Lost among all the arguments about All-Star voting and All-Star snubs is that All-Star week is really just a big celebration of the sport. Baseball fans in Cleveland can attend the fan festival, get to see the up-and-coming stars of tomorrow, enjoy sluggers slugging during the Home Run Derby and then watch the best players in the sport -- most of them, at least -- in Tuesday's All-Star Game.
Here's a guide to three days of fun:
Format: An eight-player bracket, with the higher seed going second. Batters have four minutes per round with one timeout allowed per round (and two in the finals).
Participants:Matt Chapman,Oakland Athletics(No. 1 seed, stepping in for the injured Christian Yelich); Pete Alonso, New York Mets (2); Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates (3); Alex Bregman, Houston Astros (4); Joc Pederson, Dodgers (5); Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves (6); Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (7); Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays (8)
It's going to be hard to top the past two Home Run Derbies -- Aaron Judge winning 2017 while dueling Giancarlo Stanton with a barrage of long-range missiles, and then Harper pulling out a dramatic, last-second victory over Kyle Schwarber at his home park -- but this field is loaded and should provide some fun energy with all the young guys.
Also, for the first time there is the added incentive of $1 million going to the winner, as the overall pool for the participants increased from $725,000 to $2.5 million.
No wonder Alonso has actually been practicing for the event. The rookie slugger has the opportunity to basically double his 2019 salary.
Bregman and Pederson have participated in previous Home Run Derbies (Pederson lost in the 2015 final to Todd Frazier), so that might help them. Yelich is the first reigning MVP winner to participate since Albert Pujols in 2009. Acuña and Guerrero give us two of the most exciting young players in the game, and the hometown fans will root on Santana.
Bell, however, might be the favorite (he and Yelich were the top picks in Vegas, before Yelich pulled out), as his raw power might top even Alonso's. His seven home runs of 440-plus feet lead the majors, and he has cranked two into the Allegheny River beyond the right-field stands at PNC Park -- becoming just the fourth player in PNC history to reach the river on the fly.
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET (Fox)
2018 MVP: Alex Bregman, Astros
Format: Nine innings, doesn't count. The past two All-Star Games both went 10 innings. The AL has won six in a row (after winning 12 in a row with one tie from 1997 to 2009).
The last time All-Star festivities were held in Cleveland was 1997, when Randy Johnson started against Greg Maddux. The AL starting lineup featured six future Hall of Famers (Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Cal Ripken, Ivan Rodriguez, Roberto Alomar) plus Alex Rodriguez. The NL starting lineup featured five future Hall of Famers (Maddux, Craig Biggio, Tony Gwynn, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell) plus Barry Bonds and Larry Walker. There were eight more future Hall of Famers on the benches, plus Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire.
The first four NL pitchers were Maddux, Curt Schilling, Kevin Brown and Pedro Martinez. Now that is an All-Star pitching staff. Indians catcher Sandy Alomar played the hero for the hometown fans with a two-run homer in the seventh inning off Giants lefty Shawn Estes, giving the AL a 3-1 win.
Players to watch
The NL starting outfield of Yelich, Acuña and Cody Bellinger is third-youngest outfield by average age in All-Star history, trailing only the 1957 NL trio of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson and the 1940 AL trio of Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller. Yelich and Bellinger, battling for MVP honors, both head into the break with at least 30 home runs.
Mike Trout, Angels. The two-time All-Star MVP might be having his best season yet. He's 7-for-15 with five extra-base hits (including two home runs) in All-Star games.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers. The likely NL starter, Ryu is 10-3 with a 1.73 ERA. He has allowed more than two runs in a start just twice all season -- one game with three runs (but just one earned) and one bad seven-run outing at Coors Field in which he allowed three home runs. He has walked just 10 batters in 109 innings. He's joined on the NL roster by teammates Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, making the Dodgers just the fifth team in 20 years with three starting pitchers on an All-Star roster.
Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs. Last year's NL MVP runner-up started the 2018 game at second base but starts at shortstop this year. He joins Bobby Grich and Granny Hamner as the only players to start All-Star Games at both shortstop and second base.
Justin Verlander, Astros. He started in 2012 and could be the AL starter seven years later, as he's 10-4 with a 2.98 ERA and has held batters to a .162 average. After finishing as the Cy Young runner-up in 2018 and 2016, he's intent on adding a bookend to his 2011 trophy.
Francisco Lindor, Indians. He isn't starting, but he'll play in front of the hometown fans. And maybe like Alomar in 1997, he walks away with MVP honors.