Welcome to Washington, where for a few days the All-Star festivities will allow Nationals fans to forget their team is scuffling along at around .500 and in third place in the National League East instead of running away with the division as many projected.
The last time the All-Star Game was held in the nation's capital was 1969, when Willie McCovey -- who would go on to win National League MVP honors -- powered the NL to a 9-3 victory at RFK Stadium with two home runs.
Monday: Home Run Derby
Who should start for the American League?
The Baseball Tonight crew debates which American League pitcher should get the nod to start in the All-Star Game.
Time: 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
2017 winner: Aaron Judge (Yankees)
It's going to be hard to top last year's contest when Judge and Giancarlo Stanton thrilled fans in Miami with mammoth blast after mammoth blast, but this is a fun group, led by hometown hero Harper, who will be taking part in his second Home Run Derby (he lost in the finals to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013). The only players from the host team to win have been Todd Frazier of the Reds in 2015 and Ryne Sandberg with the Cubs in 1990.
Aguilar and Muncy are two of the biggest surprises of the season, so it's great to see them get some time on center stage (Aguilar also won the Final Vote to make the NL All-Star roster), while the two Cubs are my co-favorites to win. Schwarber has the raw power to hit some Titanic-sized blasts while Baez has the bat speed and athleticism to excel in an event where swinging as often as possible in the allotted time is as important as raw power.
Harper is the only player who has competed in a previous Home Run Derby, so it's not surprising to learn that the 625 combined career home runs of the eight players (after Wednesday's game) is the lowest ever for a Home Run Derby field. That does point to the issue of getting veteran players to partake, but it's also good to promote some of the new stars like Bregman and Hoskins. With that in mind: It would have been super awesome to have Soto in the Derby in front of the home fans.
Tuesday: 89th All-Star Game
Time: 7:30 ET (Fox)
2017 MVP: Robinson Cano (Mariners)
Players to watch: The all-world American League outfield of Mike Trout (Angels), Mookie Betts (Red Sox) and Judge; Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez, who leads the majors in home runs and RBIs and ranks third to Betts and Jose Altuve in batting average as he chases a Triple Crown; Indians infielders Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, who have combined for 52 home runs; Harper and Max Scherzer of the hometown Nationals; Orioles shortstop Manny Machado (.314, 23 home runs) and Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom (1.68 ERA ... and just five wins in 19 starts, thanks Mets offense), both of whom could be traded before the July 31 trade deadline.
I mentioned this last year, but now "This time it counts" no longer exists ... I kind of miss that the All-Star Game actually sort of mattered and we could analyze the moves (and moves not made) as if the game actually counted. It was a ridiculous way to determine home-field advantage for the World Series and giving it to the pennant-winner with the better record is certainly more logical (although the Astros won Game 7 at Dodger Stadium last year anyway).
This year's game will be centered around Harper, but not for all the right reasons. He's hitting home runs and leads the majors in walks, but he's also hitting .213 and striking out at a much higher rate than the past few seasons. His month-by-month averages have dropped from .243 to .221 to .188 to .167 and he has just four home runs in 36 games in June and July. Instead of a celebration of Harper (and Scherzer), the major storyline will be Harper's struggles and the black cloud hanging over the club's disappointing first half.
Aside from that, this year's All-Star Game is a chance to appreciate the rise of the little guy: Altuve, Ramirez, Betts, Bregman and Ozzie Albies are all under 6 feet tall. (OK, Bregman is actually listed at 6-foot-0, which seems at least a couple inches of exaggeration.) If last year's All-Star showcase highlighted the prodigious size and strength of Judge and Stanton, this year is about the all-around hitting ability of these smaller guys with amazing bat-to-ball skills. In this era of the strikeout, appreciate guys like Ramirez, Betts and Bregman, who actually have more walks than strikeouts (or are even, in Bregman's case).