Tuesday night’s MLB All-Star Game came and went, as it tends to. Fans who attended the game or watched at home were treated to a close contest, a 3-2 victory for the American League, but not much else.
The first few innings were fun! Shohei Ohtani led off the game with a single and then was rather comically picked off at first by Clayton Kershaw. The National League tagged AL starter Shane McClanahan for four hits and two runs in the bottom of the first (the Rays Week curse rears its head once again), and then the AL struck back in the top of the fourth inning with back-to-back homers from Byron Buxton and Giancarlo Stanton, which made the game 3-2. And then that was … pretty much it.
You could have turned the game off in the middle of the fourth inning and not missed a thing. No, really, not a single thing. The NL did not get another hit until the eighth inning, and the AL did nothing but sprinkle three more singles throughout the remaining innings. The broadcast did what it could to keep things lively with a few in-game mic’d up segments, but nothing could really hide the fact that this was an extremely boring baseball game.
I do not wish to sit here and pull some overly pensive thoughts out of my ear about how this game was a microcosm of All That Ails Modern Baseball, just as I am sure you do not wish to read that. I will instead point to one specific trend in baseball which I think played the biggest role in sucking all the juice out this specific All-Star Game, and that is the proliferation of absolutely freakish bullpen arms.
It wasn’t so long ago that a relief pitcher who could consistently throw the ball up near 100 mph, and pair his heater with an elite breaking pitch or two, was a rare thing. Eric Gagne used to strike out the side every other night with a high-90s fastball and a diving circle change, and he became a genuine superstar for it. Now, basically every team in the majors has at least one guy you’ve probably never heard of who might as well be Eric Gagne.
From the fifth inning on, last night’s All-Star Game was just a parade of these types of guys coming into the game to spend an inning absolutely dogging some mid- to lower-tier all-star like Santiago Espinal and Ty France. This parade of brick-house relievers featured the likes of Gregory Soto, Ryan Helsley, David Bednar, and Devin Williams, all of whom left very little chance for any solid contact. The last half of the game was basically this, on repeat:
And then it ended with Emmanuel Clase, who throws a 99 mph cutter, for Christ’s sake, striking out the side.
What the hell is poor Jake Cronenworth supposed to do with that?
To the extent that anything that happens in an All-Star Game can truly be considered a “problem,” I’m not sure this is one that can really be solved. There are just so many of these types of guys in the game right now, and unless the league wants to start limiting how many relievers can be put on an all-star roster, there’s a good chance that the kind of game we saw last night is going to play out several more times in the future. I’m sure a lot of people would prefer an exhibition such as this to feature a lot of dingers and extra-base hits, but the All-Star Game has always been less of an entertainment product than a showcase for the types of players who make the sport what it is at that moment in time. You may have heard that the starting pitcher is a dying breed, and you would have a hard time arguing otherwise after watching the back half of last night’s game.