Tuesday, July 16, 2013

2013 All-Star Game Preview

Quote of the Day
"What a great competitor he is....I can't wait until I'm 23."
-- Bryce Harper on Yoenis Cespedes performance in the Home Run Derby.  

Cespedes beat Harper 9-8 in the Final Round of last night's Home Run Derby.  

It's officially All-Star Day in New York and throughout the country as baseball celebrates its unofficial midpoint by playing still-the-best All-Star game in sports.  Last night, we celebrated the home run by watching Cespedes, added only when Miguel Cabrera and Jose Bautista skip the event put on a Broadway-worthy performance, wowing the Queens audience.  

Tonight, we will see a collection of baseball's greatest hit the stage when Max Scherzer throws the first pitch to Brandon Phillips and whether you like it or not, home field advantage for the Fall Classic will be determined by the end of the evening.

Here's our complete preview for the 2013 MLB All-Star game

MLB All-Star Game Preview

American League (38-43-2) vs. National League (43-38-2)

8:00 p.m EDT
Place: Citi Field, Queens, New York City
Media: FOX
Pitching Matchup:
Max Scherzer (13-1, 3.19 ERA) vs. Matt Harvey (7-2, 2.35 ERA)


American League                     National League
Mike Trout, CF                           Brandon Phillips, 2B
Robinson Cano, 2B                   Carlos Beltran, RF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B                   Joey Votto, 1B
Chris Davis, 1B                          David Wright, 3B
Jose Bautista, RF                      Carlos Gonzalez, LF
David Ortiz, DH                          Yadier Molina, C
Adam Jones, CF                        Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Joe Mauer, C                              Michael Cuddyer, DH
J.J. Hardy, SS                             Bryce Harper, CF

American League Pitching

Max Scherzer takes the ball for the AL tonight and while myself and Tigers' fans know how good Mad Max has been this year, the rest of baseball is now witnessing him take the next step up from quality starter to legitimate ace.  He's doing it by limiting lefties to only a .216/.292/.357 clip this year as opposed to .292/.366/.465 in 2012.  He'll have to continue that success tonight with three lefties in the first five batters in the NL lineup.  

After Scherzer's inning or two, Jim Leyland will have options.  While the AL pitching may not be as deep as the NL's, they have plenty of talent and guys accustomed to setup and closing roles in late innings.  I'd expect Felix Hernandez, Matt Moore or Chris Sale to pick up the middle innings against a lefty heavy National League lineup 

If the American League can survive the first five or so innings, Leyland has a surplus of veteran bullpen arms at his disposal (Nathan, Perkins, Holland, Balfour, Delabar to name a few) to come in to try and shut the door (assuming the AL has a lead).  Expect Leyland to use them frequently and situationally as the National League starts to bring in reserves.  If a closing situation is needed, the greatest closer in the history of baseball will be ready in Mariano Rivera.  

Key Matchup: AL reliever guys vs. National League bench.

There's going to be tons of speedy, scrappy guys at Bruce Bochy's disposal in the later innings ready to play some f-----g National League ball (a.ka. Minnesota Twins ball).  If the relievers in the AL bullpen get handed a late lead, they need to do the little things that starters normally do: things like holding runners, getting easy outs with runners on base, and for the love of god, please no lead-off walks.  

National League Pitching

Matt Harvey is so popular in New York right now, he had to recruit Jimmy Fallon for this....

But all kidding aside, Harvey's been one of the best this season, taking New York by storm.  He could probably have started 13-0 like Scherzer but with the Mets being....well, the Mets, run support is hard to come by at CitiField these day.  Tonight will easily be the most talented lineup Harvey will have behind him all year.  You don't pitch in New York if you duck from the spotlight and Harvey is no different; he seems to get jacked up for big starts and tonight is big. In New York, at home, expect Harvey to shine.  

Harvey's success start with his heater, which he throws over 50% of the time to a tune of 2.13 runs above average.  He tosses his fastball in fast.  Averaging 96.5 miles per hour, Harvey will mix in good sliders and curveballs to throw off hitters and an occassional changeup.  He reminds me of a young Justin Verlander the way he isn't shy to light up the radar gun but he pitches more like another guy in the NL East that rhymes with "ZtEven Ztrasberg" in his approach to hitters.  He's facing an AL lineup full of thumpers that eat fastballs for lunch so how well Harvey does in the first inning will likely dictate the rest of the night.  

After Harvey is done, my hope is that Bruce Bochy takes out his dislike of anything Dodger and doesn't pitch Clayton Kershaw.  That's not very likely, however.  Kershaw is probably the next guy to come in and he's been simply, the best pitcher in baseball this season. Pitching matchups later could be fun with a bunch of lefty starters and a bunch of righty relievers.  If he wants to mix and match, we could see a few starter-reliever-starter-reliever pairings.  

If guys like Cliff Lee, Travis Wood, Patrick Corbin and Madison Bumgarner put on their "relievers costume" for a batter or two, the back end of the National League bullpen is as dominant as any with Jason Grilli, Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel and Sergio Romo in the waiting.  If Bochy wants to play matchups, he can but you can bet Leyland will use his power bats as pinch hitters so the National League may be best served leaving relievers in standard, one-inning roles.  

Key Matchup: Bruce Bochy vs. himself 

The Giant's skipper will have to be a hands on manger of his bullpen.  The American League is capable of putting up big innings at any moment and how he chooses to play his late-inning matchups if the game is close will dictate who his AL counterpart will play his own matchups.  It's a good thing he's got stud relievers to make his decision making easier.    

American League Lineups

Jim Leyland has already said his starters will go at least five innings and he probably said that while chain smoking a carton of Marlboro Reds while nightmares of Pablo Sandoval during last year's World Series danced in his head.  He's got some big hitters he can use.  Expect some fireworks.  

Mike Trout and Robinson Cano will get the table started.  If you've followed the Detroit Tigers the past few seasons, you'll know that Leyland love to go righty-lefty-righty-lefty and so on....this lineup is vintage Leyland.  The best two power hitters in baseball follow in Cabrera and Davis.  Mashers Jose Bautista and David Ortiz continue the lefty/righty order while Adam Jones, Joe Mauer and J.J. Hardy add some contact and occasional pop to the bottom of the order.  Pretty formidable on paper, eh?

In the field, Jones and Trout will cover more than enough ground to make up for Joey Bats mediocre glove.  Ditto for Hardy and Phillips in the infield.  Mauer will start behind the plate with Salvador Perez and Jason Castro waiting to take over. 

Off the American League bench, Leyland has a diverse blend of big bats, speed and defense.  Guys like Nelson Cruz, Prince Fielder, Jason Kipnis and Edwin Encarnacion can provide pop from both sides of the plate should a big pinch hitting spot arise.  Manny Machado, Torii Hunter, Alex Gordon and Dustin Pedroia can help with both their gloves and bats in the later innings and Leyland can plug in Ben Zobrist anywhere.  If it becomes a offensive fireworks show, the American League should have an advantage.  

Key Matchup: American League hitters vs. Citi Field fences 

If there is a weakness to this AL lineup, it's lack of speed on the basepaths.  If the National League pitching staff can stay away from the long ball and keep them in the park, they've got a chance to make it, well, a National League game.  This won't be a lineup built to manufacture runs but if it becomes a offensive game, the American League will be favored with their power hitters and can go deep anytime.  If the ball is traveling well tonight in Queens, the AL will win.

National League Lineups

I actually like this lineup a lot.  Brandon Phillips, Carlos Beltran and Joey Votto will lead it off.  I could go on for hours about how Votto should actually bat second but I'll refrain.  Captain Wright, CarGo, and Yadier Molina will follow.  This weirdly Rockies-heavy lineup will end with Cuddyer, TuLo and 20-year-old Bryce Harper will finish it.  

They won't be able to mash with the best of the American League, but there's a good blend of speed and power here and they have the advantage with their gloves in the field.  If they can keep the American League in check and manufacture a run or two here to keep it close, it could turn into the battle of the bullpens.

Off the bench, the key word is "scrappy."  Guys like Matt Carpenter, Marco Scutaro Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez, Everth Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen can give the AL relievers fits with their scrappy at-bats and speed.  And also, there won't be a drop-off in the field with their gloves.  

If there was a time to ever play a "National League" style of baseball, it will be with this scrappy group in the later innings.  Big bats Paul Goldschmidt and Dominic Brown will be waiting and if Bochy is smart, he'll pinch-hit Allen Craig with runners in scoring position where he's hitting a ridiculous .489.   

Key Matchup: National League baseball vs. strikeouts and getting on base.

The big bats are in the American League but if the National League can keep it close for the first four innings, they get advantages on their bench.  If it becomes a pitchers duel early on, there's a good chances that the speed and gloves of the National League reserves can win this thing with their grit.  If they can put the ball in play and get on base, the AL relievers and Jim Leyland's lungs will have a long night.  


I can see this game either going one of two ways:  Either the AL outslugs the NL in a rout....or the NL keeps it close and wins it in the late innings.  I'm leaning toward the latter.  The National League pitching is deeper than the American league but it's stocked with lefties and the American League has guys that mash southpaws.  

If Harvey can give the NL two quality innings and keep it in the park (neither a sure thing with his blister problem), it will look good for them.  If the AL jumps on Harvey/Kershaw/Corbin/Lee/whoever's fastball early, it will be an AL rout.  Either way, it will be managed very closely by both skippers.  Both Leyland and Bochy know the importance of this game and both have eyes on another deep October run.  I would not be surprised if a managerial move late in the game makes the difference.  

At the end of the day, I think the National League can hang in there long enough to give the American League relievers fits with their speed on the basepaths and gloves in the field securing home field for the NL for the fourth year in a row.  

Predictions We Can Laugh At Tomorrow
  • Harvey and Scherzer combine for five K's
  • American League hits 4 home runs (3 solo)
  • One of them will be by Cabrera or Davis
  • Mo Rivera will pitch and get a standing ovation
  • Jason Castro will not play
  • National League with at least two stolen bases
  •  David Wright gets a hit and fans will go crazy
  • AL jumps to early lead
  • Their bullpen also blows it
  • NL bullpen will be lights out
  • National League wins 9-7

Have a blast New York!  Happy All-Star Day!

More bits of baseball news and reading from All-Star week at CitiField.   It's All-Star week!  

Ticket Prices for MLB's All-Star Game Are High, But Can't Compete With NBA Edition
Jesse Lawrence, Forbes

Breaking Down What's Wrong With the MLB All-Star Game
Andrew Luistro, Yahoo Sports

Justin Verlander does belong on the roster
Patrick O'Kennedy, Bless You Boys

Kipnis, Masterson soaking up first All-Star Game  
Mark Bowman, MLB.com

Harper Steps Up to the Plate for the Home Run Derby
Adam Kilgore, Washington Post

Searching for the next great All-Star game moment
Mike Bates, SBNation.com

Matt Harvey a huge source of Connecticut pride
David Borges, New Haven Register 

FoxSports still considers the MLB All-Star game a 'jewel'
Keith Groller, The Morning Star

The Return of the ASG to Queens
Lloyd Carroll, Queens Chronicle 

Point/Counterpoint: Should the All-Star Game actually mean something
Cody Goodwin & Jacob Sheyko, The Daily Iowan