MLB All-Star Game 2016: Full Midsummer Classic Preview and Predictions

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 12, 2016

MLB All-Star Game 2016: Full Midsummer Classic Preview and Predictions

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Before long, the stars will descend on San Diego's Petco Park and Major League Baseball's annual midsummer bash will begin. The wait for the 2016 All-Star Game is over.

    Looking to get up to speed on what this year's game is all about? You've come to the right place.

    We have a complete preview of this year's Midsummer Classic, which gets underway at 8 p.m. ET. We'll go through the starting pitchers and lineups chosen by National League manager Terry Collins and American League manager Ned Yost, as well as a few things to watch for. Because the baseball gods demand sacrifices, there will also be a prediction for who will win at the end.

    That's all there is to it. Step into the box when you're ready.

NL Starting Pitcher: Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    This could have been simple. But with Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list and Stephen Strasburg, Noah Syndergaard and Madison Bumgarner all nixed from consideration, who to start in the All-Star Game turned into a complicated decision for Collins.

    However, he could have done worse than Johnny Cueto.

    Following a disappointing 2015 season that brought down his free-agent stock, Cueto is thriving in his first season as a San Francisco Giant. Through 18 starts, the veteran right-hander boasts a 13-1 record and a 2.47 ERA. The latter figure trails only Kershaw and Bumgarner among qualified starters.

    Cueto isn't doing it by overpowering hitters. He's only striking out 7.9 batters per nine innings. As always, his effectiveness has more to do with control (1.6 BB/9) and his ability to throw hitters off. As Dustin Palmateer broke down at Baseball Prospectus, Cueto has quite a few quirks that allow him to do that.

    This will be not just Cueto's first All-Star start, but his first All-Star appearance of any kind. His only other All-Star selection was in 2014, and he didn't pitch in the game.

AL Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Yost also didn't have an easy decision to make. Due to various circumstances, there was no obvious pick for who to start in the All-Star Game.

    So in the end, Yost went with the safe pick: Chris Sale.

    Sale's track record is one reason he deserved the nod. The Chicago White Sox ace owns a 3.01 ERA in five seasons as a starter and has been an All-Star in all of them. This year, he leads MLB with 14 wins.

    Sale's 3.38 ERA isn't as impressive. An eight-run flop against the Atlanta Braves his last time out didn't help that. But overall, it's been a tale of two seasons for the left-hander. In his first nine starts, he had a 1.58 ERA. In nine starts since, his ERA is 5.56.

    This could be a case of bad luck catching up to Sale. He's changed his pitching style in 2016, easing up on his fastball velocity and pitching more to contact. He's not been the overpowering pitcher he normally is.

    Even still, it's hard not to be impressed by a guy who has good command of a nasty fastball-slider-changeup combination. And though Sale will be facing a National League lineup with six right-handed bats, few lefties have dominated righties better than he has this season.

NL Starting Lineup

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    The All-Star Game is being held at the home of the San Diego Padres, but the National League will actually be the away team. They'll be up first Tuesday night.

    Here's how they'll line up:

    1. Ben Zobrist, 2B
    2. Bryce Harper, RF
    3. Kris Bryant, 3B
    4. Wil Myers, DH
    5. Buster Posey, C
    6. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
    7. Marcell Ozuna, CF
    8. Carlos Gonzalez, LF
    9. Addison Russell, SS

    In the person of Wil Myers, Collins' lineup has a feel-good story smack in the middle of it. Injuries tarnished what once looked like a rising star in 2014 and 2015. But in 2016, Myers has reclaimed his stardom with an .873 OPS, 19 homers and 15 stolen bases.

    "Wil's a deserving guy," Collins said, via AJ Cassavell of MLB.com. "He's had a tremendous first half, and we're excited that he gets to start this game in front of his hometown."

    Collins' lineup also features an all-Cubs infield, something that hasn't happened since the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals. But there is a weak link in that infield. Addison Russell can pick it at short, but his bat has produced just a .237 average and a .731 OPS.

    Nonetheless, this is still a dangerous lineup. Ben Zobrist should provide a tough at-bat or two from the leadoff spot, and there's more than enough firepower behind him. Collectively, this starting nine has combined for an .889 OPS and, according to FanGraphs, 28.8 WAR.

AL Starting Lineup

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    And here's how Yost's American League team will line up at the outset:

    1. Jose Altuve, 2B
    2. Mike Trout, CF
    3. Manny Machado, 3B
    4. David Ortiz, DH
    5. Xander Bogaerts, SS
    6. Eric Hosmer, 1B
    7. Mookie Betts, RF
    8. Salvador Perez, C
    9. Jackie Bradley Jr., LF

    On paper, this is a stronger lineup than the National League's. These nine guys have combined for a .921 OPS and 30.5 WAR.

    It's hard to ignore how much power and speed Jose Altuve and Mike Trout bring to the top. Altuve's 23 steals are par for the course, but his 14 homers already put him just one off his career high. Trout's 18 homers are par for the course on his end, but his 15 steals are already four more than he had last season. 

    It's also hard to ignore the Boston Red Sox influence in this lineup. David Ortiz (more on him in a moment) is having a farewell season for the ages. Xander Bogaerts is hitting .329. Mookie Betts is hitting .304 with 18 homers and 15 steals. He may be Yost's No. 9 hitter, but Jackie Bradley Jr. has been one of the American League's best offensive outfielders.

    All told, there's not a weak link to be found here. The fans picked good players, and Yost lined them up well.

Farewell to Big Papi

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    From Chipper Jones to Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, baseball is in the age of the Farewell Tour. And as those three go to show, it's not a proper Farewell Tour without one last All-Star hurrah.

    So, David Ortiz. Come on down.

    The Red Sox's longtime designated hitter announced in November that the 2016 season would be his last, and he's going out with a proverbial bang. He entered the break batting .332 with 22 homers and league-leading marks in doubles (34), on-base percentage (.426), slugging percentage (.682) and OPS (1.107).

    The reward for all this is the 10th All-Star selection of Big Papi's 20-year career. Before and after he takes his first at-bat, he figures to be front and center.

    "Four days to rest and be chilling is good, but this All-Star Game, I'm going to try to enjoy it the most," said Ortiz, via Scott Lauber of ESPN.com. "This is going to be my final year playing. There's not going to be another time. I'm going to go out there and have fun and make sure that the fans that voted for David Ortiz enjoy watching me."

    Ortiz already has one All-Star home run. Another would be a nice exclamation mark on a career path that may one day lead to Cooperstown.

The Cubs Seek to Help Their Own Cause

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Big Papi will be the guest of honor at Petco Park on Tuesday night, but it's the Chicago Cubs who will be dominating the landscape. 

    Seven Cubs were named to the National League All-Star team. Only one of them (Dexter Fowler) won't be in action. Four, however, will be seen right out of the gate. In Zobrist, Russell, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, Collins' entire starting infield will consist of North Siders.

    "Organizationally, it speaks to what's been done here the last several years," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon about the NL's all-Cubs infield, via ESPN.com. "I take zero credit for that. It's great scouting and development on the part of the Cubs."

    Also making the trip to San Diego are starting pitchers Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. The latter is making his fourth All-Star appearance. The former is only making his first. Arrieta may be the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, but he earned that mainly with his torrid second half.

    The Cubs who will be suiting up Tuesday night have incentive to play well. At 53-35, the Cubs have put themselves in position to snap a World Series championship drought that's been ongoing for 108 years. If the Cubs help the the National League earn home-field advantage in this year's World Series, they could be very glad they did.

The AL's Relievers vs. the NL's Starters

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    Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

    We could go on and on breaking down the hitters for the American League and National League All-Stars. But when taken as a whole, the two casts of position players aren't fundamentally different.

    The same is not true of the two pitching staffs.

    Even with Kershaw, Syndergaard and Strasburg off the table, Collins still has a large cast of starting pitchers to choose from. Cueto, Arrieta and Lester are just three of eight starting pitchers he could call on. His bullpen will have only five actual relief pitchers.

    Yost's pitching staff is different. Sale is one of only five starting pitchers. Otherwise, his pitching staff consists of the American League's top relief pitchers. There's Zach Britton with his 27 saves and 0.72 ERA, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller with their oodles of strikeouts, and also Kelvin Herrera, Brad Brach, Alex Colome and Will Harris.

    As noted by B/R's Scott Miller, Yost's plan is to use four starters after Sale before turning the game over to his bullpen. If the contest ends up being one that will be decided by the two bullpens, he could have the advantage. He won't have more arms to call on, but the arms he'll be calling on will be more accustomed to relief work.

    There is one thing, however, that all of this year's All-Star pitchers will have to watch out for...

Will There Be a Power Outburst?

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    All-Star pitchers must fear the long ball. Even more than usual, that is.

    There was a time when All-Star home runs were rarities. There were only four home runs hit in the five All-Star Games between 2010 and 2014, including none in 2010 and 2013. This was a sign of the times, as those years were marked by excellent pitching and, by extension, little power.

    Last year was different. Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Brian Dozier all went deep in the All-Star Game, which ended up being oddly prophetic. After that came a league-wide power explosion in the second half.

    As Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh highlighted at Five Thirty Eight, it was hard to pin down the reasons for why power made such a roaring comeback after last year's All-Star break. Regardless, it's carried over into 2016. The league is averaging 1.16 home runs per game. That's the highest mark since 2000, when MLB was in the middle of the Steroid Era.

    With a league-leading 28 homers, Mark Trumbo is doing his part. He's a threat to go deep Tuesday night. Ditto Bryant (25 homers), Josh Donaldson (23), Nolan Arenado (23), Ortiz (22) and so on down the line.

    It could be a rough night for the guys on the mound, and a great night for the fans in the bleachers.

The Prediction: AL Wins a Slugfest, Led by Big Papi

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    If Collins had Kershaw, Syndergaard, Bumgarner and Strasburg to call on, it would be easy to imagine the National League having enough pitching firepower to overcome the American League.

    But, he doesn't. So let's talk about why the American League will win.

    With a hot Cueto matching up against a cold Sale, the NL has the early pitching advantage on paper. But that could be nixed by the AL's superior starting lineup, in which case the game will come down to which club gets the most of its bullpen. To that end, your humble narrator prefers the AL's reliever-laden pen.

    But if the AL's relief corps is going to make a difference, it won't be until after a slugfest has broken out. Such a thing simply feels inevitable, as the early portion of the game is going to feature two powerful offenses matching up against two collections of starting pitchers that feel underwhelming. 

    Here's thinking Ortiz will get the AL started with a three-run homer in the first inning, which will be merely the first shot of a full-on dinger war. It will rage until the sixth inning, when Yost will finally call on his relievers to quell the noise on the NL's side.

    Ultimately, the AL will win 9-6. Some guy wrote it on the Internet, so it must be true.

    Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.