The Tenth Inning Week 16 All-Star Game Preview and Prediction

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The Tenth Inning Week 16 – All-Star Game Preview and Prediction ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>


By Mike Ivcic

I am about to embark, in this very space, on an unprecedented column topic for any of the five sports about which I write for this website. Never before have I attempted this feat, and doing so may wind up costing me my journalistic integrity. Even so, I believe this is the perfect opportunity to take this leap into the great, vast unknown, and so it is with a mix of both great anxiety and great excitement that I bring you…


A preview of an exhibition game.

That’s right, folks – what you are about to read is a detailed, in-depth breakdown of a game that does not count in the standings of any major professional sport. While it is true that more than a decade ago the commissioner that has a achieved the most by doing the least made the disturbing and stupefying decision to attach home field advantage in the World Series to this otherwise meaningless showcase designed solely for fan entertainment, there is, ultimately, no actual measurable statistical recognition for the Major League Baseball All-Star game. Somewhere in the baseball almanac, a record of the winner and loser will be entered, strictly for posterity’s sake, so that years from now avid baseball enthusiasts will be able to Google the results of the 2013 midsummer classic for the sake or a good argument, debate, or quiz. But no player’s career will be positively or negatively affected by this game, and only a World Series that goes to a seventh game will even carry the weight of this result beyond tomorrow night.

And yet, with all of that said, away we go with a preview of the 2013 MLB All-Star game at Citi Field in New York, scheduled for Tuesday night at 8 p.m. on Fox.

While the disparity between the leagues with regards to scoring runs has begun to shrink slightly, even as some of the NL’s better offensive players (Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols being the two biggest) have migrated to the junior circuit, the AL still wins the battle of the lineups by a slight margin. A quick head-to-head comparison should serve to prove this point well:

Catcher –The NL starts off well because Yadier Molina is playing out of his skull, but Joe Mauer has won a batting title and is widely considered to have one of the best pure swings in the game, so it’s a closer race than it appears. Advantage: NL
First Base – I love Joey Votto, and he’s really the only reason the NL hasn’t had a black hole at this position All-Star wise with the departures of Fielder and Pujols. But his competition is Chris Davis. Case closed. Advantage: AL
Second Base – Robinson Cano could very well become another $25 million/year player this offseason, Boras or no Boras. He’s that much better than every other second baseman in the game, including Brandon Phillips. Advantage: AL
Third Base – I am a Mets fan, and I love David Wright. But just like first base, Wright just can’t match Miguel Cabrera. It’s just not even worth the comparison. Advantage: AL
Shortstop – The NL snags this one again, for despite some good offensive numbers from J.J. Hardy, he can’t match the overall game of Troy Tulowitzki. Advantage: NL
Left Field – If we’re looking to start a franchise, this one is AL all the way. But we’re not, and Carlos Gonzalez is having a better season this year than Mike Trout. Advantage: NL
Center Field – Let’s just repeat the above sentence in the inverse. Yes, Bryce Harper will probably ultimately be a better player than Adam Jones, but based just on this season, Jones gets the nod thanks to Harper’s injury. Advantage: AL
Right Field – A contest between two power-hitting outfielders that are both just average fielders. I’d love to call this a tie, but that’s the easy way out, so I’ll take Jose Bautista over Carlos Beltran by a very fine smidge. Advantage: AL
Designated Hitter – The NL should have the advantage here, because they can pick whomever they want while the AL has their selection voted on by the fans. And even though it’s tough to argue against the season from David Ortiz, I’ll do just that – Michael Cuddyer is just having a bit of a better season. Advantage: NL
Bench – Despite everyone’s focus on the starters for this game, if the contest is close it will ultimately be decided by each team’s respective bench players. The American League definitely has some pop on the bench with Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, and Prince Fielder, as well as hard-nosed guys like Dustin Pedroia, Torii Hunter, and Ben Zobrist who will leave everything on the field in order to win, even though it’s only an exhibition game. Meanwhile the NL reserves feature even more of the “blue collar” players like Carlos Gomez, Buster Posey, Allen Craig, Marco Scutaro, Paul Goldschmidt, and Andrew McCutcheon – guys that may not have the “star” quality of the AL bench but who may actually be better suited to win a game in the late innings against some of the game’s top relievers. Add in the threat of Pedro Alvarez and Domonic Brown as left handed pinch hitters with some serious pop, and I actually think I like the NL bench better than the AL counterparts. Advantage: NL

But, as the old saying goes, it’s all about pitching, so let’s take a look at the stable of arms assembled for each squad:

Starting Pitcher – It’s almost unfair that, once again, a player from my favorite team is going up against a Tiger having not just a career year, but a borderline historic one. Matt Harvey has been sensational, and I’m glad he’s starting in front of the hometown fans, but Max Scherzer just suffered his first loss of the season two days ago. Sadly, this is another runaway. Advantage: AL
Other “Starters” – The rest of the early and middle innings are generally reserved for other starting pitchers, of which the NL is, quite frankly, a little light, especially with regards to right-handers. Yes, lefties Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee, and now Madison Bumgarner are all proven aces, while Travis Wood is having an excellent year for Chicago. But the NL really only features Adam Wainwright and 20-year-old Jose Fernandez (who will soon be the Marlins ace, if he isn’t already) from the right side. The AL, however, is almost the exact opposite, with Chris Sale are the only real left-handed starter on the roster. Sure, they can roll out pitchers with ridiculous stuff every inning from the right side, even without the use of Justin Verlander. Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish, Bartolo Colon, Justin Masterson, and Clay Buchholz are all capable of making the best hitters in the game look foolish, but here again, I think I like the NL staff just a bit more. Advantage: NL
Bullpen – And then there’s this category, which may be the most lopsided of all categories. Yes, Mariano Rivera will be the last man out of the AL pen, so if manager Jim Leyland’s club as a lead after the top of the ninth, just call it a game and go home. But… let’s say this does turn into a battle of each league’s relievers. Then, my friends, it could be darn near impossible for the AL to even get someone to second base. I present to you the NL relief corps – Jason Grilli, Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Mark Melancon, and Sergio Romo. Good night, baseball. These guys all throw so hard and have such filthy breaking stuff (part of the reason they all have such filthy stats) that they could basically tell the AL hitters, “Here’s what I’m throwing where,” and it would still be an out nine times out of ten. Yes, Jesse Crain has had an outstanding year, and guys like Joe Nathan and Glen Perkins aren’t exactly easy pickings for the NL hitters, but the comparison is really of apples to oranges in this category, and the NL knows it. Advantage: NL

Then there’s this always interesting, yet rarely talked about, subplot for every All-Star game. Managers have less leeway in picking their teams than they used to, so the practice of rewarding a manager’s own players with All-Star spots has been slightly diminished, but there are a couple of interesting decisions each manager will have to make, mostly with regards to the New York players. NL manager Bruce Bochy will have to decide how long to leave Wright in the game, considering he’s really the only player Mets fans will have after Harvey departs. He’s elected to DH Cuddyer, leaving only Alvarez as a backup third baseman, so there’s a chance Wright could be the last position player removed. Leyland, meanwhile, will have a similar yet less imperative decision to make with Cano, but he’ll be more concerned with the guy at the back-end of the bullpen. Since the AL is the away team, they’ll have to have a lead after the top of the ninth to ensure that Rivera gets a save situation. If the game is tied after the top of the ninth or the NL is ahead going into the bottom of the eighth, it’s almost assured that Leyland will have to use Mo to pitch that half-inning, or risk leaving the greatest closer of all time in his final All-Star game sitting on a bullpen bench – in his hometown city. All things considered, that’s definitely a plus for the NL side, who will face significantly less-dominating relievers should the game get prolonged beyond the standard nine innings. Still, there’s no manager in the entire American League better equipped to handle the pressures of handling a bullpen full of All-Stars in an NL park than Leyland, so I like the AL here. Advantage: AL

Add it all up, and it’s a 7-7 tie in my 14 categories. Avid readers of this column know I don’t stand for ties, and neither does the game of baseball, so I’ll break it with my pick:

National League 5, American League 4

Enjoy the greatest exhibition game on the planet!

Playoff “Dead” List
July 15 – Minnesota Twins – It’s now official – two teams have been eliminated from “my” postseason contention in four of the six divisions. The second casualty of the AL Central is Minnesota, a team that’s actually outperformed my preseason expectations thanks to what has been to this point a full season from both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. But the offense as a whole is still average, and the young pitching staff hasn’t even been able to match their run support, so it might not be long before the Twins have to bite the proverbial bullet, unload their stars, and begin their rebuilding that brought them so many young player – and the subsequent success – in the early 2000’s.
July 8 – Chicago White Sox
July 1 – Milwaukee Brewers
June 24 – Seattle Mariners
June 17 – Chicago Cubs
June 10 – New York Mets
June 3 – Houston Astros
May 27 – Miami Marlins

If the playoffs started today…
American League
1) Boston Red Sox
2) Oakland Athletics
3) Detroit Tigers
4) Tampa Bay Rays
5) Texas Rangers

National League
1) St. Louis Cardinals
2) Atlanta Braves
3) Arizona Diamondbacks
4) Pittsburgh Pirates
5) Cincinnati Reds

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