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The All-Star break seems like the perfect time to talk a little baseball.
I'm very happy that the National League won this year's MLB All-Star Game, 5-1 — not only because the game decides home-field advantage for the World Series, a fact that I fervently hope affects my Phillies, but because of good ol' NL pride. National League baseball is real baseball.
Kudos to 2011 MVP Prince Fielder for his 3-run blast and letting his kids hold the trophy.
Of course, I'm not so happy that the Phils' magnificent Cliff Lee gave up the only American League run in the game, nor that three out of the five Phillies selected for the initial roster couldn't play, but starter Roy Halladay did us proud. (Cole Hamels pitched in a regular game on Sunday, which by rules enacted in 2010 made him ineligible to participate; meanwhile, position players Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino are both legitimately injured rather than taking some alone time in the afterglow of their 3,000th hits.) Also of course, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is still the skipper who ended the National League's 13-game winless streak last year.
The real proof of Lee's constitutional pudding, anyway, is his June record of five wins, no losses, three complete games, a 0.21 ERA, and a scoreless streak of 34 innings — plus the homer that he hit to cap a great at-bat last week. Lee's homer, the first from a Phillies pitcher in two seasons and conjuring up nearly as much tongue-in-cheek Babe Ruth chatter as Wilson Valdez's appearance on the mound back in May, is one of those things that makes NL baseball, real baseball, so exciting.
I can see the argument for the new practice of going with the AL's designated hitter in every All-Star Game, regardless of whether it's played in an AL or NL ballpark. There are already so many pitching changes by design that the rare need for a double switch [link for the benefit of the non-baseball-inclined who are reading this because they love me] combined with the desire to not overexert players in an exhibition game can really complicate things. Having the pitcher hit in regular games is just purer, though, and in fact it's one of things that made returning to the Phillies attractive to Cliff Lee. During the mid-season stretch of interleague play — which I still think of as relatively new; then again, I still think of the network that aired the All-Star Game as relatively new — Phils legend Mike Schmidt visited our team's broadcasting booth and surprised the holy heck out of me by speaking up in favor of the National League adopting the DH. While the DH theoretically leads to more hitting, more scoring, and fewer headaches for the manager in certain situations, I just can't see those questionable benefits outweighing the deficits that would be drawn on the game's strategy, quirkiness, and history; the only actual plus to me is that the DH means a manager isn't compelled to yank a pitcher who's throwing a fine game but not getting run support in the name of some new offensive blood.
What do you think about the designated hitter?
For that matter: How do you feel about interleague play?
And while we're at it: Which NL Central team would you move to the AL and which team from the resulting AL Central would you then move to the AL West to balance out the divisions?
You can rejigger the divisions further if you like. Major League Baseball currently has five, five, and four teams in the American League but five, six, and five in the National League. There is absolutely no reason for such a discrepancy, which is not just inelegant but flat-out unfair in playoff terms, when the leagues could both consist of three divisions with five teams apiece — other than the fact that no self-respecting NL team would want to move to the AL.
Now it's on to the rest of the season. The Phillies' 57 wins at the All-Star break ties the pennant-winning 1993 team for most in franchise history — and that's with some serious injuries having kept Chase Utley away for too long, as well as wreaking absolute havoc on the notion of a regular closer. I know that there's still a lot of baseball left, but I look forward to watching my team beat yours on the way to and/or in the 2011 World Series. Blam wants an excuse to buy a new baseball cap.