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.”

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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

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