If It Counted: American League

Next week, the AL and NL will hook up for an exhibition game. MLB is still pushing the “it counts” theme since home field advantage in the World Series is on the line, but no one treats the game like it really matters; the best players come out halfway through the game, guys are used out of position, and the roster is assembled with goals that directly conflict with putting the best team on the field. So, no, it doesn’t count.

But what if it did? What would the roster look like if the American League and National League were to play one game that really mattered, and their singular goal was to win that day? That’s what we’re going to take a look at today.

Below is my take on the 21 guys that would comprise the AL Roster. We won’t bother filling out the #2-#5 starter spots in the rotation, since this is just a one game deal, and we’re not going to convert starters into relievers for a day. The rosters are put together with not just the goal of having the best players, but the ones who make the most sense from a line-up construction/match-up standpoint, as well as tactical advantages for late game maneuvering. If the AL had to win just one game, this is the team I think they would put on the field.

Carl Crawford, LF
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
Joe Mauer, C
Miguel Cabrera, DH
Josh Hamilton, RF
Evan Longoria, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Derek Jeter, SS
Ichiro Suzuki, CF

Bench: Victor Martinez (C/1B), Justin Morneau (1B/PH), Ben Zobrist (UT), Brett Gardner (OF/PR), Elvis Andrus (SS/PR)

Cliff Lee, SP

Bullpen: Mariano Rivera (R), Matt Thornton (L), Neftali Feliz (R), Scott Downs (L), Rafael Soriano (R), David Hernandez (R, long guy)

The line-up is balanced, going from left/right from top to bottom, and it gets high on base guys in front of the guys who can pound the ball over the wall. Even Roy Halladay would have a tough time getting through that line-up too many times. Because of the high quality of hitters, you won’t do much pinch-hitting, which is why Morneau is the only “big bat” guy on the bench. You would probably have him pinch hit for Jeter against an RHP in a high leverage situation at some point in the game, which is why there are two guys on the bench who can play shortstop.

Gardner is on the team to steal a base, as he’s probably the best runner in the game right now. There are enough slow guys on the team that it’s tough to say who he would run for, which is why a guy like Zobrist is necessary, since you don’t know which position you would be subbing out when you need a late game stolen base. Having the guy who can play anywhere gives you a lot of flexibility. Martinez gets the nod over all the other catchers because he can also play first base, so you can pinch run for Youkilis after you’ve used Morneau as a pinch-hitter and still have a first baseman.

The pitching side is more straight forward. Lee is the best pitcher in the league right now, and should be able to give you six innings, even against a loaded NL line-up. Rivera is the obvious pick to close out the game, and then it’s just a mix of good RH and LH guys to get it to him. David Hernandez gets the call as a long reliever who can bring some heat if the game goes to extra innings and you need a guy to stay out there until it ends – his overall numbers aren’t great, but he’s been lights out since moving to the bullpen and the stuff is certainly there.

Could the NL put 21 guys on the field to match this squad? We’ll find out at 5 pm.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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