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Schmuck: Shouldn't be a surprise to see Orioles' Darren O'Day an All-Star

O'Day's inclusion in All-Star Game is both deserved and expected with growing importance of setup men.

For weeks, we've been hearing about all that is wrong with the All-Star selection process — and there was plenty to complain about — but the American League and National League teams that will meet next Tuesday to determine home-field advantage in the World Series fairly represent the best and brightest players in the game.

That's saying a lot after the early voting made it look like the midsummer classic was going to feature an AL lineup that included Mike Trout and eight Kansas City Royals, including one of the lightest-hitting players in the game.

There still will be six Royals on the team, but that's no great outrage since they represented the AL in last year's World Series and currently hold a solid lead in the AL Central. The Orioles also are well represented — joining the Detroit Tigers as the only other AL teams with as many as four representatives with one more player still to be voted in by fans.

There was a time when the Orioles were fortunate to send more than the mandatory one player to the All-Star Game, but times have certainly changed. The Orioles are now firmly established as a playoff contender in their fifth full season under manager Buck Showalter, and this year's All-Star selections are not only representative of their standing in the league but also the kind of team they have become.

The two Orioles position players are terrific two-way performers who are always in the Gold Glove conversation. Adam Jones isn't having the best year of his career at the plate, but he is recognized throughout the league as a strong leader both on the field and off. Manny Machado has come back strong from last year's terrible knee injury to put together half of a breakout offensive season while regularly making highlight-reel plays at third base.

The fact that the Orioles and Royals each will send two relief pitchers to Cincinnati next week is emblematic of the outsized role that their bullpens have played in the dramatic resurgence of both franchises.

Sure, there have been some pundits grumbling about the presence of setup man Darren O'Day on the AL team, but the best seventh-inning and eighth-inning relievers have been getting more All-Star love in recent years and it's about time.

AL manager Ned Yost obviously thought so, since he picked his two top setup men — Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis — over closer Greg Holland. He also couldn't ignore Yankees fill-in closer Dellin Betances, who was dominating when he was setting up Andrew Miller and has converted six of seven save opportunities since Miller came up sore.

There's no legitimate basis for criticizing the selection of O'Day, who probably deserved to make his first All-Star appearance well before this.

O'Day is 5-0 with a 1.10 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP, and that's not some half-season statistical aberration. He has been putting up great numbers throughout his Orioles career, starting with a 2012 season when he went 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 69 games. His combined ERA over 3 ½ seasons in an Orioles uniform is 1.91. His ERA dating to the start of last season is 1.51.

End of conversation.

Of course, most of the pitching awards and accolades go to the top starters and the top closers, but a lot of closers will tell you that they wouldn't be where they are if it weren't for the great setup relievers who hand all those slim leads over to them.

Orioles closer Zach Britton may be the point of the spear for the team's bullpen, and he also has been rewarded with his first All-Star selection, but he is part of a late-inning relief combination that is glued together by O'Day's ice-water-in-the-veins demeanor on the mound and leadership in the clubhouse.

O'Day said Monday that he was "shocked" when he was called into Showalter's office and told he would not be going home for the All-Star break, but he really shouldn't have been. The role of the bullpen has evolved dramatically over the past generation and the setup guys are finally getting their due at All-Star time.

So are the Orioles, who have had larger All-Star contingents than this one, but have now placed at least three players on the AL All-Star team in each of the past four seasons.

That's just a sign of the times.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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