Tony La Russa makes sense picking Matt Cain for NL starting pitcher

David Brown
Big League Stew

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tony La Russa made the right choice in picking Matt Cain. Perhaps he wasn't the most compelling choice — it's hard to beat the narrative of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey's season — but Cain is a very good pitcher having a great year. And we're talking about picking the starting pitcher for the All-Star game, here. It's not that cut and dried. And it's not that important. The starting pitcher goes an inning, two or three in extremes. And looking at the numbers, Matt Cain passes pretty much any litmus test you can make for him.

On the AL side, Ron Washington picked Justin Verlander of Detroit to start and there's no credible reason to complain about that, so don't even bother. Verlander is almost always worth the price of admission.

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In explaining his Dickey decision Monday afternoon, La Russa said he liked the idea of pairing Cain and his teammate on the San Francisco Giants, catcher Buster Posey. Further, Posey reportedly doesn't have much, if any, knuckleball receiving experience. So Dickey instead can pitch to Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies, who can at least warm him up in the bullpen. And, again, we're talking about picking the starting pitcher for the All-Star game. That's not good enough for some people, like columnist Scott Miller of CBS Sports, who call La Russa a "killjoy" for not picking Dickey.

It's hard to argue that La Russa isn't a killjoy, but that's not what's happening here. Not on purpose. While it's understandable that La Russa irritates some, not every decision he makes is calculated to benefit him personally. Dickey's ERA is 2.40. He pitched back-to-back one-hitters earlier in the season. He's having one of the better knuckleball seasons on record. Dickey told reporters he was disappointed at the news, but also seemed to understand where La Russa was coming from (Via CBS Sports Eye on Baseball):

"I'm not going to break down in tears over it, but at the same time I'm a competitor," Dickey said. "I want to pitch. I want to start.

"I feel like I've had a good enough first half to be considered. But I'm not the boss. I don't have to necessarily agree with it but I have to respect it. That's the way it is."

And look: Cain's ERA is 2.62, and he's pitched a perfect game. The NL isn't slumming here. Another thing: Cain and Dickey aren't the only good choices.Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals is probably the most talented pitcher in the clubhouse and is having a worthy season. He would make a good choice as well. But he'll have to wait his turn.

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Getting picked is a great honor. It goes in the record books. But ask yourself this: Who were the starting pitchers a season ago? OK, how about two seasons ago? Six? That's what I thought.

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