Not that the Oakland Athletics needed more good vibes in 2014, ending the first half with the best record in Major League Baseball and acquiring Jeff Samardzija before the All-Star break, but Yoenis Cespedes' performance in the Home Run Derby signals another dynamic shift in their season.
The A's slugger started off slow during Monday's event, with just three homers in the first round.
He then got stronger as the night went on by hitting 16 homers over the next two rounds before clubbing nine in the final round to beat Todd Frazier, who could muster just one in the finals.
Cespedes also had fun with the event, taking to Twitter to tell his competitors that the crown wasn't going to be taken away easily:
I'm not giving away this crown, you gotta take it from me 💪 #HRDerby— Yoenis Cespedes (@ynscspds) July 15, 2014
In many ways, Cespedes' Derby performance was the perfect metaphor for what awaits this season. The slow start is indicative of what happened to the 28-year-old in the first three months this year, posting a .246/.299/.442 slash line.
Now, though, with the big basher finding his groove under the spotlight at the All-Star festivities, the A's have no reason to expect anything less than a stellar showing once the real games resume on Friday.
In fact, if you look at Cespedes' performance in the first half this year compared to last year—when he won his first Derby title—the similarities are striking:
The difference is Cespedes missed time last year with a hand injury, so the slow start was easy to justify. This year, it just so happens that the Cuban star hasn't found a groove in the box. He's been all over the map, with FanGraphs indicating that his OPS (on-base plus slugging) totals were over .830 in April and June but under .770 in May and July.
Which Home Run Derby participant will have the best second half of the season?
Even though injuries continued to plague Cespedes in the second half last year, he still managed to slug .473 with 11 home runs in 56 games, leading Oakland to its second consecutive playoff berth.
With no health problems slowing him down this year, Cespedes is ready to attack the second half like he started the season.
The myth of the Home Run Derby is that it can ruin a player's swing, but someone like Cespedes can benefit from getting into that groove. He's never been a patient hitter who will sit back on a pitch, so attacking the ball is nothing new to him.
When you swing as much as Cespedes does, finding the right groove is critical to succeeding.
The A's aren't hurting for offense, ranking second in runs scored, but if the big bat in the middle of the order comes through, imagine how difficult this team will be to defeat in the second half.
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