All-Star week to remember

The 2015 Major League Baseball season is at the traditional halfway mark, the All-Star break. This year, festivities surrounding the 86th All-Star game took place at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

Monday marked the 30th Home Run Derby, an event that in past years has often upstaged the All-Star game the following night. It is an event that has grown in stature. The first seven were not even televised and were free for the general public on Monday afternoon. The format has also evolved over the years, from a league vs. league competition, to an individual competition, to a team competition, to the bracketed and timed format used this year. After much skepticism beforehand, the new format proved to be an unquestioned success with more home runs and more excitement in this year’s Derby than any ever before.

In previous years, each player would bat untimed, and every ball not hit for a home run would be considered an out, 10 outs for each batter, three rounds. This year they went to a timed format. You had as many swings as you could get in four minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. No outs counted. It was originally to be five minutes but the threat of inclement weather which hung over the proceedings all week convinced them to shorten it to four. Given the final totals, I think four proved to be a good number.

The eight participants were bracketed one through eight based on season totals, and they competed against each other in three rounds to determine a champion. For 425-foot plus home runs the batter was given extra time at the end. There proved to be quite the advantage batting second, being the higher seed, as the higher seed won six of the seven face-offs. Every duel was separated by only one home run at the end with three coming down the final swing and two decided with bonus time. In the end, # two Todd Frazier of the hometown Reds, the runner-up last year, defeated the Dodgers’ rookie # four Joc Pederson 15-14 to win the title.

Tuesday night was the 86th Midsummer Classic, a game dominated recently by the American League and that continued this time with a 6-3 win. Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout led off with a home run in route to becoming the first to win All-Star MVPs in back-to-back seasons. Former Vanderbilt pitcher David Price was the winning pitcher in the game pitching a perfect inning with two strikeouts. A five-time All-Star, Price has pitched in three, tossing four innings allowing only one hit.

Other standout performers from Tuesday included Texas’ Prince Fielder who drove in two with a single and sacrifice fly; Minnesota’s Brian Dozier with a home run; and the Royals’ Lorenzo Cain with two hits for the AL. The NL standouts included Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen with a home run, and pitchers Jacob deGrom from the Mets and Aroldis Chapman from Cincinnati striking out the side in the sixth and ninth respectively. The AL champion will have home-field advantage in the World Series.

The second half begins on Friday with the Yankees, Royals, and Angels leading divisions in the AL and the Nationals, Cardinals and Dodgers leading in the NL. The AL ‘wild card’ is led by the Twins and Astros while the Pirates and Cubs lead in the NL. Teams currently off the pace to keep watch on are the Mariners and ‘As’ in the AL, and the Giants and Mets in the NL.