Thanks to Tuesday's unveiling of the All-Star rosters, we know which position players will be taking the field for the American League and National League squads when Tuesday's Midsummer Classic at Petco Park begins.
But who will be taking the ball?
Those decisions are in the hands of AL manager Ned Yost and NL skipper Terry Collins, and you can bet they've already given the matter a good deal of thought. Clayton Kershaw's bum back made a slam-dunk decision in the Senior Circuit a slightly more pained process, and the AL field has some surprise candidates for the honor.
Here's a look at who is most deserving of each league's starting assignment, listed in predicted order of likelihood that they actually get the gig.
When in doubt, bet on homerism. That's not to say that Collins wouldn't be justified in selecting Thor, who makes his final first-half start on Friday. Kershaw is out, and Madison Bumgarner is lined up to start Sunday (those who start Sunday can opt to participate in the game, but only for one inning or a predetermined number of pitches), so that rules out at least one and probably two of the Senior Circuit's stalwarts. And Syndergaard has flashed such overpowering stuff this season that he's legitimately become one of the game's premier power pitchers. The key catch here is that the All-Star starter typically goes two innings. Would Collins want to limit Syndergaard's workload, given his highly publicized bone-spur situation?
Were it not for some recent command and/or mechanical hiccups, Arrieta would be an easy selection for this start. In fact, he might still be. Going back to last year's All-Star Game, Arrieta has the best ERA (1.54) in the Majors -- better even than that of Kershaw (1.56). It's funny to reflect on the fact that Arrieta didn't even make the NL squad last year, but he's on it now and entirely deserving of the starting nod. He, too, makes his last start of the half on Friday, so he'd also be lined up well for the job.
Again, Bumgarner is lined up to start Sunday to close out the first half, so that likely eliminates him from consideration. The Giants do have an off-day on Thursday, so they have some wiggle room if they decide to stay on rotation and let Tuesday be Bumgarner's last start of the first half. That said, all reports suggest he's taking the hill against Arizona on Sunday, but if not for that issue, he would absolutely be a strong candidate for this spot, which is why he's worth highlighting here. But Cueto, who pitches Wednesday, is aligned just right, and he also has a good case. He's having a monster first year by the Bay, and Collins saw him at his absolute best in Game 2 of the World Series last year.
If Collins wants to get sentimental with this selection, he could give it to the hometown hero. Strasburg -- a native of host city San Diego and an alum of San Diego State, where he played for and was close to late Padres legend Tony Gwynn -- recovered from a back issue in time to pitch 6 2/3 no-hit innings in his return to the Nats' rotation on Sunday, and his next scheduled start is Friday opposite Syndergaard. Maybe we should make it a winner-take-all?
No discussion of superior NL starters is complete without Jose. But it may be best to save him for the start in 2017 at Marlins Park, where he is a ridiculous 24-1 with a 1.48 ERA in his career.
1. Chris Sale, White Sox
14-2, 2.93 ERA, 120 innings, 17 starts
Barring the unforeseen, he is the prohibitive favorite. As an AL Central skipper, Yost knows him well, of course, and Sale will take the mound Friday against the Braves, trying to become the first AL pitcher to win 15 games before the All-Star break since David Wells in 2000. Sale has been selected to four consecutive All-Star Games, and he's finished in the top six in the AL Cy Young Award voting in each of those years. If the first half is any indication, this could be the year he ascends to the next level on both fronts, starting for the AL and then taking its top pitching honor.
As with Strasburg, there is the hometown angle to consider here, as San Diego is where Hamels grew up. And of course, he also has a long track record, much of it in the NL. So many great AL starters depart for the NL in free agency, so here's a way for the Junior Circuit to boast about the arm it added when the Rangers traded for Hamels last summer. Hamels, who starts Friday against the Twins, is having a terrific first full season on a first-place Texas team, and this would be his first opportunity to start the Midsummer Classic after appearing three times on the NL roster.
He'll be on a slightly shorter rest, as his next assignment comes Saturday against the Yankees, but Salazar does have a strong statistical case to consider, albeit a shorter track record than Sale or Hamels. Last season was his breakthrough, and this one has been his breakout, as he leads his league in both ERA and adjusted ERA+ (196).
A knuckleballer starting the All-Star Game? That's an awesome thought. A knuckleballer who didn't even have a guaranteed rotation spot starting the All-Star Game? Even better. Wright arrived to Red Sox camp this spring out of options and on the fringe of the rotation picture, but he made enough strides with the knuckler, and he took advantage of a team need to become one of the great stories of the first half. Wright, who makes his final first-half outing Wednesday, is a 31-year-old first-time All-Star selection. And though he's not expected to start, his presence here does mean Salvador Perez, Stephen Vogt or Matt Wieters will have his work cut out for him behind the dish.
OK, just evening out these lists and having some fun here. Don't take it seriously. But nobody touts the value of power 'pen arms more than Yost (and he would know), so why not showcase them on the Midsummer stage by using a closer to open? This game counts, after all, and the first inning of the All-Star Game would certainly seem to qualify as a high-leverage spot.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.