2014 MLB All-Star Game: Full Midsummer Classic Preview and Predictions
The 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game is here. With the fun Futures Game and endless Home Run Derby (and even that random celebrity/legends softball thing) now completed, the Midsummer Classic begins Tuesday night on Fox at 8 p.m. ET at Target Field in Minnesota.
In the slides to follow, you'll find a full preview—including notes and stats on the starting pitchers and lineups—as well as a few predictions for the game that decides home-field advantage in the World Series this October.
Want a hint? It says here the outcome will be the opposite of last year's event. Here's why.
NL Starting Pitcher: Adam Wainwright, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Because his St. Louis Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny, also is the NL's bench boss in the game, Adam Wainwright might have had an advantage over other NL starters who could have been chosen to open the bottom of the first, namely Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto.
But suggesting that Waino was anything other than deserving of this honor based simply on his performance through the first half of the 2014 season is folly—although one of my own Bleacher Report colleagues, Joe Giglio, disagrees.
"Aside from winning two World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals, I think [starting the All-Star Game] has got to be one of the highlights of my baseball career," Wainwright said during his press conference (video above). "It's one of the coolest things I could ever say I did."
This will be the 32-year-old, nine-year veteran's third All-Star appearance and first time as the opening pitcher. Whether the workhorse Wainwright will get a chance to hold the AL down for more than one frame, though, is going to depend on his manager.
AL Starting Pitcher: Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle Mariners
What's neat from Felix Hernandez's perspective is that he's earned his first All-Star starting nod in the first season of the 28-year-old's career in which the Seattle Mariners—with a 2.5-game lead for the second wild-card position in the AL—actually have a legitimate shot at the playoffs.
Think that will give the pitcher who leads the majors in fWAR (5.2) some extra motivation to get things going in the top of the first?
"I've just got to go out there and do what I do—throw up zeroes to help my team win," Hernandez said at his presser (see video).
Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com writes that Hernandez actually has been getting better with age:
King Felix has a 0.90 WHIP, and he has struck out 154 batters against 25 walks in 144 1/3 innings. His ballpark-adjusted ERA+ of 177 (or 77 percentage points above league average) is, at this point, the best of his career—even better than the 174 mark he held at the end of his Cy Young season of 2010.
As fantastic as Hernandez has been in his career—he's a five-time All-Star with four top-10 finishes in Cy Young voting and that 2010 win—this will be the first time in his 10 seasons that he starts a game that has something of a playoff implication for him. Maybe the King simply should refuse to surrender the ball when Boston Red Sox and AL squad manager John Farrell asks for it after an inning or two.
NL Lineup and Defense
- CF Andrew McCutchen, Pirates — RHB: 4.6 fWAR
- RF Yasiel Puig, Dodgers — RHB: 3.5 fWAR
- SS Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies — RHB: 5.2 fWAR
- 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks — RHB: 3.6 fWAR
- DH Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins — RHB: 3.8 fWAR
- 3B Aramis Ramirez, Brewers — RHB: 1.4 fWAR
- 2B Chase Utley, Phillies — LHB: 3.1 fWAR
- C Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers — RHB: 3.7 fWAR
- LF Carlos Gomez, Brewers — RHB: 4.3 fWAR
Here's how the NL lineup looks, according to how Matheny penciled them in:
There are numerous strengths to pick from here, but let's focus on the tippy-top of the order.
If the reigning NL MVP gets on base a couple of times for the studs right behind him like Puig, Tulowitzki, Goldschmidt and Stanton, that will give the NL an edge over the AL, which is deploying a certain 40-year-old in his final season atop the lineup.
Matheny also has arranged the lineup such that the best on-base guys are up top—Tulo, McCutchen and Goldschmidt all have on-base percentages of .400 or better. And the manager has followed that up by placing the more contact-oriented hitters, like Lucroy, Utley and Ramirez—each with a strikeout rate below 14.0 percent—at the bottom, which should work nicely.
The Senior Circuit also is steady on defense, with the 36-year-old Ramirez probably the weakest link given his lack of range at this stage of his career. Having Tulowitzki on the same side of the infield, though, should help make up for that. And a strong case could be made that Gomez should be in center field over McCutchen, but the outfield won't be lacking for range or arm strength, what with Puig also in right.
AL Lineup and Defense
- SS Derek Jeter, Yankees — RHB: 0.6 fWAR
- LF Mike Trout, Angels — RHB: 5.5 fWAR
- 2B Robinson Cano, Mariners — LHB: 3.5 fWAR
- 1B Miguel Cabrera, Tigers — RHB: 3.1 fWAR
- RF Jose Bautista, Blue Jays — RHB: 3.1 fWAR
- DH Nelson Cruz, Orioles — RHB: 2.4 fWAR
- CF Adam Jones, Orioles — RHB: 3.5 fWAR
- 3B Josh Donaldson, Athletics — RHB: 3.6 fWAR
- C Salvador Perez, Royals — RHB: 2.9 fWAR
And this is the AL lineup, as drawn up by Farrell:
Again, this is a choose-your-own-adventure when it comes to identifying the biggest strengths. But it's hard to beat the two-three-four spots in terms of big names who offer either elite batting average (Cano), elite power or both (Trout, Cabrera). Plus, Farrell is using Cano in a prime position in at No. 3, where his lefty bat splits up righties Trout and Cabrera.
The second portion of the lineup is mostly built on power, as Bautista, Cruz and Donaldson all have isolated power marks above .200. Jones and Perez, meanwhile, are more well-rounded players who are above-average hitters and strong defenders at up-the-middle positions.
Now, about the elephant in the room. Look, Jeter has had an unparalleled career as a first-ballot Hall of Famer and is arguably the best ever to play the shortstop position. And while no decision by a manager in what is still mostly an exhibition game should be treated too harshly, Farrell's choice to place Jeter atop the order as a way of honoring him in his final season is simultaneously commendable and yet potentially problematic.
Among the 18 starters on both sides, Jeter's .324 OBP is tied with Jones for the second worst, as only Donaldson's .317 is worse and Ramirez's .336 OBP is the lowest in the NL. Not only that, but Jeter's defensive range—never a strong suit despite the reputation—has become more of an issue as he's aged, and that could be a factor on balls hit to the left side that Donaldson can't get his luscious leather on.
Then again, this is Jeter, so would you really be surprised if he does something special—with his bat, glove, arm or even legs—in his 14th and final All-Star hurrah?
Biggest Pitching X-Factor
The Prediction: Mark Buehrle, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays (AL)
With so many right-handed hitters in the starting lineup for each league—second basemen Chase Utley and Robinson Cano are the only two lefty swingers among the starters—it figures that an AL southpaw should be one to watch.
Sure, Chris Sale and Jon Lester are two of the lefty starters on the Junior Circuit's club, too, but frankly, they're the best of the best because they get everybody out, no matter which side of the batter's box they stand in.
Buehrle has handled opposite-handed hitters well enough in 2014—he sports a .711 OPS against them compared to his .704 OPS versus same-sided swingers—but he's also surrendered seven of his nine homers and 32 of his 44 extra-base knocks to righties.
With Buehrle likely to get into the game in the middle innings, after the very best arms have thrown and the starting hitters have been given an at-bat or two to settle in, might the soft tosser have trouble getting through so many big right-handed bats?
For what it's worth, compared to the AL's six left-handers between starters and relievers, the NL has only three: Clayton Kershaw, Aroldis Chapman and Tony Watson. This could lead to more favorable matchups in big spots for the NL, starting against Buehrle.
Biggest Hitting X-Factor
The Prediction: Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox (AL)
It's kind of incredible to think that, in the middle and later innings, Farrell can turn to his bench and call upon Jose Abreu, who is only leading all major leaguers with 29 home runs and a .630 slugging percentage.
"The reserves who will be coming in behind [the voted-in starters] are deserving of starting in their own right," Farrell said at Monday's media session. That certainly applies to Abreu.
Despite being a rookie, the 27-year-old Cuban-born Abreu already has shown he can take some of the best pitchers deep. He's hit home runs off Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Justin Verlander, Tim Hudson and Corey Kluber, among others.
And get this: Seventeen of Abreu's long balls have come when his team was either tied or behind by two, and all but six have come when the game was within two runs either way. In other words, he hits 'em when it counts. Which the All-Star Game does these days.
All-Star Game MVP
The Prediction: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (NL)
Even for sure-to-be-wrong predictions, trying to choose a pitcher as MVP of the All-Star Game is too much of a crapshoot, since most of them will throw but an inning.
And sure, it would be the narrative of narratives to go with Jeter in his final Midsummer Classic—thus giving the New York Yankees consecutive retiring All-Star Game MVPs after Mariano Rivera won it in 2013—but that might require one last miracle in what has been a miraculous career.
So the pick here is Cutch. Not only is he simply smoking as is, he's also in prime position as leadoff hitter and center fielder to make a major impact on the game in at least one aspect, if not more.
Whether he makes good on what likely will be at least three plate appearances by knocking a key hit or getting on base and scoring—his 1.108 OPS against power pitchers bodes particularly well against a staff of All-Star arms—or comes up with a timely defensive gem, McCutchen is ready for his moment.
Winning Side and Final Score
The Prediction: NL defeats AL, 5-2.
Considering McCutchen is the MVP prediction, that should be a pretty good indication that it says here the National League is going to win.
Expect another low-scoring affair: In this pitching-dominated era, the last time the two sides combined to score more than 10 runs was back in 2005 when the AL won, 7-5.
If the NL's more well-rounded offense can pick up a lead in the middle innings, the utter dominance from both sides of righty Craig Kimbrel and lefty Aroldis Chapman will make it nearly impossible for the AL to come back.
If it all works out exactly this way, that would mean the World Series would open in an NL ballpark after the Fall Classic began in Fenway Park in 2013. It also would mean the NL would have won four of the past five showdowns.
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11