2021 MLB All-Star Game: What to Watch This Year


Major League Baseball’s 2021 All-Star Game is Tuesday night (7:30 p.m. EDT) at Denver’s Coors Field. The game figures to be a great time for a few reasons, not the least of which is the sense of renewal it will bring. There was no Midsummer Classic in 2020, and baseball’s best players gathering on the same field will be a welcome return to normal.

 

 

All-star games are always fun no matter the sport. There is something inherently enjoyable about watching the best players in the world compete in the same arena at the same time. But the MLB All-Star Game has a little extra juice compared to its pro sports peers. The NFL, NBA, and NHL All-Star Games are more like glorified playground games—fun to watch but not always competitive.

Baseball is different. The shape of the game means there are few ways for anyone to get lackadaisical. Pitchers still throw hard, trying to strike batters out. Hitters still try to smack home runs. Fielders still play their positions. There’s no tackling to lighten up on, and no way to really skip defense. In baseball, you either play the game or don’t.

This year’s All-Star Game is a must-watch for any baseball fan. Here are three reasons, in particular, to keep an eye on this week’s events.

The young talent will be exceptional, even by all-star standards.

The three most valuable players in baseball this season, going by FanGraphs’ “wins above replacement” stat, are all Juniors (literally) between the ages of 22 and 23. The Toronto Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has morphed into the league’s best hitter. The San Diego Padres’ Fernando Tatís Jr. has become an unstoppable bat at a premium defensive position, shortstop. And the Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr. has more or less done the same in right field.

Unfortunately, Acuña tore his right ACL on Saturday and won’t play the rest of the season. His absence will be disappointing, but it will still be a treat to watch Tatís and Guerrero on the same diamond.

If you plan on watching baseball at any time in the next 10 years, it’ll be good to be familiar with all three players. Each is a franchise cornerstone talent who should play in a heaping handful of future All-Star Games.

Somehow, though, Tatís and Guerrero might not be the game’s biggest draws.

Shohei Ohtani will play in his first All-Star Game as he puts together one of the most incredible seasons in modern history.

That reads like hyperbole, but how else would you describe a year in which a player leads the majors with 33 home runs and moonlights as one of the league’s better starting pitchers, with a 3.31 earned run average in 10 starts? Ohtani is racking up a laundry list of accomplishments that draw inevitable (and wholly reasonable) comparisons to Babe Ruth. There has not been a two-way player like Ohtani in modern history, and now he’ll play on this stage for the first time. In fan voting, Ohtani earned a roster spot as “pitcher and designated hitter,” which, needless to say, is something no player has ever done before.

The Los Angeles Angels star is the most powerful hitter in baseball right now, leading the league not just in homers but also in “isolated power,” or the difference between a hitter’s slugging percentage and batting averages—in short, the part of a hitter’s slugging percentage that comes from extra-base hits. You don’t have to watch many highlights to understand the scale of Ohtani’s power:

And he can also throw pitches that move like this:

Ohtani’s participation will not be limited to the game itself. He’s also participating in Monday night’s Home Run Derby, which is primed to be top-tier sports entertainment.

Get ready for a Home Run Derby at altitude.

Coors Field sits in the heart of the Mile High City, and baseballs tend to fly a long way there. The Rockies’ home ballpark is by far the most hitter-friendly stadium in Major League Baseball, partly because of the lower air pressure at that altitude. Before the All-Star Game, it will host the Home Run Derby on Monday night (8 p.m. EDT).

In an effort to rein in prolific offense at Coors Field, MLB started storing the baseballs used in games there in a “humidor.” It is essentially a humidity-controlled refrigerator for baseballs that keeps them from drying out, so they’re less likely to go into orbit whenever someone hits a fly ball.

MLB is ditching the humidor for the Derby. In theory, that should result in baseballs flying a long way. The longest Derby home run in the league’s Statcast tracking era (which goes back to 2016) was 513 feet by the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge. That record may well fall this year.

Ohtani and the Texas Rangers’ Joey Gallo are the top two seeds in the eight-man event, which also features 2019 winner and defending champion Pete Alonso of the New York Mets.

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