When the National League All-Stars face the American League All-Stars in Kansas City Tuesday night, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce will enter the game late and be named the 2012 MLB All-Star Game MVP.
After going 13 years without winning the midsummer classic, the National League will look to win its third consecutive game.
When it comes to the better roster, I give the edge to the NL.
The AL starting lineup is incredible, but the middle of the NL lineup may be better than the heart of the AL lineup. The bottom of the NL lineup is considerably weaker, but it will likely only get one at-bat.
When it comes to judging All-Star rosters, it is hard to criticize either one.
The AL has the best pitcher (Verlander), but the NL has the better pitching staff. With Verlander, Jered Weaver, Felix Hernandez and C.C. Sabathia, the AL should be able to stay in the game for the first half of the game.
With Matt Cain, Stephen Strasburg, Aroldis Chapman, and R.A. Dickey, the NL has incredible pitchers who have unhittable pitches.The NL also has reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and Gio Gonzalez to use in the middle of the game.
Since 2006, according to MLB.com, only two players who started the game have won the MVP award. Since the games in recent years have been close, a player who enters the game late has a better chance to have a bigger impact.
After being named to his first All-Star team in 2011, Bruce will look to make a difference this year.
In order for him to win MVP, the NL needs to win and the game needs to be close when he enters. If Joey Votto, Carlos Beltran or Buster Posey breaks the game open early, Bruce will not have a shot.
Bruce is an all-around player who can change the game.
*All stats are from MLB.com*
Production at the Plate
With 20 doubles, 18 home runs and 56 RBI, Bruce has started to hit the ball more consistently. His 39 extra-base hits put him among baseball's best, so he tends to hit the ball far when he makes contact.
Before anyone claims he swings at too many pitches, compare him to arguably the best player in all of baseball. His ratio of 76 strikeouts to 34 walks is nearly identical to Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton's ratio.
The 25-year-old outfielder has 118 career home runs, and he is capable of changing the game with one swing of the bat.
He has not mastered the ability to go the other way with authority, so he will need to pull the ball in order to make an impact on this game.
If manager Tony La Russa puts him into the game, he would be wise to do it with a runner on third and less than two outs. Bruce is tied for the most sacrifice flies in the majors because he focuses on getting the ball into the outfield. (He would have a few more had Votto not been thrown out at the play on some balls.)
He is also at his best when the game is in the late innings. He probably will not enter the game until the seventh or eighth inning, so clutch hitting will be important.
Bruce's batting average rises to .284 once a game hits the eighth inning, and his six home runs in the final innings are tied for second most in all of baseball.
In the late innings, it will be crucial to have outfielders who can play great defense. Until this past week, Bruce was about as good as it gets in right field.
With arguably the best arm of any right fielder in the National League, he keeps runners from taking an extra base. His outfield assists will no longer be among the league leaders, but he does not get the opportunity to throw runners out.
Outside of the true speedsters, most players choose not to run on his arm. In a late-game situation, his arm can be a deciding factor in who wins the game.
Bruce also gets great jumps on the ball, and he takes great angles to quickly get to the balls hit in the gap.
The ability to hold a player from taking an extra base either by getting to the ball quickly or using his arm makes Bruce an important member of the National League team.
Career Numbers Against AL Pitchers
Chris Perez (Cleveland) 2-3, BB
Felix Hernandez (Seattle) 0-3
Jim Johnson (Baltimore) 1-1
David Price (Tampa Bay) 0-1
C.C. Sabathia (New York) 2-12
Justin Verlander (Detroit) 1-3
Jake Peavy (Chicago) 2-8
Ryan Cook (Oakland), Yu Darvish (Texas), Matt Harrison (Texas), Fernando Rodney (Tampa Bay), Chris Sale (Chicago), Jered Weaver (Los Angeles), C.J. Wilson (Los Angeles)
With varying success against the American League's pitchers, Chris Perez is likely the only familiar pitcher he would see. Since most of those pitchers are dominant starters, those pitchers would be used before Bruce gets into the game.
His defense will prevent any potential runners from taking an extra base, and the NL pitchers will have an easier job. With a possible outfield of Bruce, McCutchen and Bryce Harper, the NL can close out a game with a great defense.
I see the National League pulling away late in the game, and Bruce will be a major factor in the final innings.
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