Tonight's All-Star game, which hypothetically pits the best players the American and National Leagues have to offer against each other, presents an interesting quandary for A's fans. The most meaningful meaningless game of the season actually has the potential to affect that Athletics for the first time in many years, but there's only one Oakland player who has a shot to even marginally affect the game's outcome. It's Grant Balfour, who's far from a sure bet to see any action tonight. So: should (and will) A's fans care about or even watch this game?
On the one hand, Oakland was blatantly disrespected, plain and simple, by the American League team's general lack of A's players. The A's have two representatives, but they're not both eligible to participate. The first is Bartolo Colon, who sports a 12-3 record and a 2.70 ERA at the tender young age of 40, and has seemed to be the Athletics' most likely ASG representative since May.
The other is Grant Balfour, who despite rocking a 1.63 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in 38.2 innings pitched and a perfect 25/25 tally in save opportunties this season, was only included as part of the American League roster because Colon pitched on Sunday and is ineligible to participate in the game tonight. That's right -- his last blown save came on April 29, and he still wasn't originally selected as one of the American League's best relief pitchers. To make that clear, that's April 29, 2012. To add insult to injury, the AL's five-man "Final Vote", which gives fans the opportunity to choose each league's final ASG representative, included five right-handed relief pitchers. Guess who wasn't even included on that list? Grant Balfour.
I still haven't mentioned Josh Donaldson, who in my opinion is easily deserving of the honor, despite the fact that he faced unbelievably stiff competition at third base. Just to recap Donaldson's year: he's putting up a slash line of .310/.379/.522. He's hit 16 home runs and amassed a WAR of 4.3 in 93 games played and happens to consistently churn out highlight reel-worthy plays on defense. If that set of numbers doesn't earn you a spot in the All-Star Game, it's unbelievably difficult to find one that does.
And let's not forget Jed Lowrie, who actually finished fourth in All-Star voting among AL shortstops. His line of .295/.364/.424 is also impressive and his defensive versatility (read: ability to play average defense at multiple positions) could have been attractive to Jim Leyland. To be frank, Lowrie probably didn't actually deserve an All-Star bid, but more than one player from the A's deserved to be named to the team initially, and Lowrie is yet another Athletic who's playing very well and wasn't recognized.
So...if the A's were in third place, I wouldn't even consider watching this game. But Oakland actually leads Texas in the AL West standings by a full two games, and the A's are coming off a stretch in which they won series against the Cardinals, Red Sox, Pirates, and Reds. This is Oakland's best shot at a World Series appearance since 2006, if not 2001 or 2002. And since Bud Selig and the rest of MLB had the brilliant idea of having a mid-season exhibition decide home-field advantage for the World Series, it's worth tuning in to FOX at 5pm (the way these events go, first pitch will probably be on the 6pm side of things) to see if the AL can put a stop to the National League's mini-streak of the consecutive victories.
So the A's really, really want the AL to pull this one out, even though it's totally plausible that no Oakland player has any influence whatsoever over the outcome. We all saw what happened when the A's, despite having home-field advantage, were forced to play their first two playoff games on the road in Detroit last year. That scheduling fluke was painful enough. Now imagine having to play, say, an 85-win Dodger team that barely squeaked out a win in the ridiculously weak NL West got home field advantage over a 96-win A's team that beat out Texas and plays in a better league to begin with. That's not a good scenario, and it's one a lot of fans around baseball are hoping to avoid tonight.
But Grant Balfour is on the roster, and he does have a shot to see some game action. Jim Leyland has said that he doesn't know when he'd use Balfour, but it almost certainly won't be the 9th inning, given the fact that a guy named Mariano Rivera is playing in his final All-Star game in his team's home city, if not his home borough or home park. Rivera is a good bet (and deservedly so) to pitch the final inning for the AL, which could be either the 8th or the 9th depending on the score.
On the hill tonight for the National League, as selected by Giants manager Bruce Bochy, is a hometown hero: Mets rookie phenom Matt Harvey, who's 7-2 with a 2.35 ERA on the season. If you haven't yet, check out this awesome video of Harvey on Jimmy Kimmel live interviewing unsuspecting New Yorkers who don't recognize him. And he's interviewing them about none other than Matt Harvey. Hilarity ensues.
Jim Leyland is using one of his own hurlers from the Detroit Tigers, but there's no favoritism involved here. Max Scherzer is 13-1 with a 3.19 ERA and suffered his first loss of the season just this past week. He totally deserves the start.
Here are the lineups for tonight, both of which are certain to look completely different after only a few innings:
|American League All Stars (M. Scherzer) @ National League All Stars (M. Harvey )|
And finally, here's some A's-related news, as reported by Susan Slusser: