Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
In many ways, the 2012 major league season has been the year of the pitcher. Here are some of the highlights:
- Five no-hitters have been thrown this season.
- Two of the five no-no's were perfect games. Philip Humber threw his perfecto against the Seattle Mariners on April 21 while Matt Cain's flawless outing occurred against the Houston Astros back on June 13.
- 14 pitchers have already registered double-digit wins and 18 major league starters entered the All-Star break with an ERA under 3.00.
- R.A. Dickey has revolutionized the game with his mastery of the mid-80s knuckleball while Stephen Strasburg's innings limit might be the most polarizing topic in pro sports right now.
But Monday night in Kansas City, they'll all be spectators. Cain and Strasburg will be sitting in lawn chairs instead of hurling fastballs. Dickey will probably be admiring Kauffman Stadium's architecture through a camera lens while Justin Verlander will be signing autographs and posting on his Twitter account.
On the eve of baseball's midsummer classic, all eyes will be on eight of the game's most powerful home run hitters as they compete in the league's 27th annual Home Run Derby.
With perennial derby stalwarts Josh Hamilton and David Ortiz both sitting this one out, this year's Home Run Derby will feature four first-time participants.
The eight hitters on display Monday night have combined to hit 1,268 career homers including 151 in 2012.
Who will be crowned baseball's home run king at the end of the night? I'm glad you asked. Here are my Home Run Derby predictions.
Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays: Bautista has hit more jacks than anybody in the sport over the last three seasons (124) so you'd think he'd be unbeatable in a home run hitting contest. Yet, Bautista finished a distant sixth at last year's Derby in Arizona. We'll disregard Bautista's subpar showing last season because it was his first time competing. Bautista should be more prepared this time around. If he gets the ball in his happy zone (basically anywhere in the middle of the plate or on the inside half of the strike zone), he should be able to provide Kauffman Stadium patrons with plenty of souvenirs. I think he'll sneak into the second round. First Round HRs: 7; Second Round HRs: 8
Robinson Cano, New York Yankees: Cano won this event last season and he'll probably be a popular pick to win it again in 2012. Right now he's on pace to finish with 38 HRs, nine more than his current career-high of 29 set back in 2010. Still, nobody has won this contest twice in a row since Ken Griffey Jr. did it in 1998 and 1999 so getting back into the winner's circle won't be an easy task for the four-time All-Star. I see Cano fading in the second round. First Round: 8; Second Round: 5
Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers: Fielder has been one of the game's most steady home run producers over the last five years but this season, he has begun to tail off a bit. Out of the eight players competing, only Matt Kemp (12 HRs) has fewer round-trippers than Fielder's 15 long balls in the first half and Kemp has been on the DL for most of the last two months. The former Brewer has experience on his side (this is his fourth HR Derby) and he's definitely going to hit a few jawdroppers. But in the end, I don't see Fielder advancing past the first round. First Round: 5
Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels: Trumbo hits bombs. His 22 home runs this season have traveled an average distance of 419.5 feet, the highest average of any of this year's Derby participants. Trumbo has hit 12 homers since June 1 so he's red-hot right now. Plus, Angels players always do well in the Derby. Since the Derby's inception back in 1985, four Angels have competed. Three of them (Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero and Wally Joyner) raised a trophy at the end of the night. I say, make it four out of five. Trumbo will be the most fun player to watch on Monday night, and he'll also be this year's Home Run Derby Champion. First Round: 11; Second Round: 7; Finals: 8
Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals: Surprisingly, this is actually Beltran's first appearance in the Derby. His 20 homers in the first half were good for second in the National League and out of the eight hitters in the field, he owns the most career homers (322). Beltran is also pretty familiar with Kauffman Stadium's dimensions: he played with the Royals from 1998 until 2004. For all of those reasons Beltran seems like he'd be a smart pick, but my gut tells me he's not going to be much of a factor on Monday night. Maybe it's because Beltran hasn't homered in more than two weeks. He's also the oldest player in this competition (35) so fatigue could come into play with Beltran. First Round: 5
Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies: Gonzalez is a terrific hitter for average (he's batting .330 this year) and I know he's got a bit of pop (17 HRs in the first half), but I can't envision him being able to keep up with the Bautistas and Trumbos of the world in a home run contest. It's also his first time being in the All-Star Game so I expect Gonzalez might be a little overwhelmed by the whole experience. Gonzalez is probably going to be one and done in this tournament. First Round: 3
Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers: Kemp was chosen as the captain of the National League's Home Run Derby squad, so you know he's going to be pretty amped when it's his turn to hit. The bad news is that Kemp hasn't played in a major league game since May 30 because of hamstring issues and he still isn't healthy enough to play in Tuesday night's All-Star Game. If Kemp was at full- strength, he'd be a slam dunk to make it to the second round. But with a bum hamstring, I think he finishes somewhere near the middle of the pack. First Round: 4
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates: I've never thought of McCutchen as a pure home run hitter, but after watching him play in the first half, I'm starting to change my mind. He blasted two homers in Sunday's 13-2 beatdown against San Francisco and over his last nine games he's hitting an absurd .553 with 12 RBIs. I think the major league's batting average leader will keep his hot streak going with another fine performance on Monday. Pencil McCutchen in for a trip to the finals, where he'll face off against Trumbo. First Round: 12; Second Round: 7; Finals: 5