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The Washington Nationals didn’t have a spectacular first half of their season, but a few of their players were rewarded individually, as Juan Soto will compete in the Home Run Derby tonight, and Soto, Trea Turner and Max Scherzer will each participate in the All-Star game tomorrow night.
Home Run Derby
Soto was one of the final players to accept an invite to the derby, which makes sense, considering he’d only hit 10 home runs at the time of the announcement.
There might be a reason why others with similar qualifications decided to not participate, though – and not just the theory that swinging for the fences can negatively impact a hitter’s swing.
Soto will be the No. 8 seed in the tournament-style event. His first opponent will be Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, who enters the break with a league-high 33 home runs.
Here’s a look at the complete bracket:
Soto will be the first Nationals player to participate in the Home Run Derby since Bryce Harper won the event in 2018 at Nationals Park – ironically, defeating Kyle Schwarber in the final round.
As a reminder (particularly since the format is relatively new), each batter will have three minutes to have as many home runs as possible. The top seed in each matchup will bat second. Then in the final round, the time limit will decrease to two minutes.
Each batter is allowed one 45-second timeout per round. Additionally, hitters can earn an additional 30 seconds by hitting a home run further than 475 feet – and 60 seconds if they do so twice.
The defending champion from 2019 (there was no event last season) is Pete Alonso, who could potentially face Soto in the second round – if they each get past their first opponent.
With the event taking place in the notoriously hitter-friendly Coors Field in Denver, Colorado, this Home Run Derby could be a real treat for baseball fans.
The derby will begin tonight at 8:00 p.m. ET. The traditional broadcast will be on ESPN, featuring Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez, Buster Olney and Marly Rivera on the call. However, there will also be a Statcast edition on ESPN2, led by Jason Benetti, Jessica Mendoza and Mike Petriello. I plan on watching the latter, if you care to join me.
Regardless of how Monday goes for Soto, he’ll get a chance to play in the All-Star game for the first time the following night. The same goes for Turner, as well as Scherzer – although it’ll be Max’s eighth All-Star bid.
As fans are aware, Scherzer was initially omitted from the roster, but was named an injury replacement Friday. Jacob deGrom of the Mets was among those who will be sidelined for the game.
Shortly thereafter, Dave Roberts of the Dodgers (who will be managing the National League All-Star team) announced that he was strongly considering letting Scherzer start the game.
Scherzer’s stat line this season doesn’t merit receiving the starting nod, especially after the hiccup he suffered in his most recent start.
But he’s Max Scherzer.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it would be a way to honor the Nationals, who were unable to be recognized in the way that most World Series champions are, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Update: Max was named the NL starter earlier today)
Turner and Soto, on the other hand, will likely play later in the game – although there’s a chance that Soto gets to start, as well. Turner and Brandon Crawford (Giants) are the only backup shortstops behind starter Fernando Tatis Jr (Padres). Soto was named a reserve alongside Mookie Betts (Dodgers), Bryan Reynolds (Pirates), Chris Taylor (Dodgers) and his teammate Kyle Schwarber. However, injuries to Betts, Schwarber and starter Ronald Acuña Jr present an opening that a name brand player like Soto may be inserted into.
At some point within the next 24 hours, Roberts will formally announce the starting pitcher and batting order (including the replacement starters at various positions, such as Acuña’s vacancy in the outfield) to begin the game.
The All-Star Game is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET, although there will be festivities throughout the afternoon, leading up to first pitch. The game and preceding events can be seen on FOX. Joe Buck and John Smoltz will be in the broadcast booth, with Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci serving as in-game sideline reporters. Expect to hear quite a few real-time interviews with players as they’re on the field – a relatively new invention into exhibition games like the All-Star Game.
This will be a great opportunity to give Soto and Turner, in particular, some rare national exposure – Scherzer will be showcased too, but he’s not new to the national scene. If they perform like they’re capable of, it may rewrite some narratives related to their status compared to other hitters in the league.