My love affair with baseball has been unconventional to say the least. I didn’t grow up playing the game like all my friends; I don’t have any childhood memories at my hometown ballpark; and when I played catch in the backyard with my dad, it was with a football. I didn’t get my first glove until I was twelve and even then, it was a Wal-Mart special that I never took the time to properly wear in. To be honest I never had any real desire to play the game of baseball and I doubt that I was alone in my initial disregard for the game. How then does baseball transcend individual participation, preach its gospel, and extend its discipleship to a lost soul like me? The answer: Hollywood baby.
Marked more by the dry summer wind than the number of games played we find ourselves on the precipice of the second half of summer. Days are getting shorter in length, yet feel longer in time. Long gone are the ever peaceful showers in the late afternoon. No more are the dew-laden grass mornings of spring. And just like that, it’s official, we’ve hit The Dog Days of Summer.
As a child, summer is the most blissful time imaginable. School is out and literally your newest big worry becomes whether or not your parents are going to let your best friend spend the night. Two and a half months of perceived freedom. You feel invincible.
Some of my friends even had a “nanny” during summer. Now don’t get this term twisted, they were far from the traditional definition of the word. These “nanny’s” were high school/college-aged girls that were employed by the parents to be all-encompassing child chauffeurs. With a snap of the fingers (not literally because we weren’t savages) we could go to a movie, swim in a pool, or eat ridiculous amounts of ice cream. Just think of the absurdity of that. Like I said, life is good in summer.
However, the invincible mood would always begin changing shortly after the 4th of July. Everyone had seen all the movies, swam in every pool, and eaten enough sugar to make a hummingbird sick. So before you know it, the two and a half months of freedom have dwindled down to under a month.
The Dog Days.
The worst part about these “Dog Days” growing up was that it inevitably meant that the MLB standings would begin to separate. It’s the benefit of a 162-game season. The more trials you perform, the truer the results become. Therefore, the better teams tend to stand out over the long haul of the year. So naturally, as a Royals’ fan, dread accompanied this part of the season. To me the first few months held the real excitement. I was just a kid though. A kid with friends with personal chauffeurs. So really, how was I supposed to know life could be any better?
Oh but it can be, younger Tyler.
Second half baseball is the pinnacle of beauty. Every single game is vitally important in a playoff race. A three game series can be the difference between a first place tie or a 6 game lead. The best players in the world are asked to be so. The pressure rides on every game, out, and pitch.
The Dog Days.
In 2012, then commissioner Bud Selig, implemented the second wildcard to the playoff race. This results in a one-game playoff between the two wild card teams in their respective leagues. And while I don’t like the notion of a 162-game season coming down to a single game (especially when one team has a better record), I will admit there are definite benefits to this bonus spot down the stretch of the regular season.
Here’s what we know:
We know 10 teams will make the playoffs. We know that ~20 fan bases sit here today and think they’ll be part of that group. We also know that all 30 GM’s are trying to find the right move for their franchise. Some of their jobs are actually depending on it. We know the “playoff percentages” that have pegged every team’s odds to make the playoffs. We know all the names, teams, and stats. But what we also know is that all of this comes down to one singular thing; baseball. And after two decades of fully emerging myself in this game I’ve learned the only things that we really know are the things we don’t know at all.
We don’t know the teams that will make trades. We don’t know the players that will be apart of those trades. We don’t know which team is going to get white hot. We don’t know the injuries waiting to happen. Everything, as we stand today, is a mystery. And this mystery is the romantic allure that binds us to the game. We have legacies that are preparing themselves to be made. Moments that are readying themselves to take our breaths away. The same moments that will linger in the annals of time. The past of the future lies before us. And yet it all comes down to the playing of a game that has been around longer than any of us. It’s what makes this time of year so special. After all, these are The Dog Days.
Tonight marks the MLB All Star Game. The best players from both leagues come together for a (once) highly competitive exhibition game. The introduction of home field advantage in the World Series has brought back some of the flavor the game once had, but it’s not like you’re going to see a Pete Rose vs. Ray Fosse incident in present day either. Seriously, if you don’t know that reference go watch that video. Fosse’s career was for all intents purposes, ended that day.
Even without the 110% mentality anymore it still remains the best All Star game that professional sports has to offer. It’s a sport that inherently relies on the individual ability of one player against another. Team chemistry and player familiarity is important in baseball, but not in the way it is entrenched in other games. The first baseman isn’t cutting to the bag at a specific time to catch the shortstop’s throw. The runner on first won’t/can’t block the shortstop so you can leg out a double. Instead, baseball’s chemistry factor comes into play over the grind that is the MLB season. It’s like how if you enjoy your co-workers, waking up in the morning is slightly less dreadful. So in this single particular game it all comes down to the player’s doing their thing. And in that regard it truly does showcase the best players in the sport doing what they do best.
Quick Fact: Since 1988 there have only been (7) game 7’s in the World Series.
American League: Salvador Perez KC (Starter), Stephen Vogt OAK, Matt Wieters BAL
National League: Buster Posey SF (Starter), Jonathan Lucroy MIL, Wilson Ramos WSH
The American League has two rather defensive minded backstops here in Perez and Wieters. Both have home run ability as well, but tend feast on mediocre pitchers. They’ll likely have to make their presence on the game with the gear on tonight because the strength of this National League is its’ staff. Defensive value at the catcher position is huge compared to the positional counterparts across the diamond. However, this is an exhibition game with (traditionally) a low number gambles taking place on the base paths. The National League will be boasting three guys that would all be having top ten offensive seasons at first base, let alone catcher, where they rank 1 through 3 offensively. In a game with top eschelon arms, one swing can change the outcome quickly. Give me the top three statistical offensive catchers in the game here. Advantage: National League
American League: Eric Hosmer KC (Starter), Miguel Cabrera DET
National League: Anthony Rizzo CHC (Starter), Paul Goldschmidt ARI, Brandon Belt SF
I really do wish I could make a case for my boy Hosmer here but I can’t. The National League has two of the Top 10 players in the game right now. Rizzo won’t stop getting better. And his cemented spot right at the heart of the Cubs’ potent lineup only intensifies his productivity levels. Paul Goldschmidt may be the biggest superstar in the game that many people haven’t heard of. Just a casual 33 HR / 110 RBI / 21 SB (!) / 1.005 OPS in ’15. And after a slow start (and a quick trade trigger on my part in my dynasty league…)* he has been scorching hot and well on his way towards replicating those numbers again this year. Advantage: National League
*I also have Rizzo though
American League: Jose Altuve HOU (Starter), Robinson Cano SEA
National League: Ben Zobrist CHC (Starter), Daniel Murphy WSH
Ten years ago you wouldn’t have sold your quarter for a dollar to a guy that said second base would someday be a position of superstars. Who would’ve thought a guy trying to buy a quarter would be a genius. Just a reference point for you here. 103 hits / 17 2B / 16 HR / 52 RBI / 71 R / .837 OPS. You know who posted those numbers in the first half of the season? Ian Kinsler. The guy that got left off the AL roster. Jose Altuve looks well on his way to being the next contest to play “Steal Mike Trout’s AL MVP.” As of a few days ago he was getting on base over 36% of the time in at bats where he faced an 0-2 count. What about 2-0? Just a casual 62% clip. *picks jaw up* The other three on here have also been fantastic, but I can stop this short now. Advantage: American League
American League: Xander Bogaerts BOS (Starter), Fransisco Lindor CLE, Eduardo Nunez MIN
National League: Addison Russell CHC (Starter), Aledmys Diaz STL, Corey Seager LAD
The problem many of you are probably facing is the pronunciation of some of these names. What we all have for us is how long we’ll have to figure them out. 6 young stars with ridiculous potential, most of which are in year two or three of their MLB service time. They all do a little bit of everything. Luckily, Eduardo Nunez had a monster first half so we weren’t stuck pulling names out of a hat to see who would represent the Twins. (See Royals 2006) The former Yankee will be hard pressed for innings tonight though as he joins two other budding superstars in Bogaerts (Bo-garts) and Lindor. Lindor is an all-around stud that has continued to build on his rookie successes which outperformed much of the expectation based on his minor league production. On the National League side we’ll see Cubs shortstop (acquired from Oakland in ’14) Addison Russell, St. Louis’ Aledmys (ah-led-mis) Diaz, and LA’s Corey Seager. Now while I like those guys over the next couple years, they currently lack the full skill set Bogaerts and Lindor posses. Advantage: American League
American League: Manny Machado BAL (Starter), Josh Donaldson TOR
National League: Kris Bryant CHC (Starter), Nolan Arenado COL
THIS is what an All Star game should look like. It’s like a title fight. Tag-team edition. Reigning AL MVP leading the league in OBP & 24 year-old 4+ WAR (already) versus the reigning NL Rookie of the Year with 25 home runs & the front runner for NL MVP this year. Don’t be surprised if the All Star MVP comes from the group. Advantage: Both. Winners: The fans
American League: Mike Trout LAA (Starter), Mookie Betts BOS (Starter), Jackie Bradley Jr. BOS (Starter), Carlos Beltran NYY, Ian Desmond TEX, Michael Saunders TOR, Mark Trumbo BAL
National League: Bryce Harper WSH (Starter), Marcel Ozuna MIA (Starter), Carlos Gonzalez COL (Starter), Jay Bruce CIN, Adam Duvall CIN, Odubel Herrera PHI, Starling Marte PIT
It’s gets a little bit tricky here because of the number of players we’re looking at. I think the fans did a solid job on the starters, even though Jackie Bradley Jr.’s hit streak may have factored into his vote-getting over a guy like Ian Desmond. Last year I would’ve listened to Trout and Harper cancelling each other out. This year is just showing why Trout is THE player of this era. His consistency is what elite player’s pinnacle seasons are. It’s unreal what this guy is capable of. Oh, and he’s going for his third straight All Star game MVP tonight as well. Just another thing that nobody in history has done. You know, the norm for Trout. Apart from him I like what Desmond and Trumbo can provide off the bench. Beltran’s resurgence (and constant chase for potential Hall of Fame votes) has been great, along with his storied clutch passed. On the National League side look for Marte to provide a late inning pinch running steal attempt. It’ll be interesting to see if Wieters is in the game to negate that at that point. Duvall and Bruce can leave the yard in any park and make for intriguing late game possibilities. But when it’s all said and done though, Mike Trout. Advantage: American League
American League: David Ortiz BOS (Starter), Edwin Encarnacion TOR
National League: Wil Myers SD (Starter)
Ortiz & Encarnacion vs. Myers? Hmmm. No disrespect to the (finally healthy) great season Wil Myers has had, but it’s no contest considering the unreal 40 year-old campaign Ortiz is having. This wasn’t a last rodeo, vote him in situation. The man has earned it. (34 2B / 22 HR / 72 RBI / 1.106 OPS!) Advantage: American League
American League: Chris Sale CWS (Starter), Cole Hamels TEX, Corey Kluber CLE, Jose Quintana CWS, Aaron Sanchez TOR, Steven Wright BOS
National League: Johnny Cueto SF (Starter), Jake Arrieta CHC, Bartolo Colon NYM, Jose Fernandez MIA, Jon Lester CHC, Drew Pomeranz SD, Max Scherzer WSH, Julio Teheran ATL
What looked like a run-away-and-hide category for the National League has since been depleted over the past week. Kershaw was placed on the DL, Bumgarner threw a 14 k, complete game 1-hitter on Sunday (thus ineligible to play), Noah Syndegaard is battling some potential serious shoulder issues, Stephen Strasburg also remains injured, and Jake Arrieta just announced he’d prefer not to throw in the game. I’d listen if someone wanted to make the claim that those are the five best pitchers in the game right now, and yet NONE of them will be throwing tonight. Want to know something crazy though? The National League still has more talent. This coming even after Terry Collins tried to Terry Collins’ things up by adding an undeserving Bartolo Colon to the roster. Hopefully he’ll pinch hit. Cueto has a 13-1 record, Jose Fernandez is electric and fully recovered from past injury, Lester has been terific, and there’s still the 20 strikeout man himself in Max Scherzer. Advantage: National League
American League: Dellin Betances NYY; Brad Brach BAL, Zach Britton BAL, Alex Colome TAM, Will Harris HOU, Kelvin Herrera KC, Andrew Miller NYY
National League: Jeurys Familia NYM, Kenley Jansen LAD, Mark Melancon PIT, A.J. Ramos MIA, Fernando Rodney SD/MIA,
Remember what I just said about the starters? That remains somewhat applicable in the other dugout here. Wade Davis aka. Cyborg was amidst a down year prior to software update… er injury, having posted a 1.23 ERA. *takes tongue out of cheek* Aroldis Chapman missed the first portion of the season and therefore will also miss this year’s mid summer classic. Craig Kimbrel just went down with torn cartilage in his left knee. And yet, the American League still holds a strong advantage here. Zach Brittion, Dellin Betances, Kelvin Herrera, and Andrew Miller are among the elite relief pitchers in the game. Any lead entering the later part of the game is in great hands with the arms Ned’ll have at his disposure. Advantage: American League
Ned Yost KC
Terry Collins NYM
I don’t always agree with Ned, but I’ll always stand in his corner. He’s won this game before. He’s clowned Collins before. He’s really good with the bullpen. Advantage: American League
It’s one game. The season is 162 games long for a reason. This an exhibition. Players are hurt. Player usage is impossible to predetermine. These are disclaimers for my inevitably wrong prediction. If these were the rosters for a best of 7 series, American League 4-2 in 6. If everyone was healthy and available for that series, National 4-3 in 7. But for tonight, a single game with these rosters: American 5 National 3.
Tune in tonight at 7pm (central time) on FOX.