury.
And few would've predicted that Martin would be on the cusp of officially returning to All-Star form.
But with the Twins' Joe Mauer missing most of the first half due to leg issues, Martin -- an All-Star with the Dodgers from 2007-08 before injury and inconsistency hampered him -- has led behind the plate despite a .230 batting average in 58 games. Avila, though, is younger, is putting up better numbers and is right on Martin's tracks thanks to a .304 batting average and 10 homers in his second full season.
Martin's lead over Avila was 619,086 two weeks ago and 496,286 last week. It is now 434,527.
If Martin holds on and Ellsbury passes Hamilton, there's a good chance the Yankees and Red Sox will possess eight of the nine starting-lineup spots.
For that to happen, though, Jeter would have to hold on at shortstop and be healthy.
Though the Yankees' captain leads the Indians' Asdrubal Cabrera by 506,350 votes, his cushion has steadily grown in recent weeks. The bigger question may be Jeter's recovery from a strained right calf. He has started running but his return schedule is rather foggy.
Very little fogginess exists with the rest of the AL lineup.
Gonzalez's lead over the Yankees' Mark Teixeira now sits at nearly 1 million votes. Cano's over the Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia is at roughly 1.8 million. A-Rod's cushion over the Rangers' Adrian Beltre went from about 570,000 to 800,000 in a week. Ortiz's advantage is at about 2 million over the Rangers' Michael Young. Granderson's cushion over the fourth-place outfielder, Ellsbury, is at approximately 1.5 million.
And Bautista is simply untouchable.
After a stunning 54-homer season, he leads all of baseball in fan votes and is destined to start his first All-Star Game thanks to some gaudy, reaffirming numbers -- a .328 batting average, 23 homers and a Major League-leading 1.125 OPS.
The game's best hitter?
"I would argue that," Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill said earlier this year about Bautista, who's expected to move back to third base soon. "But I get to see him on a day-to-day basis, so I'm a little biased. ... It's not necessarily the homers or the hits that he gets, but his whole game, the whole way he approaches baseball, or the hitting side of it. It's by far the best I've seen."
Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times at MLB.com and all 30 club sites -- online or via a mobile device -- using the 2011 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Sprint until Thursday at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Rosters will be announced during the 2011 All-Star Game Selection Show on TBS on Sunday. Baseball fans around the world will then be able to select the final player on each team via the 2011 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint.
Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet at the Midsummer Classic via the 2011 All-Star Game MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint.
The All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX and around the world by Major League Baseball International. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio play-by-play, while MLB.com will offer extensive online coverage.
Russell Martin, Yankees: 2,779,592
Alex Avila, Tigers: 2,345,065
Joe Mauer, Twins: 1,699,604
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox: 1,505,143
Yorvit Torrealba, Rangers: 1,309,802
Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox: 4,014,722
Mark Teixeira, Yankees: 3,077,242
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: 2,184,480
Mitch Moreland, Rangers: 1,209,258
Paul Konerko, White Sox: 932,422
Robinson Cano, Yankees: 4,724,816
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: 2,979,181
Ian Kinsler, Rangers: 1,896,259
Orlando Cabrera, Indians: 1,127,840
Ben Zobrist, Rays: 963,481
Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: 3,735,406
Adrian Beltre, Rangers: 2,935,373
Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox: 2,724,286
Evan Longoria, Rays: 2,000,379
Brandon Inge, Tigers: 633,519
Derek Jeter, Yankees: 3,392,128
Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians: 2,885,778
Elvis Andrus, Rangers: 1,971,514
Jhonny Peralta, Tigers: 1,178,114
Marco Scutaro, Red Sox: 1,099,744
David Ortiz, Red Sox: 4,237,014
Michael Young, Rangers: 2,235,504
Jorge Posada, Yankees: 1,453,385
Victor Martinez, Tigers: 1,234,879
Johnny Damon, Rays: 1,028,366
Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: 5,263,840
Curtis Granderson, Yankees: 4,582,419
Josh Hamilton, Rangers: 3,173,000
Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: 3,051,675
Carl Crawford, Red Sox: 2,294,337
Nelson Cruz, Rangers: 1,912,783
Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners: 1,912,062
Nick Swisher, Yankees: 1,648,599
Brett Gardner, Yankees: 1,499,367
J.D. Drew, Red Sox: 1,428,367
Matt Joyce, Rays: 1,226,439
Jeff Francoeur, Royals: 1,061,445
David Murphy, Rangers: 1,057,887
Grady Sizemore, Indians: 1,033,014
Shin-Soo Choo, Indians: 924,326
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.