Baseball decided to hold its All-Star Game without any players from the 2016 world champions, and no one really seems to miss them.
With Yankees phenom Aaron Judge taking center stage, Red Sox ace Chris Sale making back-to-back starts and the Nationals' Bryce Harper being Bryce Harper, there are plenty of things to watch Tuesday night when Sale and Max Scherzer face off at Marlins Park in the annual gathering of stars.
The Cubs are so 2016. Baseball is all about the here and now, and the next big thing is Judge, the game's latest savior.
Judge's presence alone should help boost the ratings for Fox, which focused on retiring stars Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and David Ortiz in recent All-Star Games and now has a fresh face to work with. The 6-foot-7 rookie leads the majors in home runs (30), on-base percentage (.448), slugging percentage (.691), OPS (1.139) and WAR (5.5).
"The amazing part to me is just that he's so big," Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts said. "You walk (up) and he's way bigger than you think he is. Looks like he belongs in the NBA. Obviously his abilities got him to where he is, so that part is not the amazing part. It's just that he's so big. For a human to get like that is pretty amazing."
Big in stature, but Judge is as low-key as they come. He had a difficult time answering questions about how far he's come in one year, pausing to choose his words carefully. Perhaps the best example of his ascension is the number 179, which is typed in the notes app on his smartphone.
What does 179 mean?
"What I hit last year in the big leagues," Judge said, referring to his .179 average in 27 games. "I looked at that every day in the offseason. Looked at it every day in the spring and I look at it every day now in the season. I use it as motivation to tell you 'Don't take anything for granted.' This game will humble you in a heartbeat."
The Cubs are living proof of that, having been humbled by a sub-.500 first half after winning 103 games and the World Series in 2016. After dominating the All-Star week festivities in San Diego last year with seven players — five of whom played in the game — the Cubs are represented by manager Joe Maddon and his staff and closer Wade Davis, who was acquired from the Royals in the offseason.
Maddon admitted it felt weird to be rewarded with the NL manager job and not have any of the players who got him here on the roster.
"That was an awkward moment (Sunday), to be presented a jersey on our field in front of all of our fans and have none of our players out there," he said. "It was different. It was difficult. Actually I talked to (Ben Zobrist) about it ... just to let him know how much I respect and appreciate how much they've done for us, and how awkward it was for me personally to accept this jersey while they're all sitting in the dugout.
"It's a little bit different. I guess it's really never happened before. I'm really looking forward to our second half. I have a strong belief system in our guys, and I'm not just saying that. ... We (managers) get to represent here because of the efforts of our players, and what they did last year."
Davis, one of the Cubs' few bright spots, had the thankless task of defending their first half. A New York reporter asked him if he felt strange to be the only rep for the defending champs.
"You're like the sixth person that's asked that," Davis replied, grinning. "I can only speak for myself. I think there's a lot of talent on the team and they'll be fine; we'll be good when we get into the second half. I guarantee it. I'm just fortunate to be on that team."
For one day at least, Maddon shouldn't have to worry about a lack of clutch hitting or a starter giving up 10 first-inning runs.
His decision to start "Mad Max" against Sale was easy enough, even if Maddon's admission that he would've picked Scherzer over Clayton Kershaw even if Kershaw were available could come back to haunt him in October if the Cubs and Dodgers meet again.
But Maddon doesn't mind the second-guessing. His best line came when Fox's Matt Vasgersian told the media they'd have plenty of time to criticize Maddon's lineup choices later in the press conference.
"Please do," Maddon said. "You know how much I love to be criticized."