Yoenis Cespedes and Bryce Harper are two extremely talented sluggers who meandered their way to lackluster numbers heading into the All-Star break. Strong showings in the Home Run Derby should jump-start a second-half surge.
On a night where Baltimore Orioles star Chris Davis was expected to dominate, it was Cespedes who stole the show. He slugged 17 homers in the opening round, more than double any other player, and bested Harper in the final.
In reaching the final, the pair outlasted a trio of superstars in the likes of Robinson Cano, David Wright and two-time derby champ Prince Fielder. They also beat out Davis, who's one of baseball's biggest stories with 37 home runs at the break.
Doing that should provide each of them with a welcomed boost of confidence heading into the crucial stretch run.
Cespedes' Oakland Athletics lead the AL West by two games, and they will need him to step up in order to hold off the Texas Rangers. Likewise, Harper must play a vital role if the Washington Nationals are going to chase down the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
Talent certainly isn't an issue as both illustrated on Monday night. But a combination of injury woes and rough stretches led to production that was below expectations.
Cespedes dealt with a hand injury that cost him a couple weeks in April. He's struggled to find any semblance of consistency ever since, hitting just .225 with an on-base percentage below .300. Each number is a huge drop-off from last season.
Harper was tremendous in April. He hit .344 with nine home runs and a 1.150 OPS—numbers that pointed toward a monster campaign for the 20-year-old outfielder. He was slowed by a knee injury, though, and has struggled to regain top form.
He hit .193 in May before going on the disabled list and is hitting just .196 since returning this month. That's a far cry from his April dominance and a contributing factor in the Nationals' deficit in the NL East.
Cespedes and Harper are too talented for their struggles to last much longer.
It's easy to fall into a slump in baseball because the schedule features so few days off. Once things start to go downhill and the pressure begins to mount, especially on players expected to produce big numbers, it's easy for things to snowball.
A chance to get away from the daily grind for some All-Star fun should help, as will the deep run in the Home Run Derby.
Although the results of the All-Star showcase will be nothing more than an answer to a trivia question for everybody else, it should provide the spark Cespedes and Harper have both been seeking to get their seasons back on track starting Friday.
Both players are capable of going on a tear to help carry their respective teams into the postseason. Success in the Home Run Derby should assist in that quest.
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