Houston’s Altuve tops voting for MLB All-Star Game

José Altuve received the most votes among all players in contention to start the All-Star Game. (AFP pic)

HOUSTON: Houston Astros second baseman José Altuve received a pace-setting 4.84 million votes in fan balloting totals unveiled on Sunday that decided starters for the 89th Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

The 28-year-old Venezuelan, who helped the Astros win their first World Series title last year, will join the American League squad that faces elite National League rivals on July 17 at Washington.

“It feels really good. I want to thank everybody who made this dream come true,” said six-time All-Star Altuve, whose .338 batting average ranks second in the major leagues.

“It’s one of the most important things in baseball for me, having a good relationship with the fans.”

The annual mid-season classic rivalry is deadlocked at 43-43 with two drawn. The American League is 17-3 with one drawn since 1997.

A total of 25 first-time All-Stars were selected by fans, players, and officials for the rosters, which feature at least one player from all 30 clubs.

All-Star Game managers will be those who contested last year’s World Series: A. J. Hinch of the Astros for the American League and Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National.

“I’m excited to be around the game’s best. That mid-summer classic is going to be great,” Roberts said. “These guys are the best competitors in the world.”

Roberts plans a bet for French red wine with Hinch, who will have five of his Houston players on the AL roster.

“I’m pretty blown away, just the talent alone,” Hinch said. “It’ll be nice just to have everybody in one room. It’ll be eye-opening for me to have the volume of stars.”

The four leading major league home run sluggers are American League starters – designated hitter J. D. Martinez of Boston with 27, outfielders Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels and Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees with 25 each, and Cleveland third baseman José Ramírez with 24.

Trout is a seven-time All-Star and two-time All-Star Game Most Valuable Player, while Martinez leads the major leagues by having batted in 74 runs.

Boston’s Mookie Betts, who leads the major leagues with a .342 batting average, is also an AL outfielder starter.

Other AL starters include Tampa Bay catcher Wilson Ramos, Chicago White Sox first baseman José Abreu, and Baltimore shortstop Manny Machado, seen as a likely trade prospect to a title contender with the Orioles a major leagues-worst 24-65.

Among potential starting pitchers for the American League are the winningest hurlers in the major leagues, the Yankees’ Luis Severino (14-2) and Cleveland’s Corey Kluber (12-4), plus Yankees ace closer Aroldis Chapman.

National League starters include outfielders Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, Washington’s Bryce Harper, and Atlanta’s Nick Markakis, making his first All-Star appearance in his 13th major league season.

Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman topped National Leaguers in fan support with more than 4 million votes.

Other NL starters include catcher Willson Contreras and second baseman Javier Báez of the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, and Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado.

Washington right-handed pitcher Max Scherzer, who leads the major leagues with 177 strikeouts, could start the All-Star Game in his team’s home park.

“That would be an unbelievable experience no matter when I pitch, just to pitch in front of the home crowd,” Scherzer said.

“It’s an opportunity to go out and pitch against the best hitters in the game. It’s grip it, rip it and let’s see what happens.”

Roberts said Scherzer was “definitely on my radar” but wouldn’t reveal his planned starter even though he added, “you can’t go wrong with Max taking the baseball at any point.”