is still just 20 years old but he's making his second All-Star Game appearance, and first start. (AP)
With Bryce Harper and Mike Trout joined this year by Manny Machado and Jose Fernandez — not to mention Matt Harvey — the trend toward youth in the All-Star Game continues. Including inactive players replaced due to injuries or Sunday starts, this year's rosters feature 19 players age-25 or younger, equaling last year's mark, a level that prior to 2012 hadn't been reached since 1967. Another eight participants this year are 26 years old.
That game 46 years ago featured such 25-and-under future Hall of Famers as Rod Carew, Ferguson Jenkins, Tony Perez and Tom Seaver. It's far too soon to know which of this year's young stars will wind up in Cooperstown but it's clear they've taken the torch from the most recent generation that has dominated the All-Star Game in this century.
Indeed, with no Derek Jeter (13 times an All-Star), Alex Rodriguez (10 times), Ichiro Suzuki (10 times), Albert Pujols (nine), Chipper Jones (eight), Roy Halladay (eight), Lance Berkman (seven), Michael Young (seven), Paul Konerko (six) or CC Sabathia (six), there's no mistaking the changing of the guard. This is the first time since 1995 that none of those players has taken part in the Midsummer Classic. Some of those perennial All-Stars weren't around last year, and by now it's clear that most of them aren't coming back. Jones retired after last season, Berkman, Jeter and Rodriguez appear to be on their last legs (contract status notwithstanding), Halladay is recovering from shoulder surgery, Konerko is nearing the finish line and Pujols is on a contract that appears to be a disaster in the making, with still eight more years to go. Even among players with five All-Star appearances under their belts, it's questionable as to if or when we'll see Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton or Chase Utley in this game again.
The National Legue has 13 of the players 25 or younger, including eight pitchers. Fernandez is 20, Madison Bumgarner and Patrick Corbin are 23, Harvey is 24 and Aroldis Chapman, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel and the inactive Jeff Locke are 25. Among the hitters, Harper is 20, Jean Segura and the injured Freddie Freeman are 23 and Domonic Brown and Paul Goldschmidt are 25. On the AL side, pitchers Matt Moore and Chris Sale are 24 and Chris Tillman is 25, while among the hitters, Machado and Trout are 21 and Salvador Perez is 23.
As you might expect in a league with the designated hitter, the AL has a substantial edge in the over-30 department. Eight pitchers (four of them inactive) and 11 hitters on the Junior Circuit roster are over 30, compared to four pitchers (one inactive) and five hitters on the NL side. Six of those AL players are over 35, including 43-year-old Mariano Rivera and the inactive 40-year-old Bartolo Colon. The NL roster has just three players over 35.
Age doesn't entirely matter when it comes to All-Star experience, however. Thirty-seven-year-old Marco Scutaro, 36-year-old Jason Grilli and 35-year-old Grant Balfour are among the record 39 first-time All-Stars, a total that surpasses the previous high of 35 in 2011. Of course, that — and indeed, most of these numbers — is a function of expanding rosters. In 1998, when the majors grew to 30 teams, All-Star rosters expanded to 30, then to 32 in 2003, 33 in 2009 and 34 in 2010. Furthermore, between injuries and the provision that allows starting pitchers who threw on Sunday to be replaced, 10 players have been added to the rosters since they were first announced, seven of whom were first-timers.
All of which may dilute the honor of being an All-Star somewhat, but it shouldn't lessen our ability to marvel at the diverse paths these players took to get to this stage. Harper and Trout exploded onto the scene last year, cutting through the overwhelming hype to put together history-making seasons before they were of legal drinking age, and they've shown this year those performances were no fluke. Machado debuted late last year — Aug. 9, to be exact — and has already asserted himself as one of the AL's best players. He enters the break ranking second in the league in Wins Above Replacement, and he's poised to challenge the single-season doubles record. Fernandez, a Cuban defector who made the jump from High-A ball, has already shown that he can dominate hitters.
At the other end of the spectrum, Grilli, the fourth pick of the 1997 draft by the Giants, spent more than a decade on the major league margins, pitching for five different teams and missing a year due to knee surgery before emerging as a dominant late-game reliever for the Pirates in 2011; this year, he's excelled as a closer despite having just five career saves prior. Scutaro, a longtime utility infielder, appeared to be done at this point last year, but a trade to San Francisco rejuvenated him, and after helping the Giants win a World Series, he has continued his hot hitting.
Though the NL has won the past three All-Star Games — holding the AL to a combined two runs and 18 hits in the process — it's unclear yet whether this youth movement will shift the balance of power back to their side on a long-term basis. Prior to this streak, the AL had won 12 of the previous 13 games, with the infamous 2002 tie interrupting its winning streak, and going back to 1988 had won 18 of 22. The NL has enjoyed its own runs of dominance. From 1963 through 1982, it won 19 out of 20, with the AL's win in 1971 breaking that into separate winning streaks of first eight and then 11 years. The overall edge still belongs to the Senior Circuit, 43-38-2 (the other tie was in the second game of 1961).
Since tying the game's result to homefield advantage in the World Series, the AL has won seven of 10 contests, and while the run of three straight NL victories has coincided with three straight NL wins in the World Series, the link isn't definitive. The AL failed to convert its advantage in 2003, when the Marlins won, in 2006 when the Cardinals won, and in 2008, when the Phillies won. Thus, the league winning home field advantage in the World Series is 7-3.
It remains to be seen which of this new generation of stars will still be playing when October rolls around, but you can be sure that many of them will be fixtures in the Midsummer Classic for the rest of this decade, and beyond.
Complete rosters for National League and American League
American League at National League
Location: Citi Field, Queens, NY
Series: NL leads 43-38-2
Time: 8:00 p.m. EST
Starters: Max Scherzer (13-1, 3.19 ERA) vs. Matt Harvey (7-2, 2.35 ERA). See here for details