We’re doing it wrong: 2011 All-Star Game preview

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Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game is supposed to be a grand spectacle, a chance for baseball fans to see all of the sport’s current greats in one stadium on the same night. And it is that.

But a rule made official in 2003 now dictates that the winner of the Midsummer Classic is awarded home field advantage in the World Series — the chance to host four games of a potential seven-game series.

Major League Baseball wants the outcome of the All-Star Game to matter in order to boost interest and competitiveness (and, thus, television ratings), so we’re forced to take this all way too seriously.

(If taking it “too seriously” involves half-hearted and mostly blind analysis).

Our guess at the starting lineups:

American League

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
1B Adrian Gonzalez
LF Josh Hamilton
RF Jose Bautista
DH David Ortiz
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
C Alex Avila

Bench

C Matt Wieters
C Russell Martin
1B Miguel Cabrera
2B Howie Kendrick
3B Adrian Beltre
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
OF Jacoby Ellsbury
OF Carlos Quentin
OF Michael Cuddyer
OF Matt Joyce
DH Michael Young

National League

SS Jose Reyes
CF Matt Kemp
LF Ryan Braun
1B Prince Fielder
DH Joey Votto
RF Lance Berkman
C Brian McCann
2B Rickie Weeks
3B Placido Polanco

Bench

C Yadier Molina
1B Gaby Sanchez
2B Brandon Phillips
3B Chipper Jones
SS Starlin Castro
SS Troy Tulowitzki
OF Justin Upton
OF Hunter Pence
OF Jay Bruce
OF Carlos Beltran
OF Matt Holliday

Both lineups are stacked with power and a nice dose of speed. Jeter is no longer an All-Star caliber player, but neither is Polanco and there’s plenty of danger in the heart of each order to make up for those minor holes. Plus, these starting lineups won’t remain intact beyond the third inning with crowded and talented benches on both sides. The offensive production is going to be a toss-up, especially at Chase Field where home runs fly often. Both clubhouses boast superb power-hitting. The only reason we might favor the National League lineup is because Jeter seems likely to be the sentimental pick at leadoff for American League skipper Ron Washington, and Reyes-Kemp-Braun functions a little better than Jeter-Granderson-Gonzalez.

To the pitching staffs:

American League

SP Justin Verlander
SP Felix Hernandez
SP Gio Gonzalez
SP Josh Beckett
SP David Price
SP James Shields
SP Jered Weaver
SP C.J. Wilson
RP Chris Perez
RP Jose Valverde
RP Aaron Crow
RP Mariano Rivera
RP Brandon League

National League

SP Roy Halladay
SP Clayton Kershaw
SP Cole Hamels
SP Tim Lincecum
SP Jair Jurrjens
SP Matt Cain
SP Cliff Lee
SP Ryan Vogelsong
RP Jonny Venters
RP Joel Hanrahan
RP Heath Bell
RP Tyler Clippard
RP Brian Wilson

We’ll get a better idea later this week as to which pitchers are actually going to be available for the All-Star Game. For now, we’re left only to analyze the staffs as a whole. With Verlander, King Felix, Beckett, Price, Weaver, Shields and Gonzalez, the American League boasts the better rotation arms. All eight starters, including Wilson, have the ability to dominate opponents deep into games. The National League has a trio of excellent Phillies, two young studs in Kershaw and Jurrjens, and a wild card in Lincecum, whose delivery can be awfully tricky for batters who are unfamiliar, but manager Bruce Bochy’s selfish decision to choose Cain and Vogelsong over guys like Tommy Hanson and Anibal Sanchez might be the kicker in the end. Then again, you have to wonder what might happen if the American League is forced to rely on someone like Crow in the later innings. The National League would seem to have a better crop of bullpen arms.

This analysis, of course, is arbitrary. Baseball is a sport played across 162 games, where small sample sizes mean little and any squad has a shot on a given day. The worst team in baseball each season still wins 50 games. It’s going to come down to individual performances. Will Granderson go yard? Will Reyes steal a bunch of bases? Are Joe Buck and Tim McCarver actually gonna provide some enthusiasm?

See you in Phoenix.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.