Position breakdown: AL, NL to field stacked squads
Farrell's side may hold advantage with bats while Matheny edges with arms
One of the beauties of the All-Star Game is it's impossible to come up short on talent at any spot on either roster. It's the best of the best, and each league will be extremely well represented when they meet at Target Field.
These are midsummer dream teams, every year.
With home field in the World Series on the line, only one will emerge on top for 2014. And when the American League hosts the National League in the 85th edition of the All-Star Game on July 15, each league will have its, shall we say, stronger strengths that could be keys to victory.
With Boston's John Farrell and St. Louis' Mike Matheny preparing to manage these super squads, there are some edges, as slight as some might be, to be found in a position-by-position breakdown of the best rosters to hit the field all year.
Here's a look:
Yadier Molina of the Cardinals is the gold standard for the position right now. You can tell by the gold patches on his glove and chest protector as the renowned defensive leader of the game, part of an unparalleled overall resume. A close second to Molina this year is Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers, whose all-around game has been key to the hot first half in Milwaukee, and Devin Mesoraco went on a power surge in June.
Losing would-be starter Matt Wieters (Tommy John surgery) obviously is a blow to the AL, but Salvador Perez of the Royals leads a trio of well-deserving picks behind the plate, including the A's Derek Norris and the man who replaced Joe Mauer behind the plate in Minnesota, Kurt Suzuki.
In the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera, the AL has a two-time defending Most Valuable Player who's showing no signs of slowing down. In Jose Abreu, the AL has a rookie putting on a power display for the ages. And unless Edwin Encarnacion is unable to play, there's another man among men with a bat in his hands.
The NL isn't exactly bringing water balloons to a paint-gun fight, with Paul Goldschmidt coming off a season many thought was MVP-caliber. Freddie Freeman is right with him there, giving the NL a couple of first basemen with staying power at the top of their profession.
The player drawing the most attention at second this year isn't even in the starting lineup -- Jose Altuve, the Astros' sparkplug of a middle infielder/leadoff hitter, who has been an offensive machine. Of course, Robinson Cano is very much a worthy All-Star starter, a key to the Mariners' early success with his special brand of all-around play.
Matching Cano for third-most All-Star appearances among this year's honorees, the Phillies' Chase Utley is enjoying a resurgent season after some physical struggles knocked him off track. He's joined at that spot by a speed merchant in the Dodgers' Dee Gordon and an offensive threat in the Mets' David Murphy.
One of the game's rising stars that so many fans around the country are just getting to know, Josh Donaldson is at the center of the A's run to MLB's best record in the first half. He's joined by a well-established talent at the hot corner in Adrian Beltre of the Rangers.
The Brewers' fan base had a lot to do with Aramis Ramirez getting his first starting nod for the NL, but it's his third appearance so it's part of a larger body of work, too. Todd Frazier, an electric hitter for the Reds, is another well-deserved first-time pick.
Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies has been the man so far -- leading the league in average, on-base percentage and runs tells only part of the story, but it's plenty. Also at short: Starlin Castro, the gifted shortstop the Cubs say is part of their future.
But, when it comes to the ground between second and third at Target Field on that Tuesday, it'll be all about the guy in pinstripes wearing No. 2: Derek Jeter, who will be making his 14th All-Star appearance and no doubt will receive a hero's farewell during the game sometime. Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox makes his first appearance as an All-Star, and presumably will trot out while Jeter trots in for the last time.
You have to start with Mike Trout, the Angels' outfielder who is the "It" player in Major League Baseball today, a startling combination of subjective awe and statistical prowess. He's joined in the AL outfield by top vote-getter Jose Bautista, who gets on base practically every single day and often does it with a loud bang, and Adam Jones, the Orioles' toolsy talent. Need a great arm? The A's Yoenis Cespedes. Need a Gold Glove? The Royals' Alex Gordon. Need a knock? The Indians' Michael Brantley.
The NL has the reigning MVP in Andrew McCutchen, one of the best all-around players in the game, and an interesting pair of super-talented players whose talents are electrifying while both seem to be lightning rods: Carlos Gomez of the Brewers and Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers, both having tremendous seasons. Giancarlo Stanton, who might find a way into the starting lineup at DH, is a bona fide superstar, and he's joined by a talented group of the Rockies' Charlie Blackmon, the Giants' Hunter Pence and the Pirates' Josh Harrison.
No one has been mashing baseballs in the first half quite like Nelson Cruz, who has helped the Orioles to the top of the AL East. Add Victor Martinez of the Tigers' terrific twosome, and you have a guy who will put the ball in play -- and out of play. With other available bats such as Brandon Moss of the A's and backups on other corner positions, the AL has a lot of options there.
Stanton would seem to be the choice at DH for the NL squad, and anyone who has seen him launch baseballs this season knows he can do some damage with a bat in his hand. The NL's surplus of hitters, however, doesn't match the AL's.
With Harrison on the roster, Matheny has a Swiss Army knife at his disposal, and he's not the only versatile player on the NL roster. This game is a lot about how benches are played, and that's generally going to be an NL strength.
The AL has plenty of firepower in reserve with guys like Abreu, Martinez and Beltre available, and Altuve could be an interesting replacement capable of changing the game's tempo.
Pick your poison when it comes to the NL. There's Clayton Kershaw, who started the season late but still has put up impressive first-half numbers -- including that one with the zero in the hits column and the 15 in the strikeouts column. And there's Adam Wainwright, on another one of his strings of dominating starts as the leader of the Cardinals' staff. The Dodgers' Zack Greinke, the Reds' Johnny Cueto, the Braves' Julio Teheran, they've all been dominant at times this season. In the Giants' Madison Bumgarner, the Nationals' Jordan Zimmermann and the Padres' Tyson Ross, there are a lot of interesting middle-relief options available.
The Mariners' main monarch, Felix Hernandez, is among the surest things in the game, delivering start after start. The Rangers' Yu Darvish and the Tigers' Max Scherzer deliver two of the game's stellar arms, and what a start for newcomer Masahiro Tanaka, the only AL starter who won't be on schedule to compete. The AL also boasts four of the best lefties in the game: Boston's Jon Lester, Tampa Bay's David Price, Toronto's Mark Buehrle and Oakland's Scott Kazmir.
For the NL, we're talking some serious heat when it comes to Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel, currently tied with the Brewers' Francisco Rodriguez for the MLB lead in saves. Throw in the different look of the Cardinals' Pat Neshek and a power lefty in Tony Watson, and the NL has interesting options beyond their regular starters.
The foursome of relievers on the AL squad include Greg Holland of the Royals and lefty closers Glen Perkins of the Twins and Sean Doolittle of the A's. Dellin Betances, who has been so impressive for the Yankees, also brings the late-innings savvy.
This is just one game -- one game with otherworldly rosters facing off -- so any slight edges of one team over the other might not even emerge, depending on how the game plays out.
What is certain is that two dream teams will be playing out their midsummer fantasy at Target Field.
Those rosters are not quite set -- one more spot is available for each league.
Immediately following the announcement of the American League and National League All-Star rosters on Sunday, fans began voting to select the final player for each league's 34-man roster via the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by Experian. Fans can cast their votes from a list of five players from each league until the winners are announced after the voting concludes on Thursday at 4 p.m. ET.
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans help choose the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com and via Twitter in the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Pepsi, and their collective voice will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that determines the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
MLB.TV Premium subscribers, for the first time, will be able to live stream the All-Star Game via MLB.TV through FOX's participating video providers. Access will be available across more than 400 platforms that support MLB.TV, including the award-winning MLB.com At Bat app. MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.
The 85th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.