How Irvin, Finnegan got squeezed out of All-Star selection

When the All-Star selection show aired Sunday evening and only one Nationals player – CJ Abrams – was unveiled, it shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise. The Nats are a one-All-Star kind of team and have been for several years now.

For the first time in a while, though, they legitimately had three candidates with strong cases to make the roster.

Abrams clearly was deserving of his first career selection. His .859 OPS currently ranks seventh among all National League players, and he’s one of only four NL players with at least 14 homers and 14 stolen bases at the moment, along with Elly De La Cruz, Francisco Lindor and Shohei Ohtani.

But you know who else was deserving? Jake Irvin. His 2.80 ERA ranks fifth in the NL, his 1.000 WHIP ranks fourth and his 106 innings pitched rank eighth.

And you know who else was also deserving? Kyle Finnegan. His 23 saves rank second in the NL, while his 2.17 ERA and 0.964 WHIP rank fourth among all regular closers.

So why didn’t either Irvin or Finnegan hear his name called Sunday? The easy answer is that the Nationals were probably destined to get only one All-Star regardless, but there’s a little more to it than that.

For those who don’t know, different All-Stars are selected by different methods. Fans vote for the nine starting position players. Players and coaches then vote for most pitchers and reserves. And then Major League Baseball fills out the remaining spots on the roster, making sure every team is represented and saving a couple final slots for players of particular note.

We already knew the fans didn’t vote in any Nationals position players to start the game. In fact, the only Nats player to even finish top-10 in fan voting at his position was Abrams, who ranked 10th among all NL shortstops.

We found out Sunday, though, that no Nationals were selected by the player ballot, either. Fellow major leaguers (plus coaches) voted for five starting pitchers (Ranger Suarez, Tyler Glasnow, Zack Wheeler, Chris Sale and Reynaldo Lopez) and three relievers (Matt Strahm, Jeff Hoffman and Robert Suarez).

That left eight remaining All-Star spots to be chosen by MLB. The league had to make sure six teams who weren’t yet represented were included, so those spots went to Ryan Helsley (Cardinals), Shota Imanaga (Cubs), Tanner Scott (Marlins), Pete Alonso (Mets), Heliot Ramos (Giants) and Abrams (Nats).

So there were only two roster spots left, both pitchers. And the league decided to give those to a second Giants player (Logan Webb) and a second Pirates player (Paul Skenes).

Webb is 7-6 with a 3.09 ERA and 1.215 WHIP over a league-leading 119 1/3 innings. Irvin has the same record with a lower ERA and considerably lower WHIP, albeit over 13 1/3 fewer innings.

Skenes, meanwhile, doesn’t even qualify for league leaderboards because he’s made only 10 starts and thrown only 59 1/3 innings. He’s been absolutely dominant in those 10 starts, of course, going 5-0 with a 2.12 ERA, 1.011 WHIP and ridiculous 78-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And he’s Paul Skenes, the phenom right-hander with the triple-digit fastball who was just drafted No. 1 in the country one year ago. He’s going to draw as much attention at the All-Star Game as anyone.

But here’s an interesting comparison to think about: Fourteen years ago, Stephen Strasburg was Paul Skenes. And he didn’t make the All-Star team because most everyone around the sport felt it wouldn’t have been fair to pick him over someone more deserving who had been in the big leagues the entire first half of the season.

Strasburg hadn’t quite pitched as much as Skenes, making only seven starts before the All-Star break. But his ERA (2.32), WHIP (1.008) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (61-to-11) were pretty comparable to Skenes’ numbers. And there’s no doubt he would’ve been a huge draw for the sport as an All-Star one year after getting drafted No. 1 overall by the Nationals.

So maybe times and attitudes have changed. Skenes wasn’t viewed as an unworthy All-Star only two months into his career. Everyone seems thrilled he was picked. And it’s probably good for baseball to have him in Texas next week.

But if you’re wondering why Jake Irvin was left out, there you go.

Game 91 lineups: Nats vs. Cardinals
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