MLB All-Star Game 2013: Storylines to Watch in Tonight's Midsummer Classic
There is this ever-prevailing sentiment that MLB's All-Star Game is the only such one among the United States' four major sports that actually "means something."
And, piety of that statement aside, it's mostly based in truth.
If you talk to anyone of That Certain Age, they will speak to you of the abstract definition. They'll tell you where they were, with whom and what they were eating when Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse, in what still remains one of the dumbest things we laud as a whole in the sports community. Rose, in a game that meant absolutely nothing, drilled a man and gave him injuries that still haven't properly healed four decades later. But whatever. People like it, I guess.
Baseball's Midsummer Classic also "means something" in the most literal sense. Reeling after the 2002 tie debacle and hoping to recapture some of that Fosse-Rose vinegar, Bud Selig decided to tie the contest to the World Series' home-field advantage. It's just as strange and unexplainable as it sounds, but we're over a decade deep into the rule and no one seems that offended by it anymore; it's staying.
So, no matter whether your definition of "means something" is tangible or more emotional, it's likely MLB wins out by either definition.
Best All-Star Game?
MLB's All-Star game, which will be held Tuesday night at Citi Field, also wins out because it's probably the most tolerable viewer experience. Among the four major sports, it's the one that most looks like its regular-season incarnation. It's not the tickle fight of the NFL's Pro Bowl. Nor is it the NBA or NHL incarnations, where players are seemingly given defense abstinence rings along with their plane tickets.
Pitchers will pitch, batters will bat, fielders will field and it will only be at a slightly lesser level than they would on your average Tuesday.
The MLB All-Star Game, frankly, is a very tolerable event—which is about the best thing you can say about these All-Star snoozefests. If you like watching baseball, chances are you won't want to throw your television out a window if you tune in Tuesday night. (Don't worry, it's 100-percent Berman-free. I checked.)
That's also the case if you get into any of the major storylines for the event, each of which carry some fun implications. As you prepare your peanuts and Cracker Jack, here's a look at some of the top storylines to watch Tuesday.
Mariano's Last Stand
Tonight will mark the last Midsummer Classic for one of the most well-respected people—by fans, players and the media—in league history. I know what you're thinking...but I'm not talking about Fox broadcaster Tim McCarver, who will be calling his final All-Star Game with Joe Buck.
No, the man I speak of will come to the mound with Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blasting from the Citi Field speakers. He'll be wearing the No. 42 jersey, which will almost certainly retire that jersey number from All-Star lore. The player I speak of, of course, is Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who will be retiring at the end of the 2013 season.
Not that he needs to, or anything. Rivera, unlike many of his retirement-tour counterparts, almost certainly would have made his 13th All-Star team without the impending end of his career. The 43-year-old righty has converted 30-of-32 save opportunities during the first half of the season, tied for second in the league behind Joe Nathan of the Rangers. His 1.83 ERA is below his career mark, though his 1.25 WHIP is a bit more elder-statesmanly than one would expect.
Deservedness aside, this should be a special occasion for Rivera. He's been honored during his retirement tour by just about every team in the league, showering him with the type of gifts and honors befitting of his unquestioned moniker as the greatest closer of all time.
While there has been an outpouring of support from fellow players and the Mets for Rivera—the Yankees' crosstown rival already bestowed him with gifts when the two teams played this season—it will be interesting to see what Jim Leyland has up his sleeve for Tuesday night.
The Tigers manager has guaranteed that Rivera will pitch, per Scott Boeck of USA Today. But will he close? Rivera sure hopes so.
"It would be great," said Rivera. "This is home, even though this is the Mets stadium. This is New York City. It's home for us. It would be a beautiful thing."
If the American League wins and Rivera shuts the door, it's going to be awfully hard to find a dry eye in Citi Field—Mets' home stadium or not. Rivera and Derek Jeter are the two Yankees about whom few can say disparaging things.
And if Rivera closes it out, good luck wresting that MVP trophy away from his hands. It's one of the few things the man has never won in his career and would mark a fitting end to the pitcher with the second-most MLB All-Star selections in history.
Which 1st-Time All-Star Will Have a Night to Remember?
As many folks will be saying goodbye to one of the greats of the old guard, the new generation of MLB stars will undoubtedly be making their impact known. Depending on how you choose to count these things, either 39 or 34 players were named to their first All-Star team this year. The latter statistic represents the players who actually made the trip to Citi Field, the former including those named who couldn't make it.
For reference, that 34 number represents exactly half of the 68-player field. That's an astoundingly high number. In an event that's often met with a blase, same-old-song attitude, there is more new blood in New York City than at any point in recent memory—and that could be a great thing for appealing to the younger generation.
MLB missed out again and again at the marketing chance to add Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers' superstar phenom who has taken the league by storm over this past month, to the roster. But there is a substantial amount of intriguing young talent, and one of them could shine on the brightest stage, perhaps enough to even overshadow Rivera.
The player carrying the highest likelihood of doing so is obviously Orioles first baseman Chris Davis. The 27-year-old slugger, often seen as a guy with prodigious power but unable to put it all together, has done just that and then some this year. He's batting .315 with 37 home runs and 93 RBI, his dinger total being tied with Reggie Jackson (1969) and Mark McGwire (1998) for second-most before the All-Star break in league history.
And among players who have accomplished such feats, Davis and Jackson—Barry Bonds' 39 pre-break homers in 2001 hold the record—will do so without looking like the baseball equivalent of Space Jam characters. Davis stands the very real chance of belting a couple over the fence, even if he wasn't quite able to make it the Week of Crush at the Home Run Derby Monday night.
Other notable first-timers include Davis' teammate Manny Machado, Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and both starting pitchers in Tigers star Max Scherzer and Mets burgeoning star Matt Harvey. Each of those players come bearing the expectations of fans and teammates from both sides of the diamond, so it will be interesting to see how they step up.
Odds are, though, the rookie who makes the biggest impact will be the one who comes with the smallest amount of hype.
Hey There. Remember Me? Just Miguel Cabrera, Best Hitter in MLB Here. No Biggie.
Among players not in their first nor their last All-Star Game, there are plenty of guys worthy of a spotlight. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout still have an average age of 20.5, but they have more All-Star appearances than half of the rosters. You get old quick in MLB nowadays, I guess. And some of the other stars of this event like Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen have to be looking around and wondering where their 'attaboys are for having such a great season.
But of the players expected to be here who are most likely to make a real impact on the outcome, the answer begins (and possibly ends) with Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera. The reigning American League MVP has gone out and somehow put himself well on the way to topping his brilliant 2012 season.
Cabrera heads into the break leading the majors with a .365 batting average and 95 RBI. His 30 home runs put him just behind Davis for an MLB-best in that category as well, an astounding level of hitting proficiency that puts him likely ahead of the Orioles slugger in an MVP straw poll at the moment.
It's always hard to credit someone like Cabrera without doing the same to his teammates. You can't get 95 RBI by yourself, which is part of the reason that stat remains arguably the most flawed among baseball's standard counters.
Still, Cabrera has a WAR of 6.0, best in baseball, which is rather astounding considering he remains a wretched fielder and a below-average baserunner. At this juncture, it would be absolutely shocking if Cabrera didn't break his career-high WAR of last season while busting just about every other advanced mark he set last season.
Metrics obviously mean diddly in a one-game sample where the spectacle means more than anything. Luckily, Cabrera is just the type of hitter who can make an entire event become about him with just one or two swings of the bat.
With just a bat on his shoulders, it's hard to bet against anyone outperforming Miguel Cabrera. That is, of course, unless Rivera gets the save. In which case all bets are off.
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