It can be difficult to break down Tuesday's MLB All-Star Game in a strategic manner. After all, these are teams molded by fans and feature talented players all lumped together, not carefully pieced together by a general manager.
Players may play unusual roles. They hit from new spots in the lineup. Starters become relievers. Closers become setup men. Up is down, left is right...you get the point.
But clear strengths do become apparent when you study the rosters closely. This year is no different.
Two things really define the National League All-Stars: pitching and balance.
The group of pitchers for this NL team is impressive. Just look at some of these numbers:
|NL Star Pitchers|
And let's not forget about Craig Kimbrel, who has 29 saves and has struck out 62 batters in 37.2 innings pitched, or Aroldis Chapman,who has 21 saves and 60 strikeouts in 29.2 innings. The NL is stacked with talented arms.
Players like Clayton Kershaw and Chapman come into the All-Star Game red hot. Check out these numbers from Chapman, via Jayson Stark of ESPN:
The NL also has an extremely balanced starting lineup. Here's their starting nine, via SportsCenter on Twitter:
Andrew McCutchen hitting first and Carlos Gomez hitting ninth essentially gives them two ridiculously talented leadoff hitters. Troy Tulowitzki and Giancarlo Stanton provide the pop. Yasiel Puig provides the entertainment. Paul Goldschmidt and Jonathan Lucroy are underrated.
There isn't an easy out on this roster, which should be the case seeing as this is an All-Star team. But this is a balanced, dangerous lineup, and the AL pitchers are going to have trouble with them.
Speaking of the American League, their team has different strengths, namely power and depth.
Their starting lineup is just absurd:
When you have Mike Trout, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones making up the heart of your order, you're virtually guaranteed to score some runs.
No, the AL isn't as balanced as the NL. Having Derek Jeter lead off—a player who wouldn't be starting this game were he not a legend in his final season—potentially weakens them a bit, even if he might yet have some magic in that bat.
And even if his AL teammates are thrilled to be playing with him, including Trout, as he told Chris Haft of MLB.com:
"Just to be part of the same lineup and same clubhouse as [Jeter] is going to be special for me," Trout said. "It's going to be something to remember, to be a part of it and experience it firsthand."
That's because Trout, like most big leaguers, maintains unqualified admiration for Jeter. Like Jeter, Trout played shortstop and wore No. 2 at Millville (N.J.) Senior High School and didn't switch to outfield until his senior year.
Trout was primarily a Phillies fan, "but I liked the way Jeter played," he said. "The way he carries himself on the field, he's a true professional."
Along with their Murderer's Row of starters, however, the AL team is also really deep. In most seasons, Alexei Ramirez would be starting at shortstop. Jose Altuve should be the starting second basemen, with all due respect to Cano. Jose Abreu can't stop hitting home runs. Adrian Beltre is a stud. Yoenis Cespedes just won the Home Run Derby for the second year in a row.
For all of the talented pitchers the NL can use throughout this game, the AL counters with just as many dangerous bats (and they aren't exactly rolling out chopped liver on the mound, either).
It makes for an interesting clash. It feels like a game that will either favor the NL if it's a pitching duel or the AL if it's a high-scoring affair.
Both teams have their strengths. Now, we wait to see which strengths will win out.