Seeing how the Mariners’ 2018 season has progressed thus far, doesn’t it feel like the All-Star Game is going to come down to Edwin Díaz protecting a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth? I sure hope it does. Apart from his electric performance at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, the All-Star Game presents Edwin’s brightest moment on the biggest stage.
If the Mariners’ well-dressed warlock gets a chance to close out the National League – an honor he frankly deserves – there’s a couple players on the NL roster that would taste especially sweet with a dose of Sugar. Given that the All-Star Game is an exhibition whose sole purpose is to entertain, the ideal viewing experience would include Edwin Díaz emptying the clip on a bunch of National League hitters who have never seen him before.
Imagine, if you will, the feeling that must come with being an MLB All-Star. Few professions offer public validation like sports do. Whether it’s accolades, awards, or, you know, the sports, athletes have ample opportunities to bask in the glory of their accomplishments. Surely several players on the National League roster are beaming with pride over their All-Star recognition. Whether it’s journeymen like Jesús Aguilar and Scooter Gennett making their first trip, or old heads like Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt going for their sixth time, the All-Star Game is both re-affirming of a player’s ability and a chance to showcase that ability for a massive audience.
Now imagine you get into the batter’s box, flash bulbs popping all around you, the sun setting on a D.C. night, and you look out at the mound to see Edwin Díaz. He of the 100 MPH fastball with run, and the 36 saves before the All-Star break, and the 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Athletes love to talk about how “humbling” their sport is, or how doing amazing things that only a select few people on the planet can do is somehow humbling. Being named one of the best people in the world at your job, only to be dismissed immediately by a 24-year-old on national TV, sounds like the true definition of a humbling experience.
With that in mind, let’s identify some NL adversaries that could use a dash of humility via an Edwin Díaz strikeout. Knowing how All-Star Games usually play out, it’s extremely unlikely that Díaz would get a chance to face any of Dave Roberts’ starters. As fun and lively and violently beautiful as a Díaz vs. Javy Baez matchup would be, that just ain’t happening. Edwin will have to prove his mettle against the National League’s reserves, who will be parading to the plate throughout the later innings. One of those innings (hopefully) will get assigned to Díaz, and for viewership purposes, I’m hoping he gets a chance to sauté at least one of these hitters with his blinding heat.
Yadier Molina – Catcher, St. Louis Cardinals
Molina was behind the plate for Díaz’s outings at the World Baseball Classic. He undoubtedly knows what the rancorous reliever is capable of, and how he likes to attack hitters. Because of this, watching Edwin spew venom at his countryman would be especially delightful.
Yadi is the lone Cardinal position player at the All-Star Game and the only holdover from St. Louis’ 2011 World Series squad. A duel with Díaz would not only have a cute backstory, it would also be a fun meeting of the old (Molina: 1,811 MLB games) and the new (Díaz: 163 MLB games). Plus, if Díaz blows three pitches right by Molina, it will feel like the young up-and-comer on the playground defeating the bully, or maybe when the youngest cousin at the family reunion strikes out all the older kids in Wiffle ball. I can’t wait.
Ozzie Albies – Second Baseman, Atlanta Braves
If we can’t get Edwin vs. Javy Baez, this is probably the juiciest matchup possible. Like Díaz, the Braves’ youngster is making his first voyage into the All-Star waters. Also like Díaz, Albies plays the game with undeniable flair. No matter who wins this standoff, I think it would end with one or both parties donning a massive smile. Blistering fastballs into the catcher’s glove could lead to a “Wow, this guy is unbelievable” smile from Albies, while an Albies dinger may produce a “Can you believe this child just homered off me in the All-Star game?” incredulous grin from Edwin.
The joy of the All-Star Game often comes from the absence of seriousness. Whether it’s Larry Walker and Tommy Lasorda’s physical comedy, or Nelson Cruz flexing for the ‘gram, the All-Star Game brings out a joie de vivre that is very refreshing in a game that often suppresses it. As with any at-bat, there are seemingly millions of ways for it to unfold. If Díaz and Albies go at it, though, the encounter will assuredly be dripping in fun.
Joey Votto – First Baseman, Cincinnati Reds
Since his first full big-league season in 2008, Joey Votto has built his brand on being persnickety and slightly annoying, even if doing so in pseudo-charming ways. Faking out visiting fans, chucking a foul ball into the stratosphere, and giving your teammate the most impractical gift of all-time are all a lot more tolerable when you have a .428 career OBP like Votto does.
On the field, Votto has built that sky-high on-base percentage largely through patience. Five times he’s led the National League in walks, twice eclipsing 135 in a season. The Canadian former MVP has tremendous plate discipline and rarely looks silly at the plate. That said, he’s also never faced Edwin Díaz.
Votto is a pretty ideal player to keep on the bench in an All-Star Game. Should the National League need a base runner in the late innings, they can summon Votto, who has an OBP north of .400 against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. If things get out of hand and the outcome is decided, let the young guys get their hacks while Votto discusses Canadian-U.S. relations or whatever in the dugout.
All I know is if Votto needs an introduction to the American League’s best young closer, the All-Star Game would be a hell of a time do it. Should that happen, I suspect Díaz will make a lasting first impression.
Dear Joey Votto: you gotta learn that name, man.