HOME RUN DERBY
All of the buzz is focused on the Monsters of Mash. It is the dream Home Run Derby matchup, the two biggest boppers in a game of one-upmanship to see who can hit the ball farther and with greater frequency.
Imagine what Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton did last year in belting 61 home runs over three rounds out of Petco Park in San Diego, in duplicate. Because Stanton now has the perfect foil in New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge, who in the first half of the season hit the most home runs (30), the longest (495 feet) and the hardest (121.1 mph).
“That would be sweet if those two were in the final to put on a show,” said former Marlin Derrek Lee, a twotime All-Star.
“I don’t know if the game has ever seen two guys with as much power as those guys.”
Yet there is no guarantee of Stanton and Judge meeting in the final round tonight at Marlins Park, though the odds point to it — Stanton is the 7-5 favorite to win, just ahead of Judge at 7-4, according to online sportsbook Bovada.lv.
They each need to win two preliminary rounds to set up the winner-take-all showdown that most fans, and certainly ESPN, which is televising the event, wants to see under the single-elimination format instituted two years ago.
The x-factor, along with the six other competitors, will be the jumbo dimensions of the ballpark, which measures 407 feet to center, 386 to left center and 392 to right center.
“I think because it is a bigboy ballpark, that in the end the biggest, strongest guys are going to outlast the others,” said Karl Ravech, who is replacing Chris Berman as the voice of the Derby on the ESPN broadcast, which begins at 7 p.m. Central.
Ravech said that because Judge (6 feet, 8 inches) and Stanton (6-6) are so big and strong, they can “pop a ball up and it’s a home run. The other guys, for the most part, have to hit it.”
The vast reaches to the right of the home run sculpture in center at Marlins Park, with a max distance of 407 feet to the 13-foot wall, must be avoided.
That is certainly easier to do in the Derby, against meatball pitches in favored hitting zones, than it is in games. Stanton has former Marlins video coordinator Pat Shine back as his pitcher to try to reprise their success in San Diego.
The seats in right field are also easier to reach at 335 feet down the line, compared to 344 in left. That offers an advantage to the four left-handed hitters in the Derby — Marlins first baseman Justin Bour, along with Cody Bellinger, Mike Moustakas and Charlie Blackmon.
Former Marlin Jeff Conine said he has watched Bour — especially in batting practice — utlilize the shorter rightfield porch.
“So he might be a darkhorse contender,” Conine said.
Marlins Park ranks as the eighth-toughest of the 30 major-league parks to hit home runs in this season. But it has been yielding home runs at a higher rate than in any previous season.
The roof will be closed, as it almost always is, but with the exterior wall open, there could be balls bouncing out of the park. The upper deck in right should see plenty of visits from the lefties.
Petco Park had the reputation of being a tough place to hit home runs last year, but it was no match for Stanton, who hit 39 home runs longer than 440 feet, including two 497-footers, in last year’s Derby.
The competition will open with two Marlins vs. Yankees encounters (Stanton-Gary Sanchez, Bour-Judge) in the first round.
Ravech, who has filled numerous roles at ESPN, including host of “Baseball Tonight,” will work with analysts Jessica Mendoza and Mark Teixeira, as well as Buster Olney.
Their plan, after 23 years of Berman’s “back-back-back-gone” is to let the hitters make most of the noise.
“I think our goal is trying to humanize these guys,” Ravech said. “Tell stories about who they are, how they got to where they are, what they were when they were younger.
“But the description of the home run, I haven’t thought for a second about how I’m going to call home runs, probably because I don’t think that’s overly important.”
Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton (right) is met by Christian Yelich after hitting the first of his two home runs in a 10-8 victory over San Francisco in 11 innings. Stanton is expected to show plenty of power in tonight’s MLB Home Run Derby in Marlins Park in Miami.