Home runs have re­turned for this year's play­offs

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ron­ald Blum

All the big home runs in the first week of the post­sea­son should not be a sur­prise. The long ball is back.

NEW YORK >> All the big home runs in the first week of the post­sea­son should not be a sur­prise. The long ball is back.

There were 5,610 home runs dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, sec­ond only be­hind the Steroids Era high of 5,693 in 2000.

And Mark Teix­eira thinks he knows why.

“I think the balls are harder. Def­i­nitely. I can just feel it. I can hear it off the bat,” the re­tir­ing New York Yan­kees first base­man said.

Al­ready in the young play­offs, Toronto’s Ed­win En­car­na­cion home­red to win the AL wild-card game, San Fran­cisco’s Conor Gil­laspie had a goa­head, ninth-in­ning drive in the NL game and the Cubs’ Javier Baez hit a de­ci­sive eighthin­ning shot to win an NL Di­vi­sion Se­ries opener.

Cubs pitcher Travis Wood be­came the first re­liever to hit a home run in the post­sea­son since 1924. And on Sun­day, Dodgers rookie Corey Sea­ger home­red in the first in­ning for the sec­ond straight game against Wash­ing­ton.

Home runs had dropped from 4,661 in 2013 to 4,186 the fol­low­ing sea­son. The rise be­gan last year, when the to­tal in­creased to 4,909.

And this year nearly set a record.

“We have tested the base­ball. We are ab­so­lutely con­vinced that this is­sue is not

driven by a dif­fer­ence in the base­ball,” base­ball Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred said. “My own view is that the spike is re­lated to the way that the game is be­ing played now, the way that we are train­ing hit­ters from a very young age, and we have not been able to find any ex­ter­nal cause that ex­plains the spike in home runs.”

A record 111 play­ers hit 20 or more home runs this sea­son, up from 64 last year, ac­cord­ing to the Elias Sports Bureau. And for­get the days of the weakhit­ting, slick-gloved mid­dle in­fielder. Thirty-five of those play­ers started at least 100 games com­bined at sec­ond base, third or short­stop.

Play­ers with 30 or more homers nearly dou­bled, from 20 to 38.

Home runs cre­ate a buzz at the ball­park — es­pe­cially in the dugouts. Cleve­land’s Roberto Perez, Ja­son Kip­nis and Fran­cisco Lin­dor all home­red in a sin­gle in­ning of the In­di­ans’ AL Di­vi­sion Se­ries opener against Boston.

“Af­ter the first one, it was ex­cit­ing. Af­ter mine, it was even kind of get­ting nuts in there,” Kip­nis said. “And the third one, our dugout was kind of los­ing it.”

A day later, the Blue Jays con­nected three times in an in­ning at Texas.

In­creas­ingly, hit­ters take noth­ing-or-all swings. Strike­outs set a record for the ninth straight year at 38,982, an av­er­age of 8.02 per team per game. Whiffs are up 27 per­cent from the 6.30 av­er­age in 2007.

Of­fense has been re­de­fined.

“Some­times a guy work­ing the count and get­ting to 3-0 and hit­ting a home run at Yan­kee Sta­dium like (Matt) Wi­eters is small ball, to work the count like that and get a hit­table pitch,” said Bal­ti­more man­ager Buck Showal­ter, whose Ori­oles led the ma­jor leagues with 253 long balls.

Teix­eira’s ev­i­dence goes be­yond homers. The av­er­age ve­loc­ity of balls off bats this in­creased from 88.5 mph in 2015 to 89.1 mph this year, ac­cord­ing to Ma­jor League Base­ball’s Stat­cast.

“All of a sud­den, did we get that much bet­ter? That much stronger?” he said.

Big league base­balls are man­u­fac­tured by Rawl­ings in Costa Rica, and balls must weight 5-5 ¼ ounces, have a cir­cum­fer­ence of 9 to 9 ¼ inches and a di­am­e­ter of 2 7/8 to 3 inches. The com­pany and MLB in­sist noth­ing has changed this year.

“We’re not see­ing any­thing out­side our nor­mal tol­er­ance range and spec­i­fi­ca­tion level,” Rawl­ings spokes­woman Kathy Stephens said, adding the com­pany con­ducts its own tests.

In a state­ment, MLB said: “We di­rect UMassLow­ell’s Base­ball Re­search Cen­ter to con­duct pe­ri­odic test­ing of base­balls through­out the reg­u­lar sea­son.”

“Among the balls that are ran­domly tested are a sam­pling from the sup­plies of clubs. Balls are tested for weight, cir­cum­fer­ence, co­ef­fi­cient of resti­tu­tion and other fac­tors. Mea­sure­ments are made to en­sure com­pli­ance with our rules and are also com­pared to pre­vi­ous re­sults. These re­views have found no dif­fer­ences to the ball that would have re­sulted in a change to its per­for­mance,” MLB said.

Texas man­ager Jeff Banis­ter had an­tic­i­pated a de­crease in home runs dur­ing the post­sea­son be­cause of bet­ter pitch­ing. Didn’t turn out the way.

“You’re fac­ing the No. 1s and No. 2s and 3s,” he said, “and those guys don’t gen­er­ally give up the long ball a lot.”

Didn’t turn out the way. Toronto went deep six times in the first two games of the AL Di­vi­sion Se­ries, hit­ting four home runs off Yu Darvish.

With San Fran­cisco play­ing post­sea­son games at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, former Cub Jeff Sa­mardz­ija knows the weather in the Windy City can im­pact how the ball trav­els. Pitch­ers are es­pe­cially aware of home runs on the North Side.

“You look at those flags,” he said, “and you kind of go from there.”


Cubs’ Javier Baez hits home run in Game 1 of Na­tional League Di­vi­sion Se­ries against Gi­ants.

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