For National League fans, Wednesday’s All-Star Game – baseball’s mid-season showcase – should be an enjoyable ride. Though these contests are often hard to call, the National League is the right team to pick for a number of reasons.
First, the American League may not get the best out of its starter, the Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander. The reigning AL most valuable player and Cy Young award winner will be making his first All-Star start. While Verlander is a dominator, he tends to get better as the game develops. In fact, over his career, the first inning has historically been his worst. In his career, he’s given up more home runs in the first than any other frame and allowed up the second-most amount of runs in the opening inning.
This gives NL hitters a good shot at getting to Verlander during his most vulnerable spot. (The NL won’t see Verlander pick up too much steam as a starting pitcher hasn’t thrown more than two innings in an All-Star Game since 1994.)
Second, the NL’s pitching is well-placed for success. San Francisco Giants’ starter Matt Cain who is also making his first All-Star start, should be pitching in a comfort zone. The reason: he’ll be throwing to his regular catcher, fellow Giant Buster Posey. This should get the NL off to a good start. Overall, there’s a lot to like about the pitching staff for the National League. From the blistering fastball offered by Stephen Strasburg to the change-of-pace knuckleball the New York Mets’ RA Dickey can deliver.
Third, unlike AL manager Ron Washington who is in the heat of the season and hasn’t been able to focus on this game until just before the contest, the NL manager Tony LaRussa will be managing his first game of the season. (LaRussa retired at the end of 2011 after leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series championship; Major League Baseball has allowed him to manage based on the tradition of the league-champion skipper taking the manager role in the following All-Star Game.)
By all accounts, LaRussa, who is typically a hands-on manager, is taking this game very seriously. It’s not that Washington won’t as well, but expect LaRussa to push a little harder to win.
Finally, the All-Star Game is typically won in bunches. Consider these streaks: the NL has won eight-straight (1963-73) and 11 straight (1972-82) and the AL has won six straight (1988-1993) and 11 straight with one tie (1997-2009).
In fact, the last time a league didn’t win at least three-in-a-row was in the mid-1980s. The National League has won the last two so will need to prevail in this one to keep this streak alive. I look for them to do it so take the NL at a tasty 2.05 and pass on the AL at 1.77.