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.

Cardinals take 1-0 NLDS lead over the Cubs behind John Lackey’s brilliant outing

John Lackey
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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John Lackey flirted with a no-hitter but settled for 7 1/3 terrific, shutout innings to beat the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. The right-hander held the opposition to two hits and a walk while striking out five. Lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist struck out two to finish the eighth without issue. Closer Trevor Rosenthal worked around a one-out walk and a two-out single in the ninth to seal the 4-0 win, recording all three outs on called strike threes.

Lackey brought a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but lost it quickly when Addison Russell hit a ground ball single up the middle to lead off the frame. Russell would steal second base but was stranded.

Opposing starter Jon Lester wasn’t too shabby himself, relenting three runs on five hits while walking one and striking out nine in 7 1/3 innings. The first run came around in the first inning on Matt Holliday‘s RBI single, which followed a one-out double by Stephen Piscotty. Tommy Pham pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot in the eighth inning and launched a solo home run off of Lester to double the Cardinals’ lead. Lester walked Matt Carpenter before exiting. Pedro Strop came in and promptly served up a two-run home run to Stephen Piscotty.

The closest the Cubs came to scoring was when Dexter Fowler sent a deep fly ball to right field with a man on base and two outs in the sixth inning, but Randal Grichuk caught it with a foot or two to spare in front of the fence on the warning track.

The two clubs will play Game 2 of the NLDS on Saturday at 5:30 PM EDT. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and oppose Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia.

Astros err in letting Scott Kazmir start sixth

Scott Kazmir
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Scott Kazmir went winless with a 6.52 ERA in six September starts. He allowed 41 hits, eight of them homers, in 29 innings, posting an 18/11 K/BB ratio. When the Astros got five innings of two-run ball from him Friday against the Royals, they should have thanked their good fortune and moved right along to the pen.

And they knew this. They must have. Josh Fields got up in the pen after Kazmir issued a one-out walk in the fifth. The left-hander got out of the frame, making himself eligible for the victory in what was then a 4-2 game, but it was still very surprising to see him come back out for the sixth, particularly with the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist (.926 OPS against lefties) and right-handed Lorenzo Cain due up.

Kazmir retired Zobrist, but he gave up a double to Cain. He was then pulled, even with the left-handed Eric Hosmer coming up. Manager A.J. Hinch had committed my biggest baseball pet peeve: he sent his starter back to the mound with the idea of pulling him after his first mistake.

It worked out terribly. Oliver Perez gave up a pair of soft hits to Hosmer and Kendrys Morales before walking Mike Moustakas. Fields then entered and walked the unwalkable Salvador Perez to tie the game at 4. The Astros gave up another run in the seventh and lost the game 5-4.

Maybe that’s the way it would have worked out anyway. Kazmir did give up just the one baserunner. It might not have even harmed the Astros if Perez had better luck.

Still, the thinking that went into the decision was disturbing. It’s always better to bring that reliever in with no one on base when you can. That’s especially the case with this Astros pen, which lacks a double-play specialist, much less a Wade Davis. But anyone in that pen would have been a better choice than sending Kazmir out to face Zobrist and Cain for a third time. Hinch needs to be more aggressive going forward.

Cardinals’ giveaway incorrectly claims ownership of 2001 division title

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The Cardinals have won so many division titles, it’s tough to keep track of them all. At least, it would be tough if it weren’t for Baseball Reference.

40,000 rally towels were given away to fans at Busch Stadium ahead of Friday’s NLDS Game 1 against the Cubs. The towel listed all of the years the Cardinals won the NL Central… and 2001. That year, they tied with the Astros for the best record in the National League at 93-69. However, because the Astros won the season series 9-7, they were awarded first place and the Cardinals took the Wild Card.