Your 2014 Home Run Derby Preview

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN — Yes, I poo-pooed the Home Run Derby earlier today, but it’s still a thing that’s happening so it’s not like we’re going to ignore it. Indeed, let’s break this thing down. At least to some degree.

The captains, Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista have picked their teams, and they break down like this:

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Troy Tulowitzki
Giancarlo Stanton
Yasiel Puig
Todd Frazier
Justin Morneau

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Jose Bautista
Josh Donaldson
Adam Jones
Brian Dozier
Yoenis Cespedes

Some big names with big power there. I tend to like the NL Field better, as it has the guy with the most raw power in all of baseball in Giancarlo Stanton, a highly-underrated power guy in Todd Frazier — he has hit several 450-foot+ homers this year — and a former Derby champ in Justin Morneau. Not that the AL field is bad. Cespedes won it last year and no one can doubt Bautista’s power. I just think the NL has to have the edge here.

The format may be the biggest star, however. It’s different this year, designed to keep guys fresher longer. Which has been a problem in the past, as performers who light it up early often run out of gas in the later rounds (think Josh Hamilton in 2008). This year players will be limited to seven outs, instead of 10. Also, the two guys who lead their league in first-round homers will get a second round bye and head straight to the semi-finals, thus rewarding the quick starters with a nice break.

Six players will advance out of the first round (the two league leaders and the four guys at large) and two will advance out of the second round to face the two bye-recipients in the semis. The two finals participants will get seven outs apiece, and, if it comes down to a tiebreaker, they’ll get three swings apiece.

Here is how Vegas breaks it down:

Giancarlo Stanton: 2/1
Yoenis Cespedes: 5/1
Jose Bautista: 5/1
Yasiel Puig: 6/1
Troy Tulowitzki: 13/2
Josh Donaldson: 10/1
Adam Jones: 12/1
Brian Dozier: 12/1
Todd Frazier: 12/1
Justin Morneau: 15/1

Like I said last week, I think Todd Frazier and Justin Morneau are being slept on somewhat. Maybe Brian Dozier too. But, as always, we have no real clue until they start to grip it and rip it tonight.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).