home run derby

Tom Verducci suggests a bracket format for the Home Run Derby


SI’s Tom Verducci with the “why the heck didn’t I think of that?!” idea of the year: change the Home Run Derby to suit a bracket format, not unlike the NCAA basketball tournament.

Here’s how it works. You get 16 participants. The nine leading home run hitters are guaranteed entry. The host team gets one entrant. (It still boggles the mind that Justin Upton wasn’t selected in Arizona nor Billy Butler in Kansas City.) The defending champion also gets a spot. That leaves five wild card entrants. The Home Run Derby Committee, a panel of baseball officials and media personnel, will select the wild cards based on . . . well, let’s be honest: you pick the five remaining guys people most want to see.

The committee seeds the players one through 16 — not based strictly on leagues or home run totals (though the two guys with the most home runs should get the 1 and 2 seeds), but generally on the most entertaining matchups. This is entertainment, folks.

It works like the NCAA brackets. You go head-to-head against another player. It’s one-and-done or survive-and-advance. Each player gets 10 swings. The higher seeded player chooses to go first or second. The one with the most home runs moves on. Simple. In the event of a tie, the one with the longest home run advances, putting a premium on putting on a show.

Such a change would benefit everyone, from the fans watching, to the various media entities out there (ESPN et. al. would have their own bracket creation tools), to the writers, to the TV station covering the affair, and so forth. I love this idea to pieces.

The Home Run Derby, in its present format, takes too much unwarranted criticism but it certainly isn’t perfect and could stand to make a few changes. Granted, adopting a bracket format is a fairly big change, but the Derby has undergone plenty of changes in recent years. In 2005, the Derby took eight competitors, each from different countries. From 2000 to 2003, the Derby used a bracket format for its semifinals and finals (but not for the first round).

If I may suggest one additional rule: Wily Mo Pena must participate.

The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:

Video: Willson Contreras blasts first postseason home run off of Kershaw

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).

Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.