Despite extremely poor showings from the San Francisco Giants in Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh this past week, the votes have been counted and four members of the team are now headed to Kansas City. Outfielder Melky Cabrera, catcher Buster Posey, third baseman Pablo Sandoval and pitcher Matt Cain will represent the City by the Bay in the 83rd meeting of baseball's best.
Whether you support or detest the All-Star game's role in determining home field advantage in the World Series, Giants fans will certainly understand the importance 2010's game had on their World Series championship. Now sitting a half-game back of Los Angeles in the NL West, a win for the National League would be excellent insurance if San Francisco finds itself in the playoffs.
Let's look at the role each player will need to fill if they want a victory on Tuesday night.
Cain enters the All-Star game as a serious candidate for the Cy Young Award. In 17 starts this season, he's gone 9-3 with a 2.62 ERA and 118 strikeouts. He's also pitched two complete game shutouts, including the first perfect game in Giants franchise history. In a rotation full of talent, Cain has emerged as the club's ace.
The main challenge for Cain will be proving he's worthy of starting in Kansas City. His chief competition for the honor were New York Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg. Dickey has 12 wins on the year, tied with Gio Gonzalez for the most in the majors. He also has 123 strikeouts, second only to the 128 shared by Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and the kid, Stephen Strasburg.
Cain's accomplishments this season make him a solid pick to lead things off for the NL, but in all honesty, I didn't think he could draw the same viewer interest as Dickey or Strasburg. In Dickey, we get to see a knuckleballer, a pitching style few can master as Dickey has this season. With Strasburg, you get an up-and-coming guy, a dynamic strikeout pitcher with lots of media attention. I am majorly surprised Cain was given the nod over these two guys.
Now all that's left is to deliver two scoreless innings against the likes of Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Jose Bautista. If Cain can turn the game over to Dickey or Strasburg with minimal damage, it will further cement his claim as one of the best pitchers in baseball.
It's possible that no one was more disappointed to see Yadier Molina withdraw from the All-Star game than Buster Posey. For Posey, no Molina means more time behind the dish. The last week plus has been rough on Posey, playing in the extreme heat of the East Coast while also enduring a rather quiet stretch at the plate.
Now he'll forgo the "break" portion of his All-Star reprieve to work as the National League's starting catcher. With only Carlos Ruiz behind him in position (and a Sandoval/Harper emergency contingent behind Ruiz), Posey can expect to catch at least four innings of Tuesday's game.
The chance to catch Matt Cain for the first two innings of the game should come as a major reprieve for Posey. If R.A. Dickey had gotten the nod over Cain, Posey would be looking at six plus outs of handling a knuckleballer, a taxing ordeal for any catcher. Instead, Posey is most likely to see Cain in the first and second, and perhaps an inning a piece of Dickey and Strasburg.
What may pose the most interesting aspect of his All-Star appearance will be Posey's ability to catch runners stealing. Few of the American League's starters are major base thieves, but as bench players begin to take the field, one can certainly expect a few attempts with Posey in the squat.
As a batter, Posey will be looking to get himself on base. Whether that means a walk, a bloop or something more memorable, Posey's goal should be to make sure he leaves the batter box at least once. Fans voted in Posey because of his dual-appeal as a batter/catcher, but it will be his catching skills on display in Kansas City. There are more qualified people to look towards for getting runs on the board, including an outfielder Posey knows quite well.
Entering the All-Star game, the "Melk Man" has his credentials in place. They include a .353 batting average, good for second best in MLB; 111 hits, tying him for third most in the majors with Jeter and Atlanta's Michael Bourn; and a .391 OBP, eleventh best in baseball. The guy is All-Star material. And now it's time to show it.
Tony LaRussa will need to decide which outfield positions to assign to his starting stable of LF Ryan Braun, RF Carlos Beltran and LF Melky Cabrera. Cabrera is definitely a candidate to make the shift to With Braun now in to replace the injured Matt Kemp, Cabrera is definitely a candidate to make the shift to center. After all, Cabrera's start in Kansas City will not be his first. Rather, it marks his first game back in Kauffman Stadium since the Royals traded him for Jonathan Sanchez during the offseason. As the Royals center fielder in 2011, there is every reason to let him play the turf he's already used to.
And then there's his offense.
While Posey may not be on the hook to produce many runs, Cabrera will most definitely be expected to be in the thick of the National League's scoring. In fact, LaRussa might want to pencil him in as a leadoff guy, given his propensity for hits. As a table-setter, Cabrera could make a major impact by putting Verlander and the rest of the AL's arms in the stretch for power mashers like Votto, Beltran and Braun. Even if LaRussa goes for someone else, the important thing for Cabrera will be runs, not RBI.
Singles and doubles, coupled with astute base running will be an excellent complement to the more explosive bats on the NL roster, and proof of his qualifications as an All-Star to fans. Maybe they'll even be a "Melkman" or two in the stands.
Don't ask Pablo Sandoval how he became a starting third baseman in the All-Star game. It's doubtful he knows either. David Wright, the heir apparent to the starter's role for the National League, is unquestionably having the better season. But it isn't "The Better Season" Game, it's the All-Star game, and as long as fans get to vote in position players, guys like the "Panda" will find themselves inexplicably atop the ballots.
What will be most important for Sandoval is to be unmemorable. Unless a cliche baseball miracle happens, Sandoval will not be launching any home runs off Jared Weaver and Yu Darvish.
His glove-work this season has been sub-par compared with his 2011 season.
For these reasons, I suggest Sandoval strive for the following benchmarks: no errors, no egregious strikeouts, no defensive blunders (going for a swipe instead of throwing to first, etc.).
This may seem like a vote of no-confidence for one of my own, but the truth is that Sandoval can do no right in the eyes of his detractors. If he gets an RBI and makes a diving catch at third, well that's just what David Wright would've done anyway. The only place Sandoval has to go is down. By playing a safe, smart game for however long he stays in, he can embrace the honor of being an All-Star starter without subjecting himself to the scorn of talking heads across the country for weeks to come.