Forget the title chase in the National League Central.
Set aside whatever you might think of the Pittsburgh Pirates roster and how it was constructed by a fiscally aware owner.
For the next two days, let’s concentrate on how Josh Bell stacks up against the game’s greatest sluggers before taking his talents on a stage with the best players on earth.
Bell, the Pirates’ mountain of a first baseman, will compete with seven others for a $1 million slice of the $2.5 million prize pool in MLB’s Home Run Derby at 8 p.m. Monday in Cleveland. If he wins, he will nearly double his $587,000 annual salary in one night.
Here is a look at the bracket, each player’s seed, odds to win and number of home runs entering Sunday’s games.
Christian Yelich, who leads the majors with 31 home runs, bowed out of the Derby on Sunday with a sore back and was replaced by Matt Chapman of the Oakland A’s.
Chapman, who will have his father pitch to him, has the second-best average exit velocity (93 mph) among the eight participants. Only Bell (93.4) has a better one.
Some might wonder how Guerrero, a rookie, slipped into the field with only eight home runs and 25 RBIs. Pirates rookies Kevin Newman (32) and Bryan Reynolds (29) have driven in more runs.
Guerrero has played in only 56 games, which means he’s hitting about a homer a week, or one every 30.75 plate appearances. But he’s a flashy competitor, the youngest Derby participant (20 years, 114 days) in its 35-year history, and he carries a name baseball fans recognize. His father, Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, was a nine-time All-Star, won the Derby in 2007 and hit 449 home runs in his 16-year career.
Pederson defeated Manny Machado and Albert Pujols in 2015 before losing to Todd Frazier in the final.
Bregman is the only repeat slugger from a year ago, when he lost to eventual runner-up Kyle Schwarber in the first round.
In the 2017 World Series,Pederson outhomered Bregman, 3-2. Of course, Bregman’s Astros outlasted Pederson’s Dodgers to win the title in seven games.
Santana gets the homefield advantage, which suggests those 10-1 odds might attract bettors. He already has hit 97 home runs at Progressive Field.
Alonso holds the National League record for home runs by a rookie at the All-Star break and is about the only good thing happening at Citi Field, where the Mets are 12½ games out of first place in the NL East. He hit a home run April 11 in Atlanta that left his bat at 118.3 mph, tied with the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez for the hardest-hit homer of the season. With 29 homers and 66 RBIs, Alonso is the chief reason Reynolds (.339) or Newman (.324) won’t be the NL Rookie of the Year.
Perhaps Bell’s only regret is that home plate at Progressive Field is not as close to Lake Erie as PNC Park’s plate is to the Allegheny River.
Bell has put two balls into the Allegheny on the fly this season. He has hit seven homers of at least 440 feet and five of at least 450. Among Derby participants, he has the farthest home run (474 feet against the Reds on April 7) and the second-quickest off the bat (116.2 mph against the Rockies on May 22).
He is only the second Pirates player with at least 25 homers at the break. Willie Stargell had 30 in 1971 and ‘73.
— Pirates (@Pirates) July 6, 2019
Acuna Jr., 21, attacks the baseball with ferocity, too, with an average exit velocity of 108.2 on home runs, fifth among players with at least 10. His average distance is 421, first among sluggers with 15 or more.