Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau and White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, two veterans who played key roles in past All-Star victories, were each leading tight races after the first 36 hours of balloting in the All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Experian.
Morneau, who scored the winning run for the American League in the 15th inning of the 2008 Midsummer Classic, is hoping for what would be an emotional return to Target Field when the 85th All-Star Game is played there on July 15. The former Twin jumped out to an early, but narrow, National League lead, trailed most closely by Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Braves left fielder Justin Upton. Nationals second baseman Anthony Rendon and Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee were running fourth and fifth, respectively.
Sale, the winning pitcher of last year's All-Star Game, broke out in front of the AL nominees. Angels right-hander Garrett Richards, Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello and Indians right-hander Corey Kluber followed Sale most closely. Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel was in fifth place.
More than 15 million online votes have been cast and tens of millions more are expected by the close of balloting at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, as fans decide on a position player for the NL and a pitcher for the AL. Managers Mike Matheny of the NL and John Farrell of the AL, in conjunction with Major League Baseball, each presented five nominees so you can decide the 34th and final roster spots. Balloting began Sunday evening and the winners will be revealed on MLB.com soon after the balloting ends on Thursday.
In each of the past seven years, clubs have formed alliances to lend their collective support for their respective candidates. This year's alliances are Indians-Rockies (#ClevelandRox), Astros-Marlins (#GoBeardorGoHome), White Sox-Nationals, Braves-Angels and Cubs-Tigers.
Here is a closer look at this year's choices (statistics are through Monday's games):
Justin Morneau: #VoteMorneau (N2) -- Talk about widespread support. Not only does Morneau have alliance backers in Cleveland and in his native Canada (including hockey players), but also huge support in Minnesota, where he was a Twin from 2003-13 and was selected to four straight All-Star Games from 2007-10 (scoring the winning run in 2008). Morneau has been as consistent as they come in 2014, batting .315 with 13 homers while turning in 30 multi-hit performances. The left-handed slugger leads the Rockies in both doubles (20) and RBIs (59) while ranking second to only NL All-Star Troy Tulowitzki in total hits (99) and homers.
"I'm not much of a self-promoter," Morneau said. "At this point I feel I've played well enough to be there. Obviously, you hope that's what comes out in the end. But there are other guys that are having great seasons, too. ... It's a tough ride but I feel like to this point it would really be an honor to be on that third-base line and get introduced in that stadium in Minnesota, and be a part of that team."
Anthony Rizzo: #VoteRizzo (N4) -- After hitting his 18th homer on Monday -- the most of any NL first baseman -- Rizzo said, "Whatever happens this week is on the fans. Our team winning will get us in the highlights more. It's nice to get that knock."
The Cubs have a legendary fan base but they are seeking their first Final Vote win after three nominations. In 2003, Corey Patterson was nominated but was injured that Sunday against St. Louis and had to be replaced by Pittsburgh's Kenny Lofton a day later, after receiving votes, so Cubs fans had no chance at that one. Aramis Ramirez finished behind winner Bobby Abreu in '04 and Carlos Zambrano was behind winner Chris Young in '07.
Rizzo, who was playing a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday, said he has heard from people "I hadn't heard from in a long time" amid the ongoing campaign, and you can expect to see some funny comments made by his teammates touting Rizzo's credentials, taped for use in TV broadcasts during the Cubs' series in Cincinnati.
Justin Upton: #VoteJUp (N5) -- Upton had a double and single in Monday's 4-3 loss in New York, and we'll find out whether he can make it two straight Final Vote winners for the NL East-leading Braves. The two-time All-Star has the sixth-highest OPS (.855) of any NL outfielder, and only Tulowitzki and Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins have a higher OPS against lefties in the NL -- a potential key for in-game strategy to secure the World Series home-field advantage. Upton is tied for third in the NL in homers with 17.
"It will be interesting to see how Braves country reacts to me," Upton said. "But I'm hoping it's the same way and I'm hoping I can get there."
Anthony Rendon: #VoteRendon (N3) -- After five consecutive years of falling short, can the Nationals mount a successful Final Vote campaign? Rendon is definitely doing his part. In Monday's game, the versatile infielder hit a game-tying two-run homer in the sixth, and he's among the team leaders in RBIs and runs scored. Matheny could use him at second or third base at any point in the game.
"He has ability to stay the same in any situation," teammate Adam LaRoche said. "To be as consistent as he has been, you just don't see that in young guys. It's something that takes a few years to pick up on. He just has that mindset. It's not just done on the surface. That's his personality. He is very level headed along with being competitive. He wants to be the best at what he does. I love the kid."
Casey McGehee: #VoteHitsMcGehee (N1) -- They call him "Hits McGehee" because he leads the NL with 110 hits, and Miami's third baseman has been bunching them together lately. He had his fourth consecutive multi-hit game on Monday night, doing most of his own campaigning on the field. He has a 14-game hitting streak, and since June 3 he has gone only two games without a hit. His average is up to .322, and Matt Adams of St. Louis is the only other player in the Majors with a top-10 average who isn't on an All-Star roster.
"We're going to try to do everything we can to get this guy into the All-Star Game," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "He's had such a great first half, and has been such a big part of our team, so we're trying to do everything we can to help him without him having to lobby for himself."
Chris Sale: #TargetSale (A5) -- The winning pitcher of last year's All-Star Game is prepared to make his own statement on Wednesday when he starts at Boston, coming off a complete-game victory during which he struck out 12 and walked no one. Sale lost a whole month to injury, but he is 8-1 with a 0.87 WHIP and is slider-death to lefties. The White Sox are as savvy as it comes in Final Vote campaigning, having helped Scott Podsednik, A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko become All-Stars this way.
"Just seeing how much involvement they're putting on me," Sale said of fun with the Final Vote campaign process. "I've got texts from high school coaches, my college coach saying we've got everyone we know, they've got their sources, this and that all voting for you. It definitely makes me appreciate everyone around me a lot more."
Garrett Richards: #VoteGRich (A4) -- The funny thing about those "#VOTEGRICH" T-shirts all over Angel Stadium on Monday night was the fact that using all caps makes you think of Bobby Grich, who earned half of his six All-Star nods during his Angels days from 1977-86. Hey, maybe that will work in this case. In his first full season as a starter, Richards has held batters to a league-low .196 batting average while posting a 2.71 ERA and 119 strikeouts. Richards is trying to end the Angels' 0-for-5 skid in Final Vote competition, and how can you ignore this Vine plea by All-Star starter Mike Trout:
"Garrett's my roommate in Cali, and I want him to be my roommate in Minnesota," Trout says, then proceeding to intone the hashtag.
Rick Porcello: #PickRick (A3) -- Porcello's 25-inning scoreless streak, which had included back-to-back shutouts, came to an end when he took the loss in Sunday night's game against the Rays that immediately followed his Final Vote appearance. Nevertheless, Porcello is the winningest pitcher on the ballot, with 11 victories -- second in the Majors only to the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka.
"I'm very happy for my teammates that have made the team, and I'm honored to be included in the Final Vote," Porcello said after Sunday's game. "Lots of good pitchers out there. [Losing] doesn't take anything away from how well I've pitched in the first half."
Corey Kluber: #VoteKluber (A2) -- If you like strikeout pitchers, then here's your top candidate on the AL ballot, as Kluber ranks fifth in the league with 137. That includes 10 punchouts in his most recent outing Sunday against Kansas City. Indians teammate Nick Swisher won the 2010 AL Final Vote thanks largely to his own huge Twitter account, and maybe Kluber will benefit from a campaign tweet that Swisher recently sent.
"It's an honor," Kluber said. "It's nice to be recognized, but ultimately, individual stuff is not what I'm shooting for. The ultimate goal is for the team to win."
Dallas Keuchel: #VoteKeuchel (A1) -- The Astros' top starting pitcher this season, Keuchel is 8-5 with a 3.06 ERA and three complete games in 16 starts. He has big social-media backing, but probably the best campaign weapon at his disposal this week is a scheduled Lone Star showdown start on Wednesday opposite 2012 AL Final Vote winner Yu Darvish of the Rangers.
"It's nice to see the support I've been getting," Keuchel said. "Regardless of what happens, I appreciate everything that everybody's been doing for me."
History shows that all is not always lost for players who don't win a Final Vote. Of the 96 previous players who fell short during the first 12 years, 18 were subsequently added as All-Star replacements -- 19 percent, or nearly one in five of all non-winners. However, there was no such All-Star honor for any of the eight who finished behind Steve Delabar of Toronto and Freddie Freeman of Atlanta last year, so the surest route is to win this competition.
You can also vote on the mobile web at MLB.com/vote or via text message. To receive the Final Vote ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 89269. To vote for a specific player, text your choice to 89269. For example: Text "A3" to vote for AL Player 3 or "N3" to vote for NL Player 3. Standard message and data rates may apply. Text "STOP" to end and "HELP" for information. Mobile voting in Canada also is available and fans should text their choices to 101010.
For the third consecutive year, the All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote will include social balloting participation, as Twitter support from the 10 candidates' fans over the last six hours of balloting will count toward their Final Vote totals. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, any tweet that includes a designated player hashtag will be tabulated as part of the official vote total used to determine the winners. Fans will be able to follow @MLB for the latest standings updates over the course of the entire four-day voting period.
In addition, MLB.com is providing a unique analysis of how a specific region in the United States is voting for the 10 candidates. Scroll over any county to see a color-coded display showing the online vote share for each player. Click here or visit MLB.com to access the data visualization map.
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again allow you to help choose the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, vote exclusively online at MLB.com and via Twitter in the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Pepsi, and the fans' collective voice will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that determines the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
MLB.TV Premium subscribers, for the first time, will be able to live stream the All-Star Game via MLB.TV through FOX's participating video providers. Access will be available across more than 400 platforms that support MLB.TV, including the award-winning MLB.com At Bat app. MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.
The 85th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. More information is available at allstargame.com.