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AL All-Star starter? Is there any choice besides Rays’ Shane McClanahan?

To his teammates, there is no question. And the numbers certainly back up his candidacy.
Rays pitcher Shane McClanahan, pictured signing autographs for fans before a game against the Milwaukee Brewers last week at Tropicana Field, has a strong case to start the All-Star Game: a 9-3 record, 1.74 ERA and a major league-leading 133 strikeouts in 98-1/3 innings this season.
Rays pitcher Shane McClanahan, pictured signing autographs for fans before a game against the Milwaukee Brewers last week at Tropicana Field, has a strong case to start the All-Star Game: a 9-3 record, 1.74 ERA and a major league-leading 133 strikeouts in 98-1/3 innings this season. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Jul. 5|Updated Jul. 5

BOSTON — Shane McClanahan absolutely has earned a spot on the American League All-Star pitching staff, which will be announced Sunday afternoon.

The more interesting question is whether the Rays left-hander will be named the starter for the July 19 game at Dodger Stadium.

His bosses and teammates consider him the obvious choice based on his dominating performance so far this season — a 9-3 record, 1.74 ERA and a major league-leading 133 strikeouts in 98-1/3 innings.

But there are other options based on factors besides success and stats.

For example, the AL team will be managed by Houston’s Dusty Baker, and he may have allegiance to his own ace, Justin Verlander.

Verlander, the 39-year-old two-time Cy Young Award winner has been tremendous in his return from Tommy John surgery, going 10-3 with a 2.03 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 97-1/3 innings.

Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder understands the argument, but he isn’t swayed by it.

“I get that Justin Verlander has come back and had a wonderful season; he’s arguably as good as any pitcher that’s ever pitched in the game,” Snyder said.

“But if you’re looking at who’s done what in the first half of this year — if that’s the criteria, which I’m guessing it should be — I think Shane’s been the best pitcher. And I think he deserves to start the game.”

The White Sox’s Dylan Cease (7-3, 2.51, 125 Ks in 86 innings), Mariners’ Logan Gilbert (9-3, 2.66) and Blue Jays’ Alek Manoah (9-3, 2.33) are among others who have been mentioned as possible options.

Snyder said McClanahan “has pitched better” than all of them.

Major League Baseball officials (which, on matters like this, can mean Fox TV executives) also will have a say.

Which means there could be a push — as there was last year, when the Rays’ Kevin Cash was the AL manager — for the ratings draw and worldwide attention of having two-way, Japanese-born star Shohei Ohtani take the mound again.

Already a finalist for the designated hitter slot, Ohtani is worthy of starter consideration with his 7-4, 2.68 record and 101 strikeouts in 74 innings.

But McClanahan, who next starts Friday in Cincinnati, truly has had the best season thus far.

Besides strikeouts, he leads the majors in WHIP (fewest walks and hits per nine innings, .814), opponents OPS (.510) and strikeout percentage (35.9).

He also leads the AL in ERA, opponents average (.179), fewest hits per nine innings (5.766), strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.824), swing-and-miss rate (36.2) and baseball-reference.com WAR (3.2).

He’s second in the AL in strikeouts per nine innings (12.17) and walks per nine (1.56), and fifth in batting average on balls in play (.251).

McClanahan has been remarkably consistent, working six or more innings in 12 of his 16 starts, allowing four or fewer hits in 13 and two or fewer earned runs in 14.

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The lefty from USF goes into Friday’s game having made 10 straight starts of six or more innings with at least seven strikeouts and two or fewer earned runs, the longest such streak over a single season in American League history and longest in the majors since Randy Johnson went 14 for Arizona in 1999.

So who should start for the AL?

“Next question?” Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “I’m not being biased because I’m his teammate. He deserves that. Everyone in baseball knows that. Who in the AL has been better than him from day one? No one.”

There are a couple of other factors that could help McClanahan’s case.

His last start before the break is slated for July 13, so he will be on full rest-plus for the All-Star Game. Some of the other candidates will pitch the Saturday or Sunday before and not be available.

Verlander could be in that group, which could be a convenient out.

While Verlander certainly would enjoy the All-Star honors, especially with the Hollywood touch, he may not want to subject himself to the harsh reaction — and loud booing — from the pro-Dodgers crowd that still holds the cheating scandal and 2017 World Series win against anyone in a Houston jersey. That was evident when the Astros went to L.A. last year.

Cash said he respects the other candidates, especially Verlander for his long career, and knows from last year’s experience that All-Star decisions can get complicated and convoluted. The starter announcement may not come until the day before the game.

But Cash said this particular decision seems clear and — admittedly biased — he’d be happy to offer his opinion if Baker or anyone else asks for it.

“I think Shane McClanahan has been the best starting pitcher in baseball,” Cash said. “All of baseball, to date.”

For starters

Shane McClanahan has a strong case to be the American League All-Star starter. Here are some of the likely candidates:

Pitcher team W-L ERA G IP K BB OOPS*
Shane McClanahan Rays 9-3 1.74 16 98.1 133 17 .510
Dylan Cease White Sox 7-3 2.51 16 86.0 125 40 .624
Logan Gilbert M's 9-3 2.66 16 94.2 92 26 .636
Alek Manoah Jays 9-3 2.33 16 100.1 90 21 .597
Shohei Ohtani Angels 7-4 2.68 13 74.0 101 17 .596
Justin Verlander Astros 10-3 2.03 15 97.1 90 17 .527
*OOPS — Opponents on-base plus slugging percentage

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