(CBS New York/CBS Local) — As MLB enjoys the mid-season All-Star break, one thing is abundantly clear: players are hitting lots of home runs. The League is on pace to shatter its record of 6,105, set in 2017.
The power surge was full display in Monday night’s Home Run Derby, as MLB’s rising stars battled for long ball supremacy. While New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso emerged victorious, it was Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. whose star shown brightest.
At least one player doesn’t like it. Justin Verlander, the Houston Astros ace, who will start Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, voiced his opinion Monday night. The pitcher thinks the balls are juiced. And he called out baseball commissioner Rob Manfred in the process. Manfred, for his part, agrees the balls are travelling further and faster, though he credits improved aerodynamics.
Most of MLB’s top players will suit up for the Midsummer Classic Tuesday night at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio, as the American and National League battle for bragging rights.
This week’s Baseball Report takes measure of the Home Run Derby, digs into Verlander’s “juiced ball” comments, and reviews the All-Star Game starting lineups.
Home Run Derby Fireworks
Long balls, juiced or not, flew out of Progressive Field in this year’s Home Run Derby Monday night. In the end, Mets rookie Pete Alonso edged out Blue Jays rookie Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He was just the third rookie ever to win the contest. Alonso’s $1 million prize is almost double his 2019 base salary of $555,000.
The most exciting Derby in recent memory will be remembered more for the Herculean effort of its runner-up, however. Guerrero blasted a Derby-record 91 home runs over three rounds. That includes a first-round total of 29 and a second-round total of 40, both tops in the round. His second-round win over Dodgers slugger Joc Pederson went to three tiebreakers.
Alonso, for his part, racked up 57 long balls. But he managed 23 to Guerrero’s 22 when it mattered most.
Guerrero’s debut back in late April was among the season’s most anticipated. The Blue Jays third baseman, who excelled at every minor league level, has since batted a .245 with eight home runs and 25 RBI. Alonso has also filled up box scores for his struggling Mets, hitting .280 while tallying 30 home runs and 68 RBI.
With rookies Guerrero and Alonso and other young rising talent, MLB seems well positioned for the future.
Verlander Thinks Baseballs Are Juiced
MLB players are hitting home runs at a record-breaking pace. Teams have hit a total of 3,691 home runs going into the All-Star break, which translates to 1.37 home runs per team per game. The previous record of 1.26 was set in 2017.
But Astros ace Justin Verlander, who will take the mound for the American League, believes the balls are juiced. He said as much Monday night in an interview with ESPN.
“Major League Baseball’s turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings, and you’ve got [MLB Commissioner Rob] Manfred up here saying it might be the way they center the pill.”
MLB bought an ownership stake in the longtime producer of its baseballs and helmets in June of 2018.
“If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it’s not a guess as to what happened. We all know what happened.”
Manfred has publicly suggested that the ball is traveling further because of its “improved aerodynamic state.” As he sees it, that’s because “[Rawlings is] getting better at centering the pill. It creates less drag.”
Verlander, who will be appearing in his eighth All-Star Game, has given up a League-leading 26 home runs so far this season. He is also among MLB’s leaders in innings pitched (126.2), strikeouts (153) and ERA (2.98).
All-Star Game Lineups
Starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Los Angeles Dodgers Hyun-Jin Ryu will face dream lineups in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game. Here are the starters:
- George Springer, Houston Astros, Right Field
- DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees, Second Base
- Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, Center Field
- Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians, First Base
- J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox, Designated Hitter
- Alex Bregman, Houston Astros, Third Base
- Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees, Catcher
- Michael Brantley, Houston Astros, Left Field
- Jorge Polanco, Minnesota Twins, Shortstop
- Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers, Left Field
- Javier Báez, Chicago Cubs, Shortstop
- Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves, First Base
- Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers, Right Field
- Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies, Third Base
- Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates, Designated Hitter
- Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs, Catcher
- Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks, Second Base
- Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves, Center Field