As a kid growing up in the Bay Area in the late 1970s, I used to look forward to three things every summer: 1) The San Francisco Giants wallowing in (or very near) last place; 2) The family car pulling into our driveway after a nine-hour, 400-mile journey from my grandparents’ house in Southern California (bad enough that Dad refused to push the speedometer needle past 55, but even worse that the 8-track rotation would be Engelbert Humperdinck, Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow); and 3) Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.
Back in the days of bell-bottoms and feathered hair, there was no better summer evening than flipping on the TV (by hand, of course), maneuvering the rabbit ears just so and settling in to watch Steve Garvey, Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tom Seaver kick the crap out of the American League.
For 11 consecutive seasons from 1972-82, the National League dominated baseball’s “Midsummer Classic.” And if not for Reggie Jackson’s 520-foot home run at Tiger Stadium in 1971, the NL would have won 20 straight from 1963-82.
Well, the times they have a changed, haven’t they? Instead of 8-tracks, rabbit ears and the NL owning the All-Star Game, we have iPods, satellite dishes and the AL destroying the NL like Tiger Woods does a marriage.
On July 13 in Anaheim, Calif., the AL will attempt to extend its winning streak to 13 in a row (not counting the infamous 2002 tie). Going back to 1988, the AL is 18-3-1 in All-Star action.
So of course it’s an absolute lock that the AL will once again light up the NL like Snoop Dogg does a bong, right? Not so fast! I’m playing the NL to win for the first time since Bill Clinton was in his first term as president and Michelle Pfeiffer was still hot (1996).
Why will this year be different? First off, the last four All-Star Games were one-run nail-biters with the AL prevailing, 3-2, 5-4, 4-3 and 4-3 (including a 15-inning marathon in 2008). Translation: The NL has been very close to breaking through in recent years.
Secondly, injuries, voting snubs and the new rule prohibiting pitchers who start on the Sunday prior to the All-Star break from pitching in the All-Star Game will rob the AL of some of its best players. Among those not expected to participate are three injured Red Sox (Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez and Clay Buchholz), ace pitchers Felix Hernandez of Seattle and Jered Weaver of the Angels (snubbed), and Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia (likely unable to pitch).
Finally, and most importantly, the balance of power on the mound belongs to the NL this year. Check out the arms that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel will have at his disposal: Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Wainwright, Josh Johnson, Roy Halladay and Tim Hudson—five guys with ERAs under 2.50. And that doesn’t even include former Cy Young Award winners Chris Carpenter and Tim Lincecum.
Add it all up and throw in what is certain to be an underdog price, and I’ll take a shot with the NL to increase my bankroll (which now sits at $5,345).
ALL-STAR BONUS PLAY: I’ve already detailed the incredible pitching staff the NL has assembled, as well as how the past four All-Star Games have seen less scoring than Bill Gates’ bachelor party. Beyond that, we’ve already had four no-hitters this year (five if you count the perfect game stolen from the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga), making this without question the Year of the Pitcher.
Two additional factors point toward a low-scoring game: 21 of the last 30 All-Star contests have featured nine runs or fewer, and with this game being played on the West Coast, shadows will come into play at Angel Stadium for at least a couple of innings, giving the pitchers a big advantage. I smell another 4-3 final.
THIS WEEK’S SELECTIONS:
$200 – National League to win the All-Star Game (Estimated odds: +130)
$50 – All-Star Game UNDER the total (Estimated total: 9 runs)
Matt Jacob is a former local sports writer who has been in the sports handicapping business for more than four years. For his weekly column, Vegas Seven has granted Matt a “$7,000” bankroll. If he blows it all, we’ll fire him and replace him with a monkey.