With Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright named as the starting pitchers for the 2014 MLB All-Star Game, both right-handers' continued dominance of opposing batters should come as little surprise to baseball fans.
After all, Hernandez and Wainwright have been among the best at their profession for the better part of a decade, a theme that has carried through into the first half of 2014.
Hernandez's reputation is well-established; the Venezuelan native has been hyped since receiving the nickname "King Felix" at the age of 19, a moniker he has more than lived up to during his 10 years in the bigs.
Such consistent success won't make his start for the AL on Tuesday night any less special.
"It's an honor," Hernandez told MLB.com Monday afternoon. "To be the first Venezuelan guy is something special."
Beyond being the first Venezuelan native to start the All-Star Game, Hernandez will also pitch to countrymen Salvador Perez, who will be starting at catcher, making it an all-Venezuelan battery in the AL's starting lineup.
Wainwright is perhaps less renowned, but that hasn't prevented him from being one of the most consistent and underrated starters in baseball over the past few seasons. Although he has never won a Cy Young Award, Wainwright has finished in the top three in voting for the award among NL hurlers for three straight seasons.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny's decision to select Wainwright over Clayton Kershaw caused a slight stir of controversy Monday, but that shouldn't diminish how spectacular Wainwright has been this season. The 32-year-old's 1.83 ERA leads all qualified starters, with the St. Louis righty striking out 115 batters and walking only 27 through 138 innings pitched.
"Aside from having the ability to win two World Series with the Cardinals," Wainwright told MLB.com, "this has to be one of the highlights of my baseball career to this point."
Beyond their stellar seasons, both Hernandez and Wainwright stand out for their ability to continue improving as they reach their second decades in the majors.
Hernandez has been far and away the best pitcher in the AL this year, but the 28-year-old is also having the best season of his career, which includes a Cy Young Award in 2010 and five All-Star appearances. He has cut his walk rate to a career-low 4.5 percent (the fourth straight season his walks have diminished), and his 27.7 percent strikeout rate would be a career high.
While he calls the pitcher-friendly Safeco Field home, Hernandez's ability to consistently generate weak contact (he has allowed just five home runs in 144⅓ innings) sets him apart. The right-hander has not just increased his strikeouts, cut down his walks, and kept the ball in the ballpark; he has also raised his ground-ball rate for the third-straight year.
For Hernandez to make such adjustments and improvements in his 10th big league season is nothing short of remarkable.
Wainwright, too, has shown little signs of slowing down despite being set to turn 33 in August. He leads all of baseball in ERA, is ranked second in FIP, and has allowed just four home runs in 19 starts, one less than Hernandez. Assuming his ERA remains below 3.00 for the rest of the season, 2014 would mark the fourth time in the past five years that Wainwright has posted a sub-3.00 ERA.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, for Wainwright and Hernandez to be taking the mound to begin this season's Midsummer Classic. Both pitchers have built their careers by excelling at getting hitters out inning to inning, year after year.
As Hernandez said on Monday, "I've just got to go out there and do what I do, throw up zeros to help my team win."