Here we are at the All-Star Break again.
It happens every year: four days with no meaningful baseball. Monday isn’t too bad. The Home Run Derby isn’t baseball, but it’s close enough to fill the need. Tuesday is the All-Star game itself. Real baseball, even if it doesn’t mean anything*. Wednesday is manageable. There are off days scattered through the entire season. Thursday is tough. Two days in a row with no baseball at all. As I’ve said before, it’s a great day to check out your local minor league team.
* Yeah, OK. World Series home field advantage. It’s a significant edge–Beyond the Box Score pointed out last year that the home team wins 60% of World Series games–but it’s only relevant to two teams. And at this point, nobody knows which teams they are. (That same article picked the Angels and Nationals, both of whom lost in the Division Series to the eventual World Series Royals and Giants.)
MLB has been tinkering with the rules for the Home Run Derby, trying to make it more competitive. While I’m usually suspicious of rule changes to promote competition, I’m completely behind this one. The event is totally meaningless, so why not tweak it a bit to make it more exciting? Before this year, there was no upper limit on the number of home runs the players could hit–players’ rounds ended when they had ten swings that didn’t result in home runs. The result was players wearing out in the early rounds and not hitting in the later rounds.
This year, players had a time limit–four minutes–and competed head-to-head in a playoff-style bracket instead of a single large pool. The result was that every single pairing had an element of drama, and the home runs continued all the way through*. The rules could use a little more tweaking. Awarding bonus time for long home runs is a nice idea, but rather than giving a flat thirty seconds for hitting two over 425 feet–a level every single player reached–how about giving fifteen seconds for each 425-footer? That way the players who specialize in hitting long shots get an actual advantage. That would counter the penalty they incur waiting for each hit to land before they can swing again.
* Hey, remember Kris Bryant? The Cubs did call him up in mid-April as expected. And with less than three months of major league experience, he competed in the Home Run Derby. He lost in the first round, as one would expect for a Cub, but didn’t embarrass himself. Nobody expected him to beat Albert Pujols, but his nine home runs was almost respectable. And he got major cool points by having his father as his pitcher. Can you imagine that conversation? “Hey, Dad, wanna come down to the ballpark Monday night and toss me a few balls? No big deal, just you, me, and 60,000 screaming fans. Sound like fun?”
That penalty is, I suspect, a safety measure for the kids chasing balls in the outfield. Wouldn’t do to have someone get set to grab a ball at the warning track only to be taken out by a sharp line drive out of nowhere. And yes, some of the kids did make nice catches last night. Good to see.
Since we’re at the official mid-point of the season, let’s take a look at my first-day predictions about the playoff teams.
Mets – Currently second in their division, two games back of the Nationals, they’re well-positioned for a second-half run into the playoffs.
Reds – The Reds are 39-47, fifteen and a half games back in their division. They’ve got some serious work to do if they’re going to get past St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and the Cubs.
Rockies – Almost as poorly-placed as the Reds. 39-49, eleven back is not where you want to be at this point.
Wild Card – I called the Cardinals and Phillies. St. Louis currently has the best record in baseball, so they’re in good shape for the Wild Card if the Reds do make a move on the division. Philadelphia needs to pour it on: right now they’re twenty games out of the Wild Card.
Red Sox – Well… Sure, they’re five games under .500 at 42-47, but they’re only six and a half out of the division lead. Overcoming that is totally doable.
Royals – 52-34 and a four and a half game lead in the division. Good job, guys!
Mariners – Sigh. 41-48 and trapped in a “win one, lose one” cycle. Not looking too good, guys. As with Boston, they’ve still got a shot, but the odds aren’t too hot.
Wild Card – The Blue Jays are only one game under .500 and four games back in the Wild Card race. Not great, but not too horrid either. And the Orioles are right at .500, half a game ahead of Toronto. Those in-division head-to-head games remaining could be a problem for both teams, but don’t count either of them out yet.
OK, most of my picks are not where I’d like them to be at this point, but there’s still a lot of baseball remaining. Nobody’s been mathematically eliminated yet, not even the woeful Phillies with their .319 record. I’ll be holding onto my hope for now.