So maybe the Home Run Derby has lost some of its luster. Maybe even the actual All Star Game has lost of its appeal. Possibly the entire thought of the All Star Weekend is not as exciting as it once was. But this does not take away from the great star power that this midsummer classic possesses.
The big stars will be out tonight as the National League tries to bring back some dignity to the once proud League. The last time the NL was victorious over the AL was in a 6 to 0 shutout at old Veteran’s Park in 1996. It has been 14 years since the AL has suffered the taste of defeat in this contest. Though most of the games have been close over the past 13 extravaganzas, close does not cut it in baseball. Also with the installation of home field advantage being determined by this game, there is even more meaning for the stars from the contending teams. Since 2003, the AL Pennant winner has had home field advantage in the Fall Classic every year. The AL has captured 4 of the 7 series since this rule was installed. Though no Fall Classics have gone the distance (7 games) since 2002.
About the same time that this amazing streak for the AL started, Interleague play also began (1997). Since the introduction of Interleague competition, the AL has won more games than the NL in 10 of the 14 years, including each of the past 7 years. In addition, they have won 1,808 total games versus the NL, who have won 1,652 games. So maybe the AL is just flat-out better?
So what about tonight’s game? I feel this is the year the National League finally brings back the All Star Game title to the NL. These guys are absolutely loaded. I feel they hold the advantage both on the mound and at the plate. If you have better pitching and hitting than your opponent, you generally have a good chance to win. The NL has starting pitchers such as Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Johnson, Roy Halladay, and Tim Lincecum. Talk about some amazing arms that have been dominant. Also the American League team generally holds the edge in homeruns. Not this year, with the National League starters having hit a combined 15 more long balls than the AL starters.
In addition, the NL has a better bench in my eyes. They have an MVP candidate, Joey Votto, available to pinch hit and play in the late innings. Not to mention Martin Prado, the League leader in hits is also available for usage. I mean it is hard to say definitively that one team has better hitting than the other team. Or one has better pitching than the other. Minus Interleague play, the NL guys compete against the NL guys and the AL guys compete strictly against the AL guys.
But in my opinion what this game comes down to is raw pride. The NL has been embarrassed for over a decade now. They are ready to silence the critics and show that they are on level footing with the big boys from the American League. For years, the American League has been thought of like the Western Conference in the NBA. Some of this is garnered, while a lot of it stems from reputation and style of play. Realize perception is a reality and people see the big bats of the AL and assume they are the better league.
Well wake up people and notice that the AL has something called the designated hitter. Therefore you get to put in someone who is sometimes your best hitter in the spot of generally your worst hitter (pitcher). So lineups will almost always look tougher in the AL due to this simple fact. The NL is more of a chess match and a game of small ball. Though ironically the NL starters have hit more homeruns than the AL starters this year which is unusual.
Also going along with this though, the NL pitchers may look better than the AL ones because when playing against each other, they play against teams that have a pitcher taking up that 9th spot in the lineup. So the numbers can come out distorted. Also the AL has arguably the two richest and most storied franchises in baseball. They have the Yankees and Red Sox. There is more national interest in these two squads than any other team and people tend to gravitate to watch them and put them on a pedestal. And why not? They have each been perennial winners for some time now.
So, even though I feel the AL is once again stronger as an overall League than the NL, I got the NL tonight. I feel that these games are generally determined by the bench in that managers try to rotate most, if not all of the players into the game at some point. The NL has the strongest bench and should finally get that chip of their shoulder.
It will be a sweet victory for an NL team, where none of the players other than Chipper Jones have ever experienced defeating the AL.
Stay tuned for the next edition of Sportskraze.