CHICAGO — When Jorge Polanco had been named the American League’s starting shortstop in the 2019 All-Star Game on Thursday, he had expressed excitement at the possibility of being joined by several of his teammates from the Twins, who entered Sunday with the second-best record in the AL.
As it turned out, he will only be joined in Cleveland by one other Twins player, right-handed pitcher Jake Odorizzi, who was also officially named to his first career All-Star team on Sunday afternoon on ESPN’s All-Star Selection Show.
The 29-year-old Odorizzi entered Sunday with a 2.73 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 85 2/3 innings and has only allowed eight homers — tied for fourth-fewest among qualified AL starters — despite being a fly-ball pitcher. The Twins won 11 consecutive games started by Odorizzi from mid-April to early June, and his 2.5 WAR, per FanGraphs, ranked him 10th in that group entering Sunday.
As things currently stand, Odorizzi is lined up to start on Sunday against the Rangers, which would likely render him unavailable to pitch in the All-Star Game.
But even as the Twins celebrated the well-deserved selection of their two first-time All-Stars, Polanco and Odorizzi both openly expressed surprise that they were the only two selections from the first-place club, which leads the Major Leagues with 156 homers, a .498 team slugging percentage and has eight players with at least 10 homers, an MLB high.
“It’s been pretty well publicized this year how well our offense has done, and to only have one guy out of that record-breaking offense make it…” said Odorizzi, trailing off. “Not to single somebody out and take away from anybody else, the fact that [Max] Kepler isn’t an All-Star, with his top three or four in the league in just about every category besides average, and what he’s meant to this team, that’s the one that’s a real head-scratcher to me.”
“I’m a little surprised,” Polanco said. “This team has been playing really well, and I think we have a lot of good teammates that deserve to be in the All-Star Game, too.”
Though several other Twins had arguments for being named to the team, including Jose Berrios, Taylor Rogers, Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron, Byron Buxton, Eddie Rosario, Mitch Garver and others, Kepler appears to be the most glaring omission from a reserve crop of outfielders that ultimately included Austin Meadows of the Rays, Joey Gallo of the Rangers and Mookie Betts of the Red Sox.
Entering Sunday, Kepler was second among AL outfielders to only Mike Trout in WAR, per FanGraphs, with 2.7 WAR over 75 games thanks to a .269/.344/.548 slash line and strong defense in right field. He is also second in that group in homers, with 21, while his .548 slugging percentage ranks third.
“Hopefully, between now and then, there are always people who get added, however it may be,” Odorizzi said. “But he’s one of the most deserving people that I can really say that about right now.”
Following the announcement of his selection during a team meeting behind closed doors, Odorizzi was given the opportunity to address his teammates, and he made sure to highlight the fact that All-Star selections — or lack thereof — will ultimately not have any bearing on their more significant goal of winning the World Series.
“I wanted to express to all the other guys in the room that were well-deserving to go that I think they are all All-Stars,” Odorizzi said. “We have bigger plans than the All-Star Game and I wanted to express that to the team in a way that, if you thought you were going to be it, I’m sure there’s guys in there that really expected to be in it. It can be a dejecting thing.
“It’s special to be selected to be anything by your peers or fans, whatever it may be, but I think it’s even more special to earn a title, and if we want to be where we are at the end of the year, we would have earned what we’re trying to shoot for. That’s the message I wanted to send to everybody.”
The 2019 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard will be played on Tuesday, July 9, at Progressive Field in Cleveland. It will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 180 countries. FOX Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage in the United States, while ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage.