If It Really Counted: NL Edition by Wendy Thurm July 2, 2012 Note: As several readers pointed out, I only had 24 players on my roster when the post went live earlier today. Yes, I was confident my team could beat Dave Cameron’s but why cheat myself by having one less player. So I’m adding Zack Greinke. There, now you have another thing to comment on. As Dave laid out this morning, we’re tackling the question of what the rosters for next week’s All-Star Game might look like if the game actually counted. If we got rid of the one-rep-per-team rule, got rid of the extra roster spots, and focused on winning the prize rather than making sure everyone got a chance to play. One game, winner-take-all, AL vs NL. Dave’s AL squad looks pretty good, but I think I put together an NL squad that could take the crown for the senior circuit. The only thing I knew about Dave’s plans for the American League was that Justin Verlander would be his starting pitcher. The only thing Dave knew about my roster was that Stephen Strasburg would be my starting pitcher. Here’s the “If It Really Counted” National League All-Star Roster: Starting Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg, RHP Strasburg is my starting pitcher for several reasons — he throws strikes and he throws hard, essentially pitching like a top shelf reliever but capable of going multiple innings. We know he can air it out, and since I’m only asking him to get through the batting order one time, he can sit near 100 and just blow people away. Next Up: R.A. Dickey, RHP Dickey is a perfect contrast to Strasburg. After Strasburg’s 96+ mph fastball, batters will face Dickey’s knuckleball, which ranges in speed from 60 mph to 80 mph. Very few of Dave’s likely American League hitters have faced Dickey this season, so the element of surprise is in Dickey’s favor. I’d expect Dickey to pitch one time through the lineup, at least, and wouldn’t be against keeping him for longer if the knuckleball was really dancing. High Leverage Lefty #1: Aroldis Chapman, LHP Speed, speed, and more speed. Chapman’s fastball has topped 100 mph regularly this season, he’s averaging 97.4. Of the 48 left-handed batters he’s faced this season, Chapman has struck out 26 and given up only six hits. Only one left-handed batter has hit for extra bases off Chapman and it was a double. Going from flame-throwing righty to knuckleballer to flame-throwing lefty will ensure that the AL never gets comfortable. High Leverage Righty #1: Sergio Romo, RHP Romo has a devastating slider that locals call a “frisbee slider” for the way it floats, ever so gently, near home plate, and then dives down before the batter can do anything about it. He’s faced 64 right-handed batters this season, recording 26 strikeouts. Righties are batting .119 against Romo. He can be susceptible to the long ball, but Kauffman Stadium, where the All-Star Game is being played, has a home run park factor for right-handed batters of 85, so I’m not too worried about him giving up a long ball there. Situational Experts Craig Kimbrel, RHP Tyler Clippard, RHP Jonathan Papelbon, RHP Sean Burnett, LHP Gio Gonzalez, LHP Clayton Kershaw, LHP Kimbrel, Clippard and Papelbon have all been excellent out of the pen this season against right-handed batters. All have pitched well in high leverage situations and can be counted on to get a tough out in the later innings. After Chapman, Burnett’s been the most effective reliever against left-handed batters. I prefer Gonzalez and Kershaw over any other lefty specialist in the bullpen, and having two starters down there gives me the ability to get multiple innings from them if necessary. Starting Lineup 1. Carlos Beltran, Switch hitter — Right Field 2. David Wright, RHB — Third Base 3. Joey Votto, LHB — First Base 4. Ryan Braun, RHB — Left Field 5. Carlos Gonzalez, LHB — Designated Hitter 6. Andrew McCutchen, RHB — Center Field 7. Carlos Ruiz, RHB — Catcher 8. Jed Lowrie, Switch Hitter — Shortstop 9. Aaron Hill, RHB — Second Base The toughest calls were catcher and second base. I wanted Yadier Molina in there to catch Dickey, but didn’t want to give up Ruiz’s superior offense. I have Molina on my bench. I picked Aaron Hill over Brandon Phillips given Hill’s higher OBP and power numbers, recognizing I’d be sacrificing some defense. The top of the order is filled with on-base and power guys. I like Beltran leading off because he’s a switch hitter. The rest of the lineup from 2 through 6 alternates between LHB and RHB to to keep Dave off balance with his match-ups in the later innings. Bench Yadier Molina — Backup Catcher Michael Bourn — Pinch Runner/Defensive Replacement Giancarlo Stanton — Pinch Hitter/Defensive Replacement Martin Prado — Super Utility Player Jason Heyward — Pinch Hitter/Defensive Replacement Molina will backup Ruiz, and if Carlos can’t handle Dickey’s knuckleball, then Molina will sub in, without losing too much on offense. Prado is having a superb season at the plate and has logged significant time in his career at first, second, third and left field, making him the perfect guy off the bench. Bourn can be used as a pinch runner and to spell Braun in left field in the later innings for better defense. Heyward and Stanton are both power threats off the bench, one from the left side, one from the right. Either one of them could also take over for Beltran in right field for late-inning defense if need be. That’s my National League All-Star roster. The NL is blessed with outstanding starting pitching this season, and it seems odd to leave Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong off the roster. But I like the contrast of Strasburg and Dickey to start the game, and went with the best lefty and right specialists to deal with match-ups in the later innings. The National League offense is balanced and I didn’t have to sacrifice defense too much. I would have liked to have found a spot for Melky Cabrera, but much preferred a Braun, McCutchen, Beltran starting outfield, and didn’t think Melky would be all that helpful off the bench. Votto and Wright are about as solid on the corners as you could ask for, both offensively and defensively. I surprised myself a bit in selecting Hill over Brandon Phillips and Jose Altuve, but I wanted his offense, especially at the bottom of the order. Lowrie’s simply been the best all-around shortstop in the National League this year with Troy Tulowitzki hurt for most of the season. If Strasburg and Dickey are on their game, and the lineup hits as they have all year, I like my chances in a “this time it counts” game against Dave’s American League roster.