ANAHEIM, Calif. - Barely 15 minutes into Monday's All-Star interview session and Tim Lincecum was trying not to let his eyeballs roll out of his head.
“So, Tim, what do you make of all the young pitching out there?
“... Tim, is this the year of the pitcher?
“... Hi, Tim, uhmmm, I’m wondering what do you think of all the great pitching?”
Yes, it is the Year of the Pitcher. Hitters are striking out 7.02 times per nine innings, the highest rate in history. The aggregate 4.16 ERA in both leagues would be the lowest since 1992.
The Phillies’ Roy Halladay and the A’s Dallas Braden have tossed perfect games. In the minds of many, so did the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga. The Diamondbacks’ Edwin Jackson and the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez have thrown no-hitters.
The trend might be difficult – even tedious – to explain. But for the National League to win its first Midsummer Classic since 1996, the trend must hold tonight at Angel Stadium.
The American League lineup has more firepower, but just get a load of that NL pitching staff.
Lincecum, a former Liberty High School and University of Washington star, almost was a courtesy pick to a staff that includes Jimenez, Halladay, Cardinals starters Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, and Braves ace Tim Hudson. Marlins right-hander Josh Johnson looked around at an interview room full of aces and had a hard time believing his 1.70 ERA was well below any of theirs.
Carpenter pointed out that his St. Louis teammate, Jaime Garcia, didn’t make the squad despite a 2.17 ERA that ranks third in the majors.
“This staff,” said Carpenter, “is no joke.”
Halladay, last year’s AL All-Star starter, might be the guy who finally swings the game in the NL’s favor. But NL manager Charlie Manuel will begin with Jimenez, who is 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA and throws a screaming, 99 mph fastball that breaks like a slider.
“We’ve got some really talented pitchers on the NL squad, but this guy’s record speaks for itself,” Manuel said. “He’s what I would call a horse. So is Josh Johnson. It’s a tough choice.”
They’ll be tough to hit, too. The 5 p.m. start time will result in shadowy conditions.
“All the attributes are there for us to win,” Lincecum said. “We’ve got a pretty good chance.”
Lincecum, a two-time defending Cy Young Award winner, isn’t exactly having a letdown season. He is 9-4 with a 3.16 ERA and an NL-best 137 strikeouts. It says more about the prevailing trend that 22 starting pitchers have a lower ERA.
Hudson, who will turn 35 on Wednesday, is impressed with the glut of talented young pitchers.
“Now you’re seeing great talents,” he said. “Some of the arms out there are the best I’ve seen. The stuff is dominant. It’s powerful stuff. And they seem to have more polish at a young age.”AL manager Joe Girardi called the glut of young arms “incredible.”
“It’s the time of the pitcher now,” Girardi said. “It seems 15 years ago it was the time of the young shortstop. Other times it’s an influx of young outfielders.
“And they’re not just guys with stuff. They’re guys who have learned to pitch and win in the division from an early age.”