First off, congratulations to Jaime Garcia on his major league debut. He looked more than a little bit jittery out there, but he still managed to get out of it unscathed. I think we probably all noticed the lack of velocity; he topped out at 90 according to the pitchfx system, and only hit that one time. All of the scouting reports I've read have him sitting more in the 90+ range. To me, it looked a little bit like Jaime was guiding the ball in there; I'm sure that may have had a little bit to do with it. I guess we'll see over the next few games, whether or not he'll throw a little bit better once he loosens up and just lets it fly a little more.
Overall, it was a pretty fantastic night for the Cardinals. Rick Ankiel had yet another nice night at the plate, and Kyle Lohse continues to cruise along, looking very little like the pitcher that he's been the rest of his career. I can't decide whether or not that's a good thing, to be perfectly honest. Of course, we all want to attribute Lohse's success this year to the Duncan Factor, to superior preparation and all of that sort of stuff. My fear is that we're simply seeing a talented pitcher having a career year. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, of course, but when you're trying to decide whether or not to sign a guy to a long term extension, you don't really want to judge him on his best season.
I'm sure we're all going to be watching the results of the Harden deal pretty closely over the rest of the season, so I thought I would help everybody out with a quick update. Last night for Oakland, both Matt Murton and Sean Gallagher made their Athletics' debuts. Gallagher received the win in a 9-2 A's victory over the Angels, going seven innings and giving up two runs, both earned, on only two hits and three walks. He struck out seven. Murton went 1-5 with two RBIs, and made two outstanding catches in the outfield. Clearly, Oakland got the better end of this deal. And no, I don't feel the least bit ridiculous for making that decision after one game. I stand by my convictions.
Well, it's just about all star time again this season. Seeing as how the National League hasn't won a game since the mid-30s, I thought I would take a look at the two squads this year and see if we can get an idea as to how the NL and AL match up. You can find the full rosters here.
First off, the starting rosters:
|C-Geovany Soto, CHC
|C-Joe Mauer, MIN
|1B-Kevin Youkilis, BOS
|2B-Chase Utley, PHI
|2B-Dustin Pedroia, BOS
|SS-Hanley Ramirez, FLA
|SS-Derek Jeter, NYY
|3B-Chipper Jones, ATL
|3B-Alex Rodriguez, NYY
|OF-Ryan Braun, MIL
|OF-Josh Hamilton, TEX
|OF-Kosuke Fukudome, CHI
|OF-Manny Ramirez, BOS
|OF-Matt Holliday, COL
|OF-Ichiro Suzuki, SEA
|OF-Alfonso Soriano-CHC (DL)
|DH-David Ortiz, BOS (DL)
Well, looking at that list, I actually have to say that I like the National League's chances this year. I think they have a distinct advantage up the middle of the infield, and over at first base. Third is pretty much a wash, and the outfield might favour the AL ever so slightly. Manny isn't really Manny anymore; I think he and Holliday are pretty comparable. Ichiro is quite a bit better than Fukudome, and Hamilton, while a much better defensive player, is right around the same offensive player as Ryan Braun. I can't decide who has the advantage at catcher; Soto's been awfully good this season, but Mauer is still one of the best catchers in the game currently. I like Mauer's defense a little better, but Soto's got him beaten in terms of power. I think I'll have to call that a wash too.
What I find a little curious about the National League is how their outfield is going to line up. Fukudome is a legitimate center fielder, but both of their other starters are strictly left fielders. I guess Holliday is a little more capable of manning right than Braun, but that's not saying very much. I assume that the Clint Hurdle will have to bring in a better defensive outfielder at some point in the game, but at least for the first few innings, the National League is going to be very vulnerable defensively. Let's hope that whoever starts the game can keep the ball down, otherwise it could get ugly.
Speaking of the pitching, the NL has the advantage there, too, I think. In line for the start for the NL is most likely either Tim Lincecum or Brandon Webb. For the junior circuit, we'll most likely see either Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee. Halladay's an absolute beast, but so are both of the NL starters, and while Lee has been absolutely wicked this year, he still seems a little vulnerable to blowups at times. Personally, I think Webb and Halladay will probably make the starts for their respective leagues, and I'm okay with that. Lincecum is a whole lot more fun to watch, but Webb isn't exactly a slouch on the mound. Plus, with the weak outfield defense to begin the game, Hurdle may want to go with the guy that's going to roll up the grounders. It's probably a wash between Halladay and Webb; one of Halladay's big strengths is his ability to pitch complete games on any given day, and that won't come into play here.
Once the two teams get into the middle of the game, I think the NL has the edge again. Lincecum, Zambrano, Sheets, Haren, and Volquez are all capable of coming in and just blowing away hitters for an inning or two. I just don't think the AL pitchers are quite at that same level. Lee and Scott Kazmir are both capable of dominating, but guys like Duchscherer, Joe Saunders, and Ervin Santana, while all very good, just aren't quite as lights out.
Now, the AL does have a significant advantage at the back end of the bullpen. Mariano Rivera, K-Rod, Papelbon, and Joe Nathan all on the same team? Really, I guess if the AL can just get the game through about five innings, they can just throw closers at you the rest of the time. The NL just can't compete with that kind of firepower. Both Billy Wagner and Brad Lidge have been dynamite this season, but Kerry Wood is, at least in my mind, still a bit of a question mark, and while Brian Wilson could very well confuse the AL by taking the mound in a bathrobe, I just don't think he really quite belongs in with the elite closers in the game just yet.
The benches I think are pretty evenly matched. The American League has no answer for Albert on their bench, but guys like Grady Sizemore, Evan Longoria, and Justin Morneau are awfully good. The NL bench, besides Albert, will feature David Wright, Dan Uggla, and Russell Martin, among others. Advantage? Probably neither, though if you put a gun to my head, I might give the AL the slightest of edges.
So, what do we have here? I think the NL has a moderate advantage in both the offense and the starting pitching. The AL has the tougher back end guys, and their defense is probably at little better, especially at the beginning. (Although, to be fair, they will have Manny playing in left to start the game.) The benches are pretty similar; at the very least, they isn't enough one way or the other to make much of a difference.
I'm calling it right now. This is the year that the National League ends the AL's dominance and wins the game. I think the NL's pitching depth at the front end will just be too much for the AL, able to hold the junior circuit down long enough for the NL offense to score some runs. By the time the game gets into the late innings, the AL's superior back end pitching won't be enough to make a difference.
In the end, it's going to be a National League victory, 6-3. Bank on it.
Oh, and one last thing I forgot to mention up above. Mr. Mozeliak, if you're reading this, just say no to Colby Rasmus for Jason Bay. For all of our sakes. Thank you.