All-Star Ballot end sets up tonight's intrigue

Rosters announced at 7 p.m. ET today on ESPN; Final Vote next

All-Star Ballot end sets up tonight's intrigue

The people have spoken and the countdown is on.

After 68 consecutive days of relentless fan voting to determine starting position players for the 87th All-Star Game on July 12 at Petco Park in San Diego, the largest All-Star balloting program in sports closed at 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Starting position players will be unveiled in the Esurance All-Star Selection Show at 7 p.m. ET today on ESPN, prior to the Pirates-Cardinals broadcast.

There are plenty of questions to be answered as we wait for the results of millions of Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballots cast.

Justice: Down to the wire, some races too close to call

Will Buster Posey of the Giants hold off Yadier Molina of the Cardinals at National League catcher? Or did Washington's Wilson Ramos keep charging right to the top?

In the two days between the final two voting updates, Posey overtook Molina atop the standings by 107,000 votes, receiving 51.5 percent more votes during that time. Those two have combined to win each of the last four and six of the last seven fan elections as the NL's starting catcher at the Midsummer Classic.

Ramos, meanwhile, became a big factor in the final two weeks and was within striking distance in the final days. He entered the final day of balloting third on the Nationals with 43 RBIs, and was tearing it up in June with a .360 average, six homers and 18 RBIs.

Will the entire Cubs infield start at Petco Park -- or could first baseman Anthony Rizzo go it alone?

"It's overwhelming to see the fan support, just because I'm so focused on playing," Rizzo, the NL's top vote-getter in each of the voting updates, said at Citi Field on Thursday during the final day of balloting. "It's 100 percent generated by fans, and it's really cool to see them supporting me, and voting for me the way they've voted so far."

His teammates' bids were less certain. In the final Ballot update on Wednesday, three of them saw their leads shrink. Ben Zobrist's lead over Washington's Daniel Murphy at second base was down to 185,000 with 30 hours left to vote. On the left side of the infield, third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell were each fighting off a rallying Rockie -- Nolan Arenado for the former and Trevor Story for the latter. Both leads were about 290,000 votes.

Story is not the only NL West rookie shortstop who was making noise behind Russell. Corey Seager of the Dodgers was pouring it on in the last week, and in the voting update announced on June 27, he was significantly outgaining both Russell and Story. Entering Thursday, Seager's WAR was 3.5 compared to Story's 1.7, and those two were both at .886 in OPS. San Francisco's Brandon Crawford, an All-Star reserve last year who drove in Ryan Braun in the bottom of the ninth, was only 80,000 behind Seager in the June 27 update and might have made some late noise as well.

Will Lorenzo Cain of the Royals, Mark Trumbo of the Orioles or Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays crack the AL starting outfield?

It was still a trio, in order, of Mike Trout of the Angels and Red Sox outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts as of late Wednesday. Did Cain make up that roughly 50,000-vote deficit behind Betts despite being on the 15-day disabled list?

Did Royals catcher Salvador Perez hold off David Ortiz of the Red Sox in the race for top overall vote-getter?

Two of the last three World Series MVPs were consistently ranked first and second for most overall votes. For Big Papi, it seems certainly to be his 10th All-Star selection during this final season, and it remains to be seen whether he can do what he did back in 2005 and take the most votes.

"Going to the All-Star Game means a lot to us," Ortiz said. "When the fans pick you, it's because they want to see you play."

Trout was leading comfortably in the AL outfield, and that would mean he will be in position to at least make a run at an unprecedented third straight All-Star MVP honor.

"I take pride in my game and to be an All-Star is a humbling feeling," Trout said at last year's game. "It's an honor and it's fun. It's for the fans. . . . I go out there to play my hardest and try to put on a show. It goes by so quick. Just enjoy every minute of it, no pressure, go out there playing my game and try to help the team win."

All-Star balloting is a process that almost always results in at least one surprising late-surge selection. In the first year that online balloting was combined with paper balloting, Cal Ripken Jr. moved into starting position in the final week of voting -- and then won All-Star MVP in his swan song at Seattle. Last year was the first year that paper balloting was eliminated, and late surges into the starting lineup were made by Miguel Cabrera, Josh Donaldson and Nelson Cruz.

Posey would join them if he holds off Molina. Others still could happen.

The AL team will have nine elected starters via the Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot, while the NL roster will have eight fan-elected starters. Pitchers and reserves for both squads -- totaling 25 for the NL and 24 for the AL -- will be determined through a combination of "Player Ballot" choices and selections made by the two All-Star managers, Ned Yost from the Royals and Terry Collins from the Mets.

The one-hour Esurance All-Star Selection Show will unveil 33 players for each roster, and then it will end by announcing the five nominees for each league in the 2016 Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote to decide the 34th man for each side. Now in its 15th season with nearly 600 million votes cast, the Final Vote will take place exclusively at MLB.com, club sites and mobile devices and will conclude at 4 p.m. ET on Friday.

Last year's Final Vote winners were Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez and Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas.

In finalizing the rosters, managers will also have plans in place to replace any starting pitchers who elect not to participate in the All-Star Game after pitching on Sunday. Any pitcher replaced on the active All-Star roster will be recognized as an All-Star and invited to San Diego with full All-Star honors.

On Tuesday, July 12, watch the 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard live on FOX, as well as MLB.TV Premium (for authenticated subscribers), and during the game, visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2016 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote.

The 87th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.