All-Star races tightening in final hour

All-Star races tightening

Here comes the big finish.

The last 72 hours of voting on the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Online Ballot on MLB.com have further tightened each league's closest races and left many to be determined on this final day of exclusive online voting.

Fan voting, which will determine starting position players for the 80th All-Star Game on July 14 in St. Louis, continues at a record pace, including 19.2 million votes cast on Wednesday, as tonight's 11:59 ET deadline approaches. Here are the remaining questions you are deciding:

American League races

Will Ian Kinsler hold off Dustin Pedroia at second base?
As of the last AL update on Tuesday, Kinsler held a lead of fewer than 7,000 votes, but over the past 72 hours of exclusive online balloting, Pedroia has received 20 percent more votes than Kinsler.

Will Kevin Youkilis make it four straight years for a Red Sox first baseman to be voted the AL starter?
Yankees rival Mark Teixeira is making a strong bid to end Boston's run by garnering 17 percent more online votes than Youkilis over the past 72 hours in hopes of closing a 40,000-vote gap.

Can Jacoby Ellsbury leapfrog three players in the scramble to earn the final starting spot in the AL outfield?
The most recent update had Josh Hamilton of Texas leading the way in the bid to join front-runners Jason Bay of Boston and Ichiro Suzuki of Seattle, but over the past 72 hours of online voting, Ellsbury has received at least 16 percent more votes than the other three challengers -- Hamilton, Torii Hunter of the Angels and Carl Crawford of the Rays.

National League races

Will Yadier Molina be the first National League catcher in 17 years to be voted a hometown starter?
In the latest NL update on Monday, the Cardinals catcher was ahead of Brian McCann of Atlanta by just less than 400,000 votes. McCann, however, is vying to make up the ground as he has recorded nearly 30 percent more online votes than Molina in the past 72 hours. This means he is the biggest ground-gainer, by percentage, among the contenders in All-Star voting.

Has Carlos Beltran garnered enough votes to hold off late charges from Chicago's Alfonso Soriano and Philadelphia's Shane Victorino?
Among this triumvirate battling for the final starting spot in the NL outfield, Soriano trailed the Mets center fielder in the last update, but has received 11 percent more online votes in the past 72 hours than the other two challengers, Beltran and Victorino. Philly's Raul Ibanez -- who is eligible to come off the disabled list this weekend and is among the home run leaders -- was a clear No. 1 in the latest update, followed by Ryan Braun of the Brewers. That's the same Ryan Braun who voters pushed from No. 4 to No. 1 among NL outfielders in the final week last year -- a big example of how massive voting volume can create late change.

Will hometown All-Star Albert Pujols be the NL's top vote-getter for the third time in his career?
The most recent update had Pujols, the Cardinals first baseman, fewer than 100,000 votes ahead of last year's NL top vote-getter, second baseman Chase Utley of the Phillies. Over the past 72 hours, Pujols has extended the lead with 15 percent more online votes than Utley.

These questions will be answered at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, when both rosters are unveiled on the 2009 MLB All-Star Selection Show presented by Pepsi, televised nationally on TBS. MLB.com will provide comprehensive coverage of the All-Star teams, including high-quality video and details of every All-Star, immediately following the announcement.

MLB Network will air a special MLB Tonight All-Star Edition, simulcast on MLB.com, at 6 p.m. ET with expert analysis and a look at the players on the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote ballot.

The AL and NL teams each will have eight fan-elected starters. Twenty-four reserves for both squads will be determined through a combination of "Player Ballot" choices and selections made by the two All-Star managers -- Charlie Manuel of the world champion Phillies and Joe Maddon of the Rays -- in conjunction with MLB.

MLB announced on Wednesday that rosters are being expanded from 32 to 33 players, with the addition of a 13th pitcher, who will be determined by those managers.

Last year, fans cast a record of more than 41 million votes over the final 24 hours alone, so that gives you an indication of what kind of bar is set for today. Fans already had recorded 163 million votes online entering this final week of balloting, representing a 15-percent increase over the comparable 2008 record vote total. Given the numbers that have continued into this final day, don't be surprised to see another record-shattering finish.

"With fans casting votes on MLB.com at a record pace, we look forward to a historic and exciting conclusion to this year's All-Star balloting for the elected starters," said Dinn Mann, executive vice president, content, MLB.com. "These close races have been fascinating to watch each week and leave us eagerly anticipating the second leg of online balloting when the final roster spot for each All-Star team will be determined exclusively on MLB.com."

More than 20 million Walt Disney Pictures G-Force All-Star Game ballots also were distributed at the 30 Major League ballparks, which each had 25 home dates to collect ballots. In-stadium balloting closed last Friday, making it online-only the rest of the way. In addition, Banco BHD sponsored All-Star Game balloting in the Dominican Republic, making Spanish-language ballots available at its Dominican locations.

Immediately following the 2009 All-Star Game Selection Show, fans will have the opportunity to select the final player for each league's 32-man roster at MLB.com. The 2009 All-Star Game Sprint Final Vote will provide fans the opportunity to cast their votes from a list of five players from each League over a four-day period. That period is known for phenomenal voting turnout and creative grassroots campaigning on behalf of the 10 candidates. For the fifth year, fans will be able to vote for their Final Vote selections on their mobile phone, exclusive to Sprint subscribers. Both winners will be announced after the voting has concluded on Thursday, July 9.

Finally, fans once again will participate in the official voting for the All-Star Game's Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevy via the 2009 All-Star Game Sprint MVP Vote on MLB.com.

The NL will try yet again to win for the first time since 1996, having lost the last four years by merely a combined five runs. The AL has won the World Series home-field advantage every year since the adoption of a rule starting in 2003 that gave that edge to the winning league in the Midsummer Classic, but there is no evidence of an advantage so far, considering that the Phillies' series victory over Tampa Bay last year makes it a 3-3 tie between leagues.

The 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.