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

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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.

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.