With the two leagues set to square off in their annual exhibition featuring its greatest stars on July 16th, all eyes will be on Citi Field. With home field advantage during the World Series on the line, the question very simply put is, can the National League maintain its grip on the contest for the fourth straight year?
Obviously, a lot of variables are at play in a contest of this nature. First and foremost, the competition is an exhibition game, and therefore players will not be operating at full throttle. Safety is still paramount; therefore, pitchers will be used sparingly, and substitutions will be made generously with an eye toward getting all major leaguers named to the team some action. Second, since this is simply a one game contest, fans know and appreciate that absolutely anything can happen. Either side could readily win, or they could battle to an extra inning draw knotted in a low scoring affair. The wild ride of the game is what makes it so entertaining for fans to watch every summer.
The key matchups early will be the extreme dominance of NL starting pitchers against the absolute firepower of the American League bats. The AL has the muscle on their side with Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis, both on offensive tears seldom seen in baseball history. Waiting for them will be the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Jeff Locke, who make not just a point, but a career out of refusing to allow opposing batters to dent home plate. If the American League finds a lead early, it will be tough for the National League to regain control of the game. The depth of the American League bats runs deeper then the handful of elite NL starters looking to shut them down.
The depth of the American league starters is also substantial. While fireballers like Justin Verlander may not be leading the league in as many categories this year, the format of the game allows his kind to avoid pacing. He may simply air out all 100 mph of his cannon arm for two innings tops in an attempt to overpower the National League bats. Also, some of the more enigmatic hurlers like the Texas ace Yu Darvish could quite possibly baffle the opposing league who does not get a sufficient opportunity to face him during the regular season.
Lastly, should the AL carry a lead into the late innings, the legend waiting to finish the game is none other than Mariano Rivera. His recovery from the devastating ACL injury last year, over the age of 40, would be previously unthinkable. Even now that it has happened, it is difficult to believe anyone other than Rivera would be capable of it.
The National League has shown a lot of teeth in games the previous few years, so they are most certainly not to be underestimated. But the absolutely monstrous years so far belong primarily to AL players. To that end, expect a slim American League victory to buck the trend of NL wins of late. No matter what happens, it will most certainly be fun and entirely worth enjoying as a midsummer treat.
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