Welcome to All-Star festivities in Miami, where it’s 90 degrees with 854 percent humidity. Here’s a rundown of what's to come at Marlins Park.
Logan Morrison isn’t here, but this is one of the most intriguing Home Run Derby fields in years, highlighted by rookies Judge and Bellinger, plus Stanton. The hometown fans will also get to cheer on Bour, who faces Judge in the first round.
Can Stanton repeat his dominant performance from Petco Park? He not only had the 10 longest home runs of the contest as he belted 61 over three rounds, but he had the 20 hardest-hit home runs. There’s a new big guy on the block, however, and Judge will certainly give him a run for distance and exit velocity.
Keep an eye on the left-handers, however: Marlins Park is a little more generous to lefty hitters (at least based on regular-season home run factors), so maybe Bellinger, Bour, Moustakas or Blackmon will be the surprise winner.
Oh, come on, who are we kidding: It’s going to be Stanton versus Judge in the finals and Stanton is going to get a Todd Frazier-like boost from the home fans and take home his second title in a row.
The big change for 2017: The game no longer counts. For the first time in 15 years, the All-Star Game winner won’t determine home-field advantage in the World Series ... although the Indians still lost Game 7 at home last season despite Hosmer’s heroics. Home-field advantage will now go to the pennant winner with the better record.
The biggest problem with the idea wasn’t so much the idea itself -- it wasn’t really any worse than the old rule of alternating from league to league each season -- but that the managers still didn’t manage to win. Their main priority remained getting everyone into the game, so last year’s key moment came in the eighth inning with the bases loaded, when Will Harris replaced Andrew Miller and struck out Aledmys Diaz, who was pinch-hitting for Corey Seager.
Now that “This time it counts” no longer exists ... well, I kind of miss it! In theory, the game mattered, even if it was an exhibition. Now, it’s just an exhibition game; the big stars will get two at-bats and be replaced by a bunch of guys from bad teams. Then again, maybe it’s a good thing we won’t get Pat Neshek pitching to Avisail Garcia with home-field advantage on the line.
Anyway, Judge is no doubt the man of the moment, and let’s hope he faces Scherzer at some point in the ultimate power-versus-power showdown. Unfortunately, Mike Trout is injured, Clayton Kershaw won’t pitch because he’ll start Sunday, and Miguel Cabrera didn’t make the American League roster. The AL will also not have Corey Kluber, Yu Darvish and Michael Fulmer, three of its top starters, as they're all due to pitch Sunday as well.
All eyes will be on Judge and Harper, the two top vote-getters. It will be fun to see the three Astros in the starting lineup, with Correa and Springer making their All-Star debuts. Marlins fans will get to cheer for Stanton and Marcell Ozuna. We’ll miss Indians manager Terry Francona, who won't be in the American League dugout for the game as he recovers from a heart procedure (he’ll rejoin his club after the break). I’m sure Brad Mills, filling in for Francona, and National League manager Joe Maddon would love to get the ball to Craig Kimbrel of the Red Sox and Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers, respectively, with a lead in the ninth inning. (That could also be a preview of World Series closers.)
So enjoy the festivities -- a time when we’re reminded of all the amazing talent in this game.