The All-Star game may carry meaning in the form of home-field advantage for the winner (which isn't really an advantage at all, based on history), but Tuesday night's tilt will still be an exhibition where most position players will be lifted after two at-bats and starting pitchers aren't likely to go more than three innings - if that.
And that's when Royals fans can start watching for Joakim Soria to make an appearance, as The Mexicutioner was selected for the American League bullpen for the second time in three years. Soria brings to Anaheim 25 saves, tops in baseball. Several of those saves came during the Royals' 10-3 hot streak that prompted a debate over whether the team is contending for the Central, which ended almost as quickly as it started when the team was swept in convincing fashion in Chicago last weekend.
Soria also carries the hot hand, having converted 18 consecutive save opportunities going into the break.
With a 12-man bullpen, AL manager Joe Girardi will have plenty of options to turn to in the middle and late innings. Unfortunately for Royals fans wanting to see Soria shut the door and close out an AL victory, they won't have that chance. With Mariano Rivera hurt, Girardi stated that should the game come down to a save situation, he'll opt for Detroit's Jose Valverde.
The Tigers closer is having a spectacular year, but Soria bests him in the key stats of strikeouts and walks allowed, in addition to having more saves. It appears to be a case of a manager going with the safeguards of experience, ERA and market size rather than embracing some of the more telling advanced statistics in which Soria has a clear advantage.
In 2008, Soria excelled in a high-leverage situation in the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium. He entered a tie game in the 11th inning, striking out Mets third baseman David Wright and Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla. For those who stayed up late enough to watch, that was the game that introduced Joakim Soria to the baseball world, though he remains under the radar with a very club-friendly contract that runs through 2014.
While it's embarrassing that the Royals haven't fielded a legitimate bat in the All-Star game in five years, it's nice to see players like Soria or Zack Greinke last year post numbers deserving of a selection rather than seeing Mark Redman stick out like a sore thumb thanks to the "everybody gets a trophy" rule.