2012 All-Star Game: 6 Players Who Will Shape Outcome of Game

Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2012

2012 All-Star Game: 6 Players Who Will Shape Outcome of Game

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    With all the talk over who got robbed of an All-Star appearance and who should have rightfully earned a starting nod, it is easy to forget that there is still a game to be played that actually counts.

    Baseball's brightest stars—along with some guys who won a popularity vote—will determine which league walks out of Kansas City with home-field advantage in the World Series.

    Once the game starts, shouting over how many San Francisco Giants earned undeserving starting bids could seem trivial if Pablo Sandoval actually comes through with a big hit.

    Although David Wright probably would probably deliver an even bigger, better hit. Sorry, bickering is a tough habit to break. 

    None of these players will start for their respective side, but look for these All-Stars to play a pivotal role in deciding which squad emerges victorious.

Joe Mauer

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    It's hard to feel too sorry for a five-time All-Star, but Joe Mauer should probably be starting behind the plate instead of Mike Napoli.

    Following a down season in 2011, Mauer is hitting .326 with a .416 on-base percentage for the last-place Minnesota Twins. His 2.9 WAR, well above Napoli's 0.9 mark, leads all American League catchers.

    But yeah, I'm not supposed to be discussing that anymore. Right.

    Mauer will likely play more innings than Napoli anyway, or at least receive some at-bats in more crucial situations. Despite playing for one of the worst teams in baseball, Mauer could play a big factor in determining who wins home-field advantage during the World Series. 

    Ron Washington will likely trust the veteran Mauer more than young Matt Wieters in crunch time, and Mauer has played in this game plenty of times. 

    Anticipate a dejected National League pitcher to utter "Well played, Mauer" before Tuesday night's game finishes.

Mike Trout

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    Mike Trout will use the prime-time stage to prove that he is baseball's premier rookie.

    Bryce Harper is awesome. He wears a lot of cool eye black and calls reporters "bro." We get it.

    Mike Trout, on the other hand, is in the midst of one of the best rookie campaigns in major league history and is a legit MVP candidate.

    Trout, who also still cannot legally consume alcohol in the United States at age 20, posted a line of .341/.397.562 with 12 home runs and 26 steals in only 60 games. He offers an incredible bat, blazing speed and a Gold Glove-caliber glove in the outfield.

    The youngster's versatility should lead him to plenty of playing time, and he should leave his mark on the game in some form. 

    While most baseball fans clamor to watch Harper, a borderline All-Star selection, play on the grand stage, look for Trout to steal the spotlight.

Joe Nathan

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    I don't know how to put this delicately, but for an All-Star roster, the AL's bullpen looks pretty bad.

    Chris Perez is a shaky head case who just blew a save in his last game before the break. Jim Johnson pitches to contact, which may get ugly against elite hitters who can crush his offerings. Ryan Cook is an unpolished rookie who walks an inordinate amount of batters. Fernando Rodney had a tremendous first half, but he is still Fernando Rodney, the guy with a career 1.40 WHIP.

    Allowing the starting pitchers to hurl multiple innings in an exhibition game won't fly in this day and age, so somebody in this rag-tag group of relievers must step up for the AL to preserve a victory.

    Joe Nathan, who actually can save games in the World Series for the Texas Rangers, deserves to pitch the ninth inning if the match is closely contested.

    After missing all of 2010 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Nathan resembled a shell of himself last season, allowing a 4.83 ERA in 48 games. This year has presented the return of the dominant Nathan who consistently ranked as one of the sport's top closers.

    Nathan has picked up 18 saves with a 1.73 ERA and 0.94 WHIP this season. In 36.1 innings, Nathan boasts a fantastic 45/4 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Look for the 37-year-old to solidify his comeback at the All-Star Game.

David Freese

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    After placing his imprint on last year's World Series, David Freese can alter this year's championship months in advance. 

    Freese emerged as a household name after hitting .397 with five homers and 21 RBI in last year's postseason, and he used that newly-earned popularity to win the NL's Final Vote.

    The 29-year-old carried that momentum over into the 2012 season, hitting .294 with 13 home runs and 51 RBI. Freese is also scorching hot in July with a .517 on-base percentage in eight games.

    Tony La Russa will return from retirement to manage the NL squad, so look for him to reward the third baseman for sending the skipper out on top with a big plate or appearance or two late in the game. 

    Remember all those shaky AL relief pitchers? Look for Freese to make one of them pay.

Michael Bourn

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    While Ian Desmond missing out on his first All-Star appearance is unfortunate, the NL should be ecstatic to have Michael Bourn as a last-minute addition.

    With a .311 average, .366 on-base percentage, 25 steals and 60 runs, Bourn deserved a spot on the NL's bench. Since the game supposedly matters now, the underrated outfielder is the perfect guy to roster.

    Bourn could came in handy as a pinch-runner late in the game who the NL later ships out to the outfield, which he handles with poise. As one of the top defensive players in baseball, Bourn could thwart the AL's efforts with some timely plays on the field.

    The NL is crowded with several talented outfielders, but Bourn should receive some action late in the game.

Aroldis Chapman

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    While the AL lacks electric relievers, the NL roster is loaded with power arms in the bullpen.

    In addition to Craig Kimbrel and Jonathan Papelbon, the NL possesses a major weapon in Aroldis Chapman, a flamethrower who should put on a show in Kansas City.

    The 24-year-old has fanned a remarkable 71 batters in 39.1 innings this year while establishing command with only 12 walks.

    In the same game where the AL will battle a knuckleball from R.A Dickey, they will also face fastballs from Chapman that could swarm to the plate as rapidly as 105 miles per hour. Pitchers usually hold nothing back at the All-Star Game and fire away at full velocity, so expect Chapman to break the radar gun.