Hey! It's the Hardball Talk Home Run Derby contest!


10:38 PM:  Commenter “Joe Tetreault” nailed it.  Look for a guest post from him soon.  (We’ll be emailing you).  Thanks, everybody, for hanging out.

10:30 PM: David Ortiz hit 32 total home runs.  A commenter named “Joe Tetreault” guessed that exactly.  We’ll see if it holds up.  Hanley has 21 homers at the end of the first two rounds.

8:17 PM, MONDAY:  The Derby has started, so the contest is closed.  You guys are great.  Thanks for the participation.  Go Holliday.

7:14 PM, SUNDAY:  Some baseball purists like to rip the Home Run Derby for its corny qualities and its reputation of hurting batters in the second half, but it’s a fun and mostly harmless little spectacle that allows us to celebrate the game’s top sluggers. 

High profile stars like Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano have bowed out of the contest this year, opting to rest instead, but it’s still a strong field and it should make for an exciting Monday night.  Of course, it couldn’t hurt to make things a little more interesting, and that’s why we’re running a little contest here on HardballTalk.  Here’s how it works:

Guess a winning batter out of the eight participants, then guess how many total home runs that winning batter will tally over the course of the contest, whether it goes three rounds or swing-offs are needed.  For instance, if Pujols was taking part and I thought he was going to win, I’d write “Albert Pujols, 25 HR” in the comments section.  One guess per person, no cheating allowed.  Or else…

The commenter that guesses the winner and the nearest home run total will be allowed to write a post here on HBT on whatever subject he or she sees fit.  In other words, you can do our job for us!  For free!

The field, if you need a refresher, is as follows:

Corey Hart, OF, Brewers – A right-handed hitter, Hart has 21 home runs and a .569 slugging percentage in 306 at-bats this season in Milwaukee.  He hit a career-high 24 homers in 2007 and is obviously well on his way to eclipsing that.

Matt Holliday, OF, Cardinals – Holliday launched his 16th home run of the season on Sunday, which is the highest total he has ever taken into the All-Star break.  A righty, he registered a career-high 36 dingers in 2007 while playing half of his games in Coors Field.

Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins – He almost backed out of the Derby, worried that it might throw off his swing for the second half, but Hanley eventually agreed to provide his superstar presence in an otherwise mediocre field.  The righty has 13 homers this year and hit a career-high 33 in 2008.

Chris Young, OF, Diamonbacks
– The 26-year-old has made quite a few strides at the plate this season and enters the All-Star break with 15 dingers and 61 RBI in 320 at-bats for the disappointing D’Backs.  Young, like the rest of the NL’s representatives, is a right-handed hitter.

David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox
– Big Papi usually plays the role of cheerleader during the Home Run Derby, but decided to participate this year.  He got off to another slow start in April and May, but has roared back strong and will enter Monday’s contest with 18 jacks.  Ortiz is a lefty.

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers
– A candidate for first-half MVP in the American League, Cabrera has posted a .651 slugging percentage, 22 home runs and 77 RBI in his first 312 at-bats this season.  He bats from the right side of the plate and may be the early favorite.

Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays
– Wells often gets dogged for playing poor defense in center field, but he’s launched 19 home runs in 328 at-bats this year for the homer-happy Jays.  The right-handed hitter collected a career-high 33 long-balls back in 2003. 

Nick Swisher, OF, Yankees
– The winner of this year’s “Final Vote” in the American League, Swisher has tallied 15 home runs in 314 at-bats this season for the Yanks.  He can bat from both sides of the plate, but has flashed more power as a lefty this season in the southpaw-friendly new Yankee Stadium.

Angels Stadium typically plays fair with each foul pole checking in at 330 ft., but a more gradual angle in right field could favor left-handers slightly.  All in all, it should be a pretty even fight.

Now it’s your turn.  Tell us who you think will win Monday’s Home Run Derby in Anaheim, California and you can take over this very blog for, like, an hour or something.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.