This week features Major League Baseball’s All Star Game. For the neophyte reader, it’s a select-side contest pitting the American League against the National League. For years, it was an exhibition, but since 2003 the league that has won this event gets home-field advantage for the World Series. This year’s affair will take place on Tuesday July 14th in Cincinnati. It’ll mark the fifth time the city has hosted the “midsummer classic”, but the first since the Reds moved to Great American Ball Park in 2003. Here’s what to look for at the event:
Scoring trends. If you’re contemplating a punt on total scoring, here’s the breakdown for aggregate All Star Game run production since the contest started “counting” toward the World Series in 2003: Less than four runs: 1; four to six runs: 2; six to eight runs: 5; more than eight runs: 4. While the overall numbers skew toward higher scores, the recent trend has been toward lower totals. In the past five All Star Games, none has seen a total output above eight and three of the games have been six or lower. So which way will this game go? Despite a recent history that favours pitchers, look for a healthy number of runs to be scored. I’m basing this on the fact that Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park is an offensive haven. This year, the stadium ranks fourth out of all thirty big league venues in run scoring and third in home run output, according to ESPN.com’s MLB Park Factors. With so many top-notch home run hitters in this contest, the scoreboard operator should remain busy.
Think American League. Kansas City Royals’ manager Ned Yost believes his team will return to the World Series in 2015. As the AL manager in this game, he’s said that he will do everything he can to make sure his circuit prevails in order to give his Royals the home-field advantage come October. He’s already proved that commitment by his roster composition – a decision that could tip the scales in the American League’s direction. With his manager’s picks, he went heavy with relief pitchers (beyond those picked by the public and others selected by a player ballot, the skipper gets to fill out his roster with seven members). The six relievers Yost picked are not only lights out but also signal he might bypass the game’s tradition of giving starters mid-game run-outs. Simply put, rather than utilizing too many starting pitchers in ways they don’t normally appear, having relievers pitch in the manner they’re accustomed to would very much aid in the AL’s quest. When you’re looking at two clubs jam-packed with superstars and little separation, such a change in strategy may be a difference maker.
Who scores first? So much of who scores first in this contest has to do with the choice in starting pitching. At the time this column was written, the starters had not been named. We do know that Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer will not be pitching as he threw on Sunday. As a result, the most likely NL options are either the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gerrit Cole or the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Zack Greinke. Cole’s ERA in the first three innings during 2015 are 3.50 (in the first), 2.00 (in the second) and 2.50 (in the third). The 3.50 ERA in the first is the pitcher’s second-worst for any inning pitched by Cole. As for Greinke, his ERA numbers are 2.50 (first inning), 0.00 (second) and 1.50 (third). As for the American League candidates, the probable pick will be either the Chicago White Sox’s Chris Sale or the Houston Astros’ Dallas Keuchel. Sale’s early game ERAs are 3.18 (first), 1.06 (second) and 6.88 (third); Keuchel comes in with 1.89 (first), 3.32 (second) and 1.42 (third). The upshot: Cole or Sale would be the more likely ones to falter early and cough up runs if they start, while Greinke or Keuchel have a better track record of sturdy early performances. Check these stats and act accordingly on game day!