NL's recent ASG success not easily explained
KANSAS CITY -- If the American League has won every Interleague season series since 2004, why has the National League won the past three All-Star Games and the previous two World Series?
This is a reasonable question. And it was brought into sharper-than-ever focus Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, where the National League All-Stars defeated their American League counterparts, 8-0. This was the NL's largest margin of victory in the 83-game history of the Midsummer Classic.
And yet, where was this Senior Circuit superiority this summer when the NL went 110-142 against the Junior Circuit in Interleague Play?
Here's the two-part conclusion, one for each league: The American League has a greater depth of quality teams than the National League. It has more hitters in part because its rules allow for more hitters. If you have a young player who is great hitter with no hope of becoming even an average defender, there is a place for him in the AL. In the NL, meanwhile, he would find only unemployment or part-time employment.
You can find only two AL clubs this season that have no realistic chance of being competitive. There are four of those clubs in the NL.
On the other hand, at the star level, which is where the All-Star Game is supposed to be played, there isn't a big difference between the two leagues. The American League may have a greater number of household/baseball names, but that isn't how the outcome is determined. The National League is producing an impressive number of young stars, whose ability in some cases far exceeds their recognition level.
One example: Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen. He is 25, he is producing a monster season, he is a splendid talent, and in the NL All-Star voting, he can't even get a starting nod. But he is one of the finest players in the game.
The Rangers' Josh Hamilton on a given, healthy day, might be the best player in the game. But the NL didn't put any slouches on the field Tuesday night.
Look at one first-inning swing from Milwaukee's Ryan Braun against Detroit ace and 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. Braun hit a 98-mph fastball, which was out of the strike zone, off the wall in right. The rest of the NL lineup chipped in, particularly the Giants' Pablo Sandoval, with a three-run triple, and the NL scored five runs in the first inning off the best starting pitcher the AL has.
Verlander, who went for crowd-pleasing velocity rather than reliable command, was not his usual self on the mound and left the ball up too often. But it still took some legitimate hitters to do this much damage to him before three outs could be recorded.
The other overall issue is pitching. Statistics will favor the NL in this area, but there is an apples/oranges quality to the comparison: one league with the DH, the other without. The test of the pitching in this case came on the biggest stage of all, the World Series.
In the past two postseasons, the Rangers were the favorites over NL clubs that had less impressive regular-season records, the Giants and the Cardinals. In both cases, the NL club delivered much bigger pitching performances in the clutch. The powerful Rangers were shut out twice by the Giants and held to one run in another game, and San Francisco won in five games.
Last year, the Rangers were twice within one pitch of winning the World Series in Game 6 against the Cardinals, but couldn't close the deal. In Game 7, the Redbirds got yet another big performance from their 2011 postseason ace, Chris Carpenter, and the Rangers couldn't come close to matching his level.
The World Series may be a more useful measurement at the top of the game. The All-Star Game is still something special, but it is also an exhibition game. When the NL scored five runs in the first inning, with the quality and depth of pitching available on the NL roster, there was little chance for the American League to come all the way back. You might have expected the AL to find a few runs somewhere and come back to make this a contest, but 10 of the 11 pitchers the Senior Circuit used Monday night had dynamite stuff.
One way or another, this game became another leg up for the Senior Circuit. The National League, by virtue of this All-Star victory, will have the home-field advantage in the World Series for the third straight year. Maybe it means nothing, but it could also mean dancing in the streets this autumn in another National League City.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.