With LeBron James officially headed back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the most important decision in sports right now rests on the shoulders of St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. As the skipper of the National League All-Star team, it's all up to him to determine which of his pitchers gets the ball first at the All-Star game on Tuesday night.
Fringe arguments could easily be made for several different pitchers at his disposal, including Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto, but the decision really boils down to two men: Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and his ace with the Cardinals Adam Wainwright.
From a baseball perspective, he can't go wrong. Both men are obviously deserving of the nod and both are more than capable of handling the on- and off-field responsibilities that go along with the assignment. From the fans' perspective, particularly of the two teams involved, it's a little different. The honor can only be bestowed upon one man, which stirs up pride and debate about which man is more deserving.
It's six of one, half a dozen of the other pretty much any way you look at it. And the numbers only make it more difficult to separate one from the other. On one hand, there's the two-time Cy Young Award-winner in Kershaw, who over his last 45 innings pitched has allowed but one run. That is classified as complete dominance, and his ERA is a league best 1.78 coming off a 1.83 season in 2013. He also sports a 126:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is about one level above video game good.
On the other hand, there's the always steady Wainwright, who this season has taken his game to yet another level. Through 19 starts, he's tied the league lead in wins with 12. More importantly, he's posted a 1.83 ERA, which is second only to Kershaw. He has three complete games and two shutouts to his credit.
If we're being honest, it may be best decided by a coin flip. But since we know Matheny will put a lot more thought into it than that, here are some factors that may influence his decision.
Working in Kershaw's favor ...
He's on fire: Over his last eight starts, Kershaw is 8-0 with a 0.74 ERA, including his nearly perfect no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies. Momentum might not be a real thing in baseball, but awesome pitchers who are locked in the zone have to be the closest thing.
The injury to Yadier Molina: The Cardinals stalwart catcher is set to miss 8 to 12 weeks with a torn ligament in his thumb, which is a devastating blow to their postseason chances. Molina was also slated to be the National League's starting catcher, which may have had Matheny leaning toward Wainwright due to pitcher-catcher familiarity. Maybe it wouldn't haven't factored at all, but a good clean start with comfortable battery mates may have appealed more to Matheny. We''ll never know, because that option no longer exists.
Working in Wainwright's favor ...
Kershaw's early injury: Wainwright has a larger body of work this season due to Kershaw's back injury that cost him all of April. Wainwright has made five more starts and piled up 44 more innings, yet still maintains Kershaw-like numbers across the board.
Loyalty from his skipper: It would be difficult to fault Matheny for showing favoritism and rewarding his ace not only for a strong first half, but for years of consistency and stability.
Those are pretty much the only arguments that can be used to separate the two stud pitchers. The good news is we're pretty much guaranteed to see both on Tuesday night, but if it were up to you, the fan, who would you select: Kershaw or Wainwright?
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