Rays ace Shane McClanahan is nearly the definition of a home-town player. The University of South Florida alum attended high school just an hour and forty five minutes away from Tropicana Field, his home stadium. He made his MLB debut for the Tampa Bay Rays in the postseason. Now the 25-year-old is set to go to Los Angeles and start the MLB All-Star game at Dodger Stadium against none other than Clayton Kershaw.
While 'Sugar' Shane and his 1.71 ERA over 110 innings of work is unbridled dominance in this day and age, it was a 25-year-old Clayton Kershaw pitching to a 1.83 ERA in 236 innings of work just ten years ago, the year before being named MLB's Most Valuable Player recipient. In the game's biggest of markets, Kershaw electrified Chavez Ravine every fifth night. The 3x Cy Young award honoree is the best pitcher of this century in the game's brightest of lights and the 9x All-Star clashes with a first time All-Star selection, a frontrunner for his first Cy Young award in baseball's quietest of areas.
There was a lot of debate for both leagues over who should start. It's evident that McClanahan is the best starter in the American League, while Marlins Sandy Alcantara paces the senior circuit. Yet, most were clamoring for a Kershaw-Ohtani matchup, with the most legendary Dodger of the last fifty years going head-to-head with the Angels two-way sensation in Los Angeles. As of today, Brian Snitker and Dusty Baker have tabbed their starting pitchers and it's a combination of best pitcher and best story, leading to a more nuanced narrative of a generational competition between southpaws.
Clayton Kershaw is arguably the most accomplished pitcher of the last thirty years, tallying a resume of destruction unlike any other. Just this year alone, at age 34, he became the first pitcher to be perfect through seven innings twice in a single campaign. He's a 3x Cy Young award winner, the 2014 NL MVP, he's thrown no-hitters, recorded an implausible 2.48 ERA in a surplus of 2500 innings of work. He's been a World Champion, is the active WHIP leader and has struck out more than 2700 hitters, highlighting his devastating curveball.
But who he goes up against also features a wipeout curveball, even if his arm doesn't have the mileage that the grizzled veteran does. It's another left-hander and one that grew up idolizing Clayton Kershaw, studying him as a teenager as he dreamt of perhaps going pro. An emotional McClanahan, after being voted by his peers to the All-Star club, noted how he grew up watching Kershaw while speaking to the TBTimes. In fact, Shane even told FOX13 that he has a Kershaw jersey in his locker and it's who he was most ecstatic to meet this week.
By all means, McClanahan has earned his start. McClanahan's 3.8 WAR, 1.71 ERA, 212 ERA+ (100 is league average,, for reference) and .795 WHIP are leading the American League by a sizable margin. Not to mention, his 141 strikeouts to only 18 unintentional walks highlights his sensational command and determination to navigate a lineup. While it's not the "flashy" pick like a Shohei Ohtani or Justin Verlander, it's the correct choice to start the All-Star Game for the American League.
These two lefthanders, unlike most lefties you'll come across in baseball, were drafted 12 years apart. Kershaw's Cooperstown plaque is already getting made, as the question becomes not whether or not he gets in, but whether or not he breaks Tom Seaver's record for highest voting percentage for a starting pitcher entering the Hall of Fame (98.84%). With a guy like Kershaw, the discussion isn't 'will he retire an all-time great,' rather 'will he retire above pitchers like Seaver,' who most staunch baseball historians consider the frontrunner for greatest pitcher of all-time. For McClanahan, that's a different story. He's in his sophomore season, most haven't even heard of him. But come Tuesday night, they're in for a treat as generational talents such as Manny Machado, Ronald Acuña and Paul Goldschmidt get their first look at the current pride of St. Pete.
The pitchers are at different points in their career, one just entering his prime and the other in the twilight of it. Yet, it's a head-to-head matchup between two southpaws that's built for primetime television as one pitcher goes up against his biggest inspiration on a national scale.
Shane McClanahan is set to become only the second Rays pitcher to start an All-Star after current LA Dodger David Price did so in 2010. You can watch the MLB All-Star Game on FOX this Tuesday at 8 PM EST.
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