Albert Pujols and the National League face a lot of pressure tonight against the AL in baseball's Midseason Classic.  Without a win in the exhibition contest since 1996, the NL is out to stop their losing skid and gain home field advantage in this year's World Series.  Meanwhile Pujols, the game's most feared offensive threat, will have the weight of the team and his hometown St. Louis fans on his broad shoulders.

It’s time for the National League to take its annual beating.
Albert Pujols

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It’s hardly a foregone conclusion that the NL will come out the loser in Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game, but that’s the way it’s played out every year since 1997 – except for that ridiculous 7-7 tie in 2002 that prompted commissioner Bud Selig to make the midsummer classic “count” by giving the winning league home-field advantage in the World Series. The American League is officially 17-3-1 dating back to the 1988 Midsummer Classic.

The betting odds for Tuesday’s game (8:00 p.m. Eastern, FOX) have been creeping ever so slowly to the AL side, from -108 at the open to –110 as we went to press. The total is steady at 9.5 runs. This has been a profitable year for the under across the majors at 669-593, or 53.01 percent. And there isn’t anything in particular about the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis to give Over supporters much hope. The park factor for runs by the Gateway Arch is 0.934 heading into the All-Star break. The under is 25-17-2 in the 44 games played there so far in 2009.

Good luck scoring a run off either of the starting pitchers in this game. Tim Lincecum (2.33 ERA, 2.78 xFIP) of the San Francisco Giants has been given the honor for the National League; each of his last 10 starts was a quality outing, with a grand total of four runs allowed in his last 31.2 innings of work. Opening things up for the American League is Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay (2.85 ERA, 2.97 xFIP), who has tailed off a bit in July with eight runs allowed in 14 innings – perhaps losing focus with the trade talk coming from north of the border.

Lincecum is about as good as it gets right now, but the rest of the NL pitching staff doesn’t measure up to the junior circuit, especially with Giants teammate Matt Cain (2.38 ERA, 4.36 xFIP) and L.A. Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton (3.10 ERA, 1.93 xFIP) having to pull out of the All-Star Game because of injuries. Let’s compare the relative worth of the two pitching staffs using the Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) metric from Baseball Prospectus.

American League
Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals 45.5
Edwin Jackson, Detroit Tigers 39.9
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners 39.3
Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays 39.0
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers 29.3
Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox 28.4
Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox 26.6
Andrew Bailey, Oakland Athletics 21.3
Tim Wakefield, Boston Red Sox 20.2
Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox 17.5
Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins 17.2
Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees 13.5
Brian Fuentes, Los Angeles Angels 9.0

National League
Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks 51.2
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants 42.2
Josh Johnson, Florida Marlins 39.0
Ted Lilly, Chicago Cubs 29.6
Zach Duke, Pittsburgh Pirates 28.9
Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles Dodgers 26.1
Jason Marquis, Colorado Rockies 24.4
Johan Santana, New York Mets 22.9
Ryan Franklin, St. Louis Cardinals 17.8
Heath Bell, San Diego Padres 15.4
Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds 14.2
Francisco Rodriguez, New York Mets 11.9
Trevor Hoffman, Milwaukee Brewers 10.1

Add ‘em all up, and you get 346.7 VORP for the AL and 333.7 VORP for the NL. Of course, you’ll see a lot more innings from the pitchers at the top of the list than the closers at the bottom, which again plays into the hands of the AL. Greinke, Jackson, Hernandez and Halladay are the best four pitchers in the league in terms of VORP; Lilly is seventh overall in the NL, while Cain (40.2 VORP) was third.

As for the hitters, Dodgers OF Manny Ramirez (1.156 OPS) is notable by his absence. It's unclear how much we'll see Philadelphia OF Raul Ibañez (1.015 OPS) as he nurses a tender groin fresh off the DL, while San Francisco 3B Pablo Sandoval (.964 OPS) was passed over in the Final Vote for Phillies OF Shane Victorino (.839 OPS) with hardly a peep from the snub police. The AL fans didn’t get it right either with Detroit 3B Brandon Inge (.876 OPS) out-voting Toronto OF Adam Lind (.928 OPS), but that’s hardly a crime in comparison to Sandoval’s slap in the face. There’s always next year.