For the first time since the 2015 All-Star break, the Chicago Cubs had representatives in the Home Run Derby. Representing the North Side of Chicago were Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez who entered the contest as the fifth and sixth seeds respectively.
A product of being the lower seeds, Baez had to face-off against number three seed Max Muncy in the first round of play. Baez ripped two monster blasts that traveled over 440 feet, giving him 30 extra seconds after his standard four minutes of regulation. In that regulation round, Baez mashed 14 home runs with the longest resting 479 feet away from home plate.
With a solid 14 in his back-pocket, Baez added two more long balls in the bonus round, raising his total to 16 for round one.
Despite tying the second highest home run total for the first round, Baez was bounced from the competition after Muncy ripped his 17th home run of the round with 30 seconds left on the clock. Of those blasts, Muncy’s longest was a 435-foot home run.
Just like Baez, Schwarber was faced with matching up against a higher seed in Alex Bregman. In his four minutes, Schwarber unloaded on 14 balls and sent them flying into the stands, earning his 30 second bonus with 448 and 450-foot blasts, the latter of which landed in the third deck at Nationals Park. In his bonus round, Schwarber tacked on two home runs, ending the round with 16 big flies.
Bregman would prove to be a challenge for Schwarber. Entering the contest with a career-high 20 home runs, the Houston Astros’ infielder managed to hit 15 long balls. While Bregman failed to best Schwarber, his last swing produced a ball that hit off the wall in left-center field that would have tied the Cubs’ outfielder at 16. Nonetheless, Schwarber was able to advance to the second round.
Hoskins was able to build upon that solid showing in the first round, posting 19 home runs during regulation in the semi-finals. In the bonus time, Hoskins added one more long ball, giving him 20 and setting the bar high for Schwarber.
Despite that, Schwarber proved up for the challenge. With 92 seconds left in regulation, Schwarber sat at 12 home runs, making it seem like a stretch to reach Hoskins. With that in mind, Schwarber added nine home runs in the remaining time, hitting long ball number 21 with his last swing of regulation even though he had earned 30 seconds of bonus time.
Schwarber’s numbers for that semi-final win looked like this.
Longest home run: 462 feet
Home run swing percentage: 53 percent
Average distance: 414 feet
Average exit velocity: 106 MPH
With Schwarber locked into the finals, it came down to Muncy and hometown hero Bryce Harper to claim the remaining spot. Muncy could never find a groove, finishing his round with 12 home runs, none of which were hit over 440 feet.
Harper suffered the same fate through much of his round, managing just 10 home runs over the first two and a half minutes. However, after his break, Harper ripped off three home runs in 20 seconds to defeat Muncy and move to the finals.
Schwarber Versus Harper in the Finals
This match-up between Schwarber and Harper in the finals could not have resulted any better, except for Schwarber winning, of course.
As the lower seed, Schwarber went first and got off to a solid start. In the final round, batters get two breaks, the first of which Schwarber took with 2:50 left on the clock. At that time, the left-hander slugged had hit five home runs, putting him on pace for around 20. Over the next minute or so, that pace was diminished slightly as Schwarber stepped out for the second time with nine home runs and 1:49 left.
In that last portion of his round, Schwarber mashed eight home runs to give him 17 heading into his bonus 30 seconds. With one home run during that time, Schwarber ended his round with 18 home runs, giving him 55 for the night.
Despite Schwarber posting a solid number, it seemed like a foregone conclusion Harper would best his total. However, through the first 90 seconds, Harper had just four home runs, putting him solidly behind Schwaber’s pace. Even with 80 seconds left in regulation, Harper had yet to reach double digits, as he was sitting at nine home runs at the time he took his second break.
It was after that break that Harper really turned it on. To close out regulation, Harper hit his final nine home runs in a row, tying Schwarber as his four minutes expired. Thanks to some monster blasts, Harper earned 30 bonus seconds, which he put to good use. On the second swing of the bonus round, Harper launched a ball into center field that secured him as the 2018 Home Run Derby Champion.
Despite the ultimate outcome, it was exciting to watch Baez and Schwarber swing for the fences and to see Schwarber make it to the finals after Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were bounced in the first round during the 2015 derby.
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