Influx of powerful young pitchers may help National League level the playing field with American League

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By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

ANAHEIM, CALIF.

Ubaldo Jiménez, the Rockies pitcher with the 100-mph fastball and the 15-1 record, Josh Johnson, the 6-foot-7 Marlin with the 1.70 ERA, and Tim Lincecum, the Freak from San Francisco with two Cy Young Awards, are here at the All-Star Game already.

Next year, this power-pitching trio may be joined on the National League staff by Mat Latos, 22, the intimidating Padre giant who looks like Don Drysdale but with tattoos, and Stephen Strasburg, 21, who already leads baseball in jerseys sold.

Asking the All-Star Game to grant us an NL victory for the sake of competitive balance is like beseeching the World Cup final to provide a few goals for the sake of cheesy entertainment. Every dozen years, you may get it. But don't hold your breath.

However, the time may finally be approaching when the NL can break its mid-summer jinx and not only win its first all-star game since '96, but reassert itself as a separate but roughly equal league, rather than as an American League occupied territory.

"There are a lot of big-name young pitchers in our league now," said Lincecum, 26. "It makes us want to push ourselves even more because they seem so young, so fresh, so nasty." When he thinks of Tuesday, he imagines the NL bullpen opening and, one after another, every pitcher "just comes in blowin' gas."

The all-star game's whole history has been a bizarre sequence of streaks in which one league hexed the other for ridiculous lengths of time. In '83, when the NL held a 23-2-1 lead since '60, NL Manager Whitey Herzog was asked whether he let a young pitcher absorb a seven-run third inning because the eventual 13-3 AL win seemed desperately needed for the health of the game. He denied it, but never stopped smiling.

These days, the gap seems much smaller; the last four AL wins were all by one run. So, if the arrival of a wave of power pitching arms really does tilt decidedly toward the NL, it could even portend the next switch in the all-star balance, now or soon.

"There's no question we have some big arms on our team and with command, too," said Chris Carpenter who, with fellow Cardinals curveballer Adam Wainwright, has crazy-good stuff. "Ubaldo has that nasty sinker and change-up that he can throw to spots. Josh Johnson has sink, cut, control to both sides of the plate."

Oh, the AL has plenty of quality pitchers, too, with young, blossoming Tampa Bay southpaw David Price starting, and more lefties, such as Jon Lester and CC Sabathia, behind him. But, come mid-July, nobody has a clear intimidation advantage -- anymore.

Probably because of the designated hitter rule, the AL evolved into a power-pitching league as nibbling hurlers gravitated to the less-demanding NL -- the land where pitchers hit, managers played for one run and sacrifice bunts provided free outs.


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