Party at Petco: Previewing the 2016 Home Run Derby

Ah, it’s that time of the year again. The Midsummer Classic is right around the corner, but before the first pitch of the All-Star Game is thrown, there is business to attend to. The night before the game, tomorrow night, eight of Major League baseball’s most powerful sluggers will convene in one place to showcase their skills in baseball version of the Feats of Strength.

Last year, the format changed and made the derby incredible. In a sport not subject to a time limit, a hitting clock was instituted and produced and unforgettable event. It will be a tough task to follow up that performance, and if you missed it, check out the final round below.

I wrote a long post previewing last year’s derby (you can check that out here). Turns out, maybe I do know a thing or two about this game, as I ended up predicting all but the final round correctly (hometown hero Todd Frazier had to come in here and spoil things…).

Here are the eight competitors that will swing for the fences:

Home Run Derby bracket

Before I break down the match-ups, I’ll give a little bit on the stadium.

Petco Park

The park currently sits in 18th place for most home runs hit during the 2016 season, with 101 pitches being deposited over the fence to this point. That comes out to just about 2.24 home runs per game, and Melvin Upton Jr. has the longest homer there of the season at 462 feet.

Petco Park Home Plate

As far as being designated as a “pitcher’s park or a hitter’s park,” it has generally be known as a pitcher’s park over the years. The fences are fairly distant: Left-Field Line: 336 feet, Left Field: 357 feet, Left-Field Alley: 401 feet, Center Field: 396 feet, Right-Field Alley: 400 feet, Right Field: 382 feet, Right-Field Line: 322 feet.

The one thing of note though, is that the fences are not very tall; about eight feet all the way around. Now we can take a look at the match-ups.

Mark Trumbo vs. Corey Seager

Trumbo

Mark Trumbo hitting in the 2012 HRD when he was still a member of the Angels

Mark Trumbo is on pace to hit 53 home runs this season and become the fourth player to hit 50+ homers in the first year with his new team. The Oriole has 159 career dingers, and only one has come at Petco. The right-handed batter has 28 so far this season. All but 29 of his career homers have been between the left field foul pole and center field.

Seager

Corey Seager made his debut late last season, and hit four homers. This year, he has 17 before the break. There is some concern, though, about him possibly damaging his swing as he attempts to help the Dodgers make a playoff run in the second half of the season. Many players have voiced these same opinions as their reasoning behind holding out, but Seager will dive head first into this year’s derby.

Prediction: I have to give the edge to Trumbo here. One, he’s been absolutely mashing this year, and two, he’s done this before (2012 in Kansas City).

Adam Duvall vs. Will Myers

Duvall

Adam DuvALL-Star. Catchy, right? The Cincinnati Reds’ left-fielder has been one of the few bright spots for the last place team, as he has just been crushing the ball in the all-too-hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Duvall only played in 28 games in 2014 and 27 in 2015 as compared to the 82 games he has already played in this year. He has 23 home runs, a substantial improvement from the combined eight over the last two years.

Myers

It is becoming customary to have at least one player from the home team compete in their home run derby. This year, Wil Myers will represent the Padres and take some hacks. The former Tampa Bay Ray (did he swim from Tampa to San Diego?) has 19 home runs to date, already surpassing his previous season-high of 13. Of Myers’ 46 career homers, only 16 have been at Petco.

Prediction: Sorry home crowd. Don’t be too upset! Your city still produces more avocados than any other place in the United States. However, you’ll have to celebrate that after the first round, because Adam Duvall will take care of Wil Myers.

Todd Frazier vs. Carlos Gonzalez

Frazier

Todd Frazier only hit 10 home runs during the entire 2014 Home Run Derby in Minnesota, yet he found himself in the final round squaring off against Yoenis Cespedes who won with a total of 28 homers. One could say Frazier used the system, but one could also say he just did what he had to do. Then last year, Frazier hit 14 in the first round alone, and finished with 39 total. This season, he has 25 round-trippers already, nearly to his season total of 35 from a season ago.

State Farm Home Run Derby

Carlos Gonzalez was a bit of a dud in the 2012 derby, only hitting four. As far as season totals are concerned, he’s way up there. CarGo hit 40 homers last year and is on his way to about the same this year, sitting at 18. Maybe that derby was an exception? Or maybe he just isn’t accustomed to hitting like this. We’ll see.

 

Prediction: It’s really hard to pick a champion. Two years ago, Todd Frazier nearly won the whole thing without hitting many homers at all. Last year in his home city, Frazier hit a buzzer-beating homer to keep his hopes alive. This is the biggest toss-up of the first round, but I picked against Frazier to win in the final round last year and I’m not going to pick against him in the first round here. Frazier gets it done.

Robinson Cano vs. Giancarlo Stanton

Unlike Bryce Harper, who has stated that he has no interest competing in the Home Run Derby, baseball’s most powerful hitter readily finds himself in the contest for the second time in three years. I was excited to see Giancarlo Stanton mash at Great American last year, but after he wore a pitch off the face in Milwaukee, it took a little more time to heal than just rubbing some dirt on it and running to first.

Nevertheless, Stanton is back at it again, this time in San Diego. Remember the last time he was in the derby?

Look, Stanton is must-see TV. When he or Bryce Harper steps to the plate, you turn on the respective game because you never know what one of them is going to produce. Some of Stanton’s shots are laser beams that get out quicker than Kim Kardashian from her first marriage, and others are moonshots that are so high up they feel blessed. His swing was built for the home run derby and the home run derby was built for him. Giancarlo, do not let us down.

Cano

Cano hit 32 home runs in the 2011 derby en route to the title. He hit 28 home runs that season, then 33 in 2012. He only hit 21 all of last year, but he already has 20. The left side of this bracket is loaded with talent.

Prediction: Not only has Robinson Cano been there before, he’s won it before. However, Giancarlo Stanton had not yet burst onto the national landscape with his magnificent displays of power; his shock and awe factor nearly unmatched throughout the league. This is my bet for the best first round pairing, but I think Stanton moves on.

Second Round

We move into hypotheticals now!

Trumbo vs. Stanton

This is one of those pairings where you wish it came in the final. Unless there’s a serious flop or a crazy surprise, these two meeting for a chance to go to the finals is a pretty solid bet. They both hit baseballs really, really far, but I think Stanton will hit more baseballs really, really far.

Frazier vs. Duvall

Hey Reds fans check it out! Your former star vs. your current star! If only the home run derby could happen everyday, right? Well, I think Duvall goes on to the championship round. I’m fully prepared to see Frazier bust my bracket for the second straight year, though.

Championship

Stanton vs. Duvall

Here is to hoping that Giancarlo Stanton does what fans are so hoping he will do, and that is to obliterate baseballs and shatter records. Should Duvall get to this point, I think he could put up a good fight, but in the end it’ll be Stanton.

Do you want to try it out for yourself? Fill out a bracket for the chance to win some serious dough by clicking here.

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Here, Not There: A Summer in Cincinnati

As freshman year at Xavier University has come to a close, people are asking me when I’m going to be able to make it back to the great land of Northern Virginia. While I might make it back for a quick weekend sometime soon, I’ll be here in the Queen City for the summer. So, I just wanted to throw out a quick post wrapping up the year at Xavier and setting the scene for what should be an exciting summer, both personally and for the Nationals.

Before I get into some Nats news, here’s what I’ve been up to over the last year. I did the sports report for Xavier News periodically…

Additionally, I did play-by-play for several home baseball games for Xavier, who by the way won the Big East regular season championship and begin play in the Big East tournament tomorrow.

This summer, I landed a spot doing play-by-play via internet stream for the Hamilton Joes, a collegiate summer baseball team in a league similar to the well-known Cape Cod league. I will be doing the home games, as well as frequently doing road games.

Now on to the Nats, where the powers that be at ESPN have them at third behind the North Siders and the Fenway-dwellers. Do these rankings really mean anything? Nope. But, one thing noted under the Nats’ wrap-up stands out; Scherzer, he of the 20K game, has the highest ERA on the team at 3.80. Bryce seems to have come back down to Earth after his torrid stretch to start the season, but is still producing at a high level. Daniel Murphy and Wilson Ramos are carrying a mighty stick, and the rest of the lineup is starting to fall into place.

The Nats’ starting pitchers have the 2nd lowest ERA, 4th lowest WHIP, and highest strikeout percentage throughout all of the major leagues, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Yeah, all of this is pretty basic information, but it’s promising to see them do so well, especially against a team like the Mets.

Washington comes to Cincinnati the weekend of June 3rd, and I’m hoping to go Friday and Sunday if possible. In addition to attending Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter in April, I saw the Reds play the Cubs two more times that weekend, including once with Steve.

Paul and me at Great American

I would be remiss if I did not throw this in here. The day after Arrieta’s no-hitter, I was at the game with my hall as a result of free tickets from our RA, and after the game there were fireworks of all sorts. I am enamored with home run derbies, as you can tell, and in between the end of the game and the fireworks show, the Long Haul Bombers (video from 2010) lit up the night sky, propelling neon-colored softballs well into the second deck at Great American Ball Park. What a weekend at GABP that was.

So, here’s to what’s ahead. And oh by the way, you’re always welcome to take a listen.

Seeing Double: Jake Arrieta’s No-Hitter

Just about a year and a half ago, instead of going to the second-to-last game of the season, my family decided we wanted to see Jordan Zimmermann wrap up the 2014 regular season at Nationals Park. What a decision that turned out to be, as he ended up throwing the first no-hitter in Nationals history.

I attend Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, otherwise known as Reds country. I hadn’t yet been to a game this season, and some of the guys on my hall who are avid Cubs fans wanted to get down to Great American to inevitably watch the Cubbies dismantle the over-matched Cincinnati Reds.

With a paper due the next day and a horrible cold resting in my respiratory system, I strongly considered not going to the game. However, I finished the paper before the game and took up the offer on the tickets. Turns out, it would end up being an above-average decision.

Disclaimer: I grew up a Reds fan before the Nats made the great exodus from Montreal. One thing was for sure, there was not a chance I wanted them to break up this no-hitter.

image

(Left to right) Nick, Danny, Spike, Tall Paul

We sat in left field by the foul pole, and Jake Arrieta toed the rubber for Chicago.

No sooner were we settled in our seats than Kris Bryant launched a home run into the second deck above us. That was far from the last of the offensive production from Chicago, who would go on to score 16 runs.

Now, let’s set one thing straight here. I can’t really think of anything in sports off the top of my head that intrigues me more than perfect games and no-hitters in baseball. From the first pitch of the game, I am constantly scoreboard watching to see when each team records their first base knock. Maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of F.P. Santangelo and his trademark, “There goes the no-hitter.”

As the game got into the fourth inning, I began noticing with increased awareness the big fat goose-egg in the hit column for Cincinnati. Along about the sixth inning, Nick and Danny went to sit on the first base side with a couple friends from Xavier. Me being as superstitious as I am, I was supremely hesitant to change seats in the middle of a no-hitter. Who does that?!

I gave up the fight, and Spike and I joined the group along the first base line. I was certain Arrieta would promptly surrender a hit, but that was not to be. Red after Red retreated to the dugout.

One observation I made as the buzz in the stadium started to swirl: this was not by any means one of his best starts. No-hitters aren’t all that much of a rarity, far from that of a perfect game, and it’s often a bad team that just can’t hit a gap. I saw Arrieta’s pitch count rising quickly, and began to worry if he would even finish the game as he walked his third batter. Statistically, this wasn’t even Arrieta’s best-pitched game since last August.

Ninth inning now. There is almost a tangible anxiousness sweeping across GABP. The crowd, the vast majority of which is donning blue, gradually gets their phones out to start recording.

Two outs. Jake Arrieta is one out away from his second career no-hitter, and his second in his last 16 starts.

Eugenio Suarez strode to the plate as the last hope for the Reds to avoid what seemed to be the inevitable. With two strikes, home plate umpire Dana DeMuth called a ball on what appeared to be a strike, and what would have been long debated had Suarez not flied out to Jason Heyward.imageimage

Arrieta is now 15-0 with a 0.54 ERA in his last 16 starts (ESPN). He has allowed seven earned runs since the beginning of last August, and during that time eight pitchers have allowed at least that many in one innings. Also, the Cubs has won his last 17 starts (ESPN Stats and Info). Needless to say, he’s a major reason why the Cubs are one of the favorites to win the World Series.

Oh yeah, I would be remiss without mentioning that some dude thought it was a brilliant idea to run on the field and celebrate with Arrieta after the final out. Although, if you’re gonna storm the field, get fined, and go to jail, that’s probably as good a time as ever.

Tonight, Arrieta looks to match Johnny Vander Meer as the only pitchers to throw back-to-back no-hitters. His matchup is the Milwaukee Brewers.

So, to recap, the first game I attended of the 2016 season was the second no-hitter I’ve seen live. Here is to what lies ahead the rest of this season.

Welcome Back, Baseball

It has been quite some time since this page has been active, and I got to figurin’ that that ought to change. College basketball has consumed the vast majority of my sporting interests since early November, but as Bronson Koenig ended the dreams of my beloved Xavier Musketeers all-too-early in March, I have turned back to the national pastime. A great couple college basketball and the MLB make; when one ends the other begins.

Ryan Zimmerman

I have been thinking about various ideas for this site in particular, and I will try and take advantage of whatever opportunities are available to cover the team from my perspective over the course of the season. I’m sure my good friend Steve Miller and I will have some more stories to share from Nationals Park.

Harper

It has been exactly six months (or about 183 days and 26 minutes) since the Washington Nationals last played a game that counted in the standings. Granted, it was a loss to the New York Mets, but it was a real game nonetheless. Now, it’s go time. In about ten minutes, reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper, ace Max Scherzer, and the rest of the Nationals will get their season underway against the Atlanta Braves. As the Nationals Twitter account has been promoting throughout spring training, the Nats have #OnePursuit. Many speculate that with injuries, age, and impending free agencies, the window for the Nats to win is slowly closing. Today marks the first step on this particular journey.

Harper and the Squad

So, without further ado…let’s do this thing.

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Saying Goodbye to a Win and a Park

It was a solemn day, Friday, as it marked the final time I would be making the trek to Nationals Park in the 2015 season. As distance abounds between the park and my place of learning, I will have to settle for cheering on the team from the constraints of my dorm room.

Last week produced a whirlwind of events, not all of which were positive in nature. In fact, Steve and I only saw the Nationals win once in our four games, and Friday’s finale proved to be the most gut-wrenching of all as I will relay to you below. For a full background on the tales of the week that did not all pertain to the national pastime, be sure to check out Steve’s recap here.

Steve and I arrived to the park right as the gates opened, allowing ample opportunity for batting practice leading up to the game. I tracked a Jayson Werth bomb that was my best chance as of yet, but I made it across the aisle just too late and the ball skimmed off the edge of my glove. Luckily, I had a chance at redemption only a few moments later when Werth hit another one; this time the ball found itself securely in the back of my glove. As for Steve, he made an acrobatic catch on a home run by none other than Dan Uggla, one of his favorite MLB players. imageThe Colorado Rockies took their turn but did not produce many home runs to where we were standing in the Red Porch, save for one caught by Steve.

We meandered around the stadium as we killed time before first pitch attempting to find some consumables along the way. Upon filling our stomachs with some delightful American food, it was time to go watch some baseball.

The Nats got off to yet another good start, taking an early 1-0 lead in the first inning. Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann did his part in shutting the door and held the Rockies off the board until the seventh inning. He got an extra run of support in the fourth along with two more insurance runs in the sixth to make it 4-0 entering the final third of the game.image

Colorado trailed 4-1 in the eighth as recently-dominant relief man Drew Storen strode to the mound from the bullpen. For the first time since the Papelbon trade, he allowed a runner to reach scoring position. All of a sudden the bases were juiced. And then…Carlos Gonzalez put the Rockies ahead with one swing of the bat, a laser over the right field fence.

Nationals Park was deflated. What looked to be a certain 4-1 victory had see-sawed into a 5-4 deficit seemingly in the blink of an eye. It was not over yet, and the Nats had two more chances to muster just the one run they needed to tie it back up.

The Nats left a runner stranded at third in the bottom of the eighth, so still behind by one in the ninth, they were looking at 9-1-2 coming to the plate.

One runner reached, and the Nationals had none other than Bryce Harper coming to the dish with two outs, down by a single run. One swing of the bat and the home crowd would be going home exuberant, but it was not to be. Tommy Kahnle earned his first career save and the game was over. With yet another Mets win, the Nats were now 2.5 games behind in the division.Steve and II watched the post-game Freedom Fireworks with a strong sense of nostalgia. The summer was quickly coming to a conclusion and I will soon be heading off to begin another chapter in my life. Hopefully, my beloved Nationals can write themselves a storybook ending to their season.Steve and I departing Nationals ParkSee you next year, Nationals Park.

Third Time is Not a Charm as Nationals Drop Another

One year ago, on August 5th, 2014, the Jayson Werth Garden Gnome enamored a fan base and caused hysteria among the masses attempting to get one in their possession. I made sure I would not be denied, and waited nearly two and a half hours as the first in line for the unique promotion. I was interviewed by The Washington Post, and it was one of my fond memories from last summer.

The same date of this year served as a platform for yet another distinct giveaway utilizing Jayson Werth’s likeness: The Jayson Werth Chia Pet. Given to the first 20,000 fans, the Chia Werth was all over Twitter in the time leading up to the event and the game was sure to be packed with fans trying to get their hands on one. Werth ChiaIn the spring, Steve Miller interviewed me for an article he was writing for Flyer News, the University of Dayton’s student newspaper. The article was about the promotion schedule for Major League Baseball, and he talked about my experience last year with the craze of the Werth Garden Gnome.

He applied for a press credential to cover the follow-up to the gnome: the chia pet. He was granted the press pass, and upon informing me of his success, I applied for one also but did not hear back.

When we emerged from the Navy Yard metro station and looked down Half Street, I noticed the line for the chia was not nearly as long as I remembered it for the gnome before the gates had opened. After walking around and ensuring Steve had made it into the park, I made my way back to the left field gate where I received my chia.

The Red Porch was quite crowded for batting practice but that didn’t stop me from trying to catch a home run. I had not caught one on the fly since August 5th of last year, so I was hoping for a repeat experience a year later. Sure enough, after waiting for a little while, a batter who I believe was Ian Desmond, smacked a ball right near where I was standing and I moved over to make the catch.

Around 5:30 the entire park opened and I went down next to the Diamondbacks dugout since Steve was on the field behind home plate for batting practice with his press pass. He told me he had already talked to some broadcasting members, including Dave Jageler who we interviewed last year before a game. Steve and I talked for a little while longer and when he left to go back to the press box, I meandered back to the Red Porch to try my luck with D-backs BP. Be sure to read all about his experience here.

Wouldn’t ya know, one of the batters hit a home run to essentially the same spot as the one I had caught before and I had my second souvenir of the day. At this point, my parents and another friend were arriving and I had my company to ascend to our seats and watch the game.

Like the night before, leadoff hitter Yunel Escobar got things started with a blast to center. While this one did not go over the fence, it did go over the head of the Diamondbacks center fielder, and Escobar had himself a double to start the game. The Nationals scored three in the first on Tuesday night and two in the first on Wednesday night, but the games would turn out to be polar opposites upon completion.

Gio Gonzalez pitched five strong innings and left in the sixth with a one run lead. To say the bullpen imploded is an understatement, as Aaron Barrett relieved Gio but left in the same inning after having recorded only one out and allowing three earned runs. By the end of the sixth it was 5-2 Diamondbacks and the visiting team was not looking back. They tacked on three more in the eighth and three more again in the ninth to turn a 2-1 battle into a 11-2 laugher. It got so bad in the ninth that position player Tyler Moore was called on to finish the inning.

There was even a point when the section I was in started chanting “Let’s go Marlins!” after the Marlins staged a rally in the bottom of the ninth to make it a close game against the Mets.

Michael Taylor provided a two-run blast in the bottom half of the frame, and then the fat lady sung, concluding a marathon of an affair that lasted nearly four hours. With yet another Mets victory, the Nationals ended the night two games back in the National League East. The Nats took a loss last year on gnome day, so hopefully next year August 5th doesn’t become an annual losing affair.imageAll in all, it wasn’t a completely bad day. The experience before the game was fun, and it was interesting hearing Steve’s stories of the press box. If only the actual game had gone better.

Tomorrow, Friday, will likely be my last trip to Nationals Park before I set off for college in less than two weeks. Stay tuned also for a special announcement coming from this site in the very near future.

Ramos Rights Ship: Nationals Win on Day Two

imageDay Two of Steve and my’s baseballing escapades commenced Tuesday, this time with the same crew that took on the park nearly two years ago.

We got there a few minutes before the gates opened, prime time for catching home runs in batting practice for both teams. We quickly made our way down to the Red Porch as the Nationals took their hacks.

Not many home runs came out our way, but Wilson Ramos managed to clobber one into the restaurant section of the Red Porch. I was standing by the first row of the seating section as I watched it sail way over my head. It hit the ground uncaught and promptly bounced all the way back to where I was standing. The ball found itself in my glove, and I was ensured I was not leaving for home empty handed.image

Another takeaway from batting practice was Bryce Harper. He usually does not take BP on the field, but chose to on this day and put on a display. He hit upper-decker after upper-decker, including one into the third deck which was probably the longest home run I had ever witnessed in person.

Also of note was Denard Span, who was taking ground balls in centerfield. Span, working his way back from back problems, hopes to return to the lineup soon to provide that leadoff spark the Nationals so desperately need.

After batting practice had concluded and we had made our way to our seats, we were informed by the PA announcer that, despite the sun shining, a delay was in effect for an impending storm. The storm never came to fruition and the game started around 7:35.

image

From left: Ben, Jack, Steve, and I

Max Scherzer squared off against Diamondbacks southpaw Patrick Corbin, who was making his sixth start of the year after coming off Tommy John Surgery.While the first inning did not go very well for Mr. Corbin, it went abundantly well for the home team. Yunel Escobar lead off with a home run to center, and two more runs crossed the plate before the third out was recorded. An early three run lead hoped to be a boost to Scherzer who has proved he does not need much run support to produce a win.image

However, three runs would not be enough. Scherzer labored through a 40 pitch 4th inning in which the D-backs scored the needed amount to tie the game. Things would remain knotted for several more innings until there came some drama in the later stages.image

Drew Storen entered in the top of the eighth for what would become yet another shutdown inning. To put in perspective how he has pitched since the Papelbon trade last week, let’s take a look:

It was the meat of the Nationals order for the bottom half of the eighth, and the game would not be tied in the 9th if they had anything to say about it. Ryan Zimmerman walked, Jayson Werth smacked a double into the left field corner, and Wilson Ramos strode to the plate with two runners in scoring position. He dropped a blooper into shallow right field allowing Zimmerman to score easily and Werth to come home and score from second. The crowd roared as Ramos gave his customary Buffalo horns on second, and the hit seemed to be a product of the day’s work for Wilson.

Jonathan Papelbon allowed one run in the 9th on a throwing error by third baseman Yunel Escobar, but shut the door quickly afterwards and earned his first save at home for his new team.

Papelbon ends the game himself as he tags out Chad Pennington running to first

Papelbon ends the game himself as he tags out Chad Pennington running to first

The Mets defeated the Marlins, so the Nats remain one game back of the Metropolitans.

Today is August 5th, or in the minds of Nationals fans, Jayson Werth Chia Pet day. It is also the one year anniversary of the Gnome day, as many of you may remember from last year. I’ll be there for the Chia Pet with a review of the event tomorrow.