All Star Game Preview

After Josh Hamilton stole the show in the Home Run Derby last night (even though he didn’t actually win the trophy), we turn our attention to the actual All Star Game: the main course in this mid-season feast of baseball.

The great news is that Jonny, Josh and the rest of the Five team have been let out of the studio once again to bring the game to us live from the stadium.  Jonny spoke to Mark Webster and Mike Carlson during the Sunday Night broadcast and he was clearly delighted to be in Manhattan.  Much as they do a terrific job over the rest of the season from their London studio, having them in the stadium really adds to the experience for us British viewers and I’m sure it’s a real treat for them as well.  Coverage begins at 01.05. 

While Jonny and Josh will be filling the gaps between the innings, the actual game commentary will be courtesy of the standard MLB International feed.  In recent years, this has meant enjoying the great broadcasting partnership of Dave O’Brien and Rick Sutcliffe.  Just prior to this season, Sutcliffe was diagnosed with colon cancer and he is currently undergoing treatment that will hopefully see him beat the disease.  I’m not sure whether ‘Sut’ will be part of the broadcast tonight, but let’s hope so.

While we await confirmation on the broadcasting lineup, the AL and NL teams were announced yesterday and a quick glimpse at the lineups can’t help but get you excited.  Maybe you might disagree with one or two of the picks, but they definitely look like All Star lineups to me.  Putting them up against each other on paper, I have to say that I slightly favour the National League team.  The outfields are fairly even, as are the two catchers, but I would take Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley and Lance Berkman over Jeter, Pedroia and Youkillis.  Albert Pujols rates higher than Milton Bradley at DH, which only leaves A-Rod over Chipper Jones as the one infield spot where I would side with the AL.

The game’s not played on paper though and anyone placing a bet on this match would be hard pushed to look past the AL’s superiority over the last eleven contests.  The NL has failed to beat their junior rivals during that span, with only the infamous 2002 tie saving them from the embarrassment of an eleven game losing streak (Bud Selig took the embarrassment instead for his inept handling of the situation, but let’s not depress ourselves by thinking about that again).

Ben Sheets and Cliff Lee will start.  The turnaround in Lee’s career over the last twelve months has been incredible and this is a fitting way to cap off his return to form.  Admittedly, the managers Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle didn’t necessarily pick Sheets and Lee because they thought they were the best two starters.  Most of the other contenders pitched over the weekend and they have to respect the fact that keeping the pitchers healthy for the second half is more important than winning this game.  It’s the first in a lengthy line of compromises that have to be struck with the mid-season classic.

Much as Selig has tried to make the result mean something by awarding the victor home field advantage in the World Series, the idea that ‘the game now counts’ can only be taken so far.  The teams are waiting in the wings, publicly expressing how glad they are to be represented at the game and privately praying that their player doesn’t/players don’t get hurt.  The managers also want to get as many players as possible into the action and that’s always going to hurt the flow of the game.  When you bring sixty-six of the best players to an event, you can’t expect them to be overly happy if several are left watching on the sidelines.  I don’t blame the managers for using as many of the players as possible, but personally I would reduce the roster sizes so that less in-game changes are made.

Anyway, while the players might not be killing themselves to win the game, they are all competitive athletes who want to put on a good show and, just as importantly, don’t want to screw up. 

The All Star Game is an exhibition match, but there’s nothing wrong with that so long as we accept it for what it is.  There are always a few memorable moments to enjoy and it should be a great event.

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