Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Harrison, Watson represent new generation of All-Stars

Tony Watson: 5-0, 0.86 ERA in 42 games (Charlie LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
The idea that Major League Baseball ties home-field advantage in the World Series to whichever league wins the All-Star Game is silly. The All-Star Game is an exhibition game, as anyone who has ever watched one of the Midsummer Classics will attest. If the game really counted, the managers would play their starters the entire game as they would in the regular season, and players would play with much more intensity.
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg understands better than most how managers and players approach the All-Star Game because he played in 10 of them during his Hall of Fame career.
“It’s like a having a couple of mental days off,” Sandberg said. “Once the game starts, the competitiveness comes out and you want to do well, but it’s still not like a regular-season game. The intensity just isn’t the same.”
Pirates left-handed reliever Tony Watson and utility infielder Josh Harrison, though, can be thankful home-field advantage in the World Series is attached to the All-Star Game. With something on the line, managers are more apt to make strategic moves late in close games in an attempt to win.
That’s where Watson and Harrison fit in on the National League roster after being selected to the team Sunday by manager Mike Matheny of the Cardinals.
Watson has yet to save a game all season and is relatively anonymous as a set-up man. But he has had a fantastic season in his role and gives the NL a second left-hander in the bullpen to go with Reds closer Aroldis Chapman.
Watson had held left-handed hitters to a .190 batting average and two extra-base hits in 48 plate appearances going into Monday night’s game at St. Louis. He was also 5-0 with a 0.89 ERA in 41 games and hadn’t allowed an earned run since April 22.
For as much energy he provides the Pirates, it’s hard to think of Harrison as an All-Star. He is having a solid season as he was hitting .298 with five home runs and nine stolen bases in 72 games prior to Monday’s game. Those numbers don’t scream All-Star.
But Harrison provides great positional flexibility with his ability to play second base, third base, shortstop, left field and right field.
In his own unconventional way, Harrison is an All-Star. And Watson is, too.

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