HOUSTON — Has Major League Baseball de-juiced the baseballs for the postseason?
MLB says no, but players and managers around the league have noticed that balls are not traveling as far in the postseason as they did in the record-setting, homer-happy regular season.
Before Game 2 of the NLCS on Saturday, Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said: "Our front office analytical group is saying the ball's not traveling at about a 4½-foot difference.”
Nationals manager Dave Martinez said he played his outfielders “a little shallower [in Game 1 Friday] knowing the ball isn't traveling as far.”
Over in the ALCS, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said on Saturday that he hadn’t noticed anything and hadn’t heard about the Cardinals’ analytics.
“I'm going to ask our [analytics] guys what we've got,” Boone said. “There may be a couple of balls in Minnesota [in the ALDS] that seemed like maybe they could have gone a little further. Whether that's the cooler weather, those kind of things, I don't know. I'm just hearing about this now. I don't know what to make of that.”
Astros manager AJ Hinch joked: “I hope every ball the Yankees hit is deflated and we get to catch it at the warning track.”
Hinch added: “I don't have a lot of time to spend on the difference in the ball . . . I'm sure there are a couple of balls across the way, across these games, that, man, that looked like that should leave compared to the season. But the conspiracy of the ball, I'm so far away from caring about that. I want to try to win games.”
According to ESPN.com, when asked if the baseballs being used in the postseason are different from the ones used during the regular season, MLB responded with this statement:
"The baseballs used in Major League Baseball are manufactured in batches,” MLB said. “Balls that are used in the postseason are pulled from the same batches as balls used in the regular season. The only difference is the postseason stamp that is placed on the ball. As has been previously acknowledged, however, the drag of the baseball can vary over different time periods.”
Astros righthander Justin Verlander, who will start Game 2 of the ALCS, has been an outspoken critic of the tightly woven baseballs (or whatever the alleged change was) during the regular season. Before Game 1, Verlander sarcastically said of MLB’s statement: “I think MLB just came out with a report they haven't changed, right? I guess we've got to believe that, right? I don't know. Who knows?
Like many baseball fans, Verlander did speak out on Saturday about the changes in the game — that strikeouts and home runs are up and so-called “small ball” is out.
“I would like to see some of that small ball come back into play,” Verlander said. “I don't want to call it small ball. That's the wrong terminology. Everybody thinks of small ball [and] they think of bunting. I think of the little things -- taking the extra bases, using athleticism as a team to get extra runs.
“You look at the course of an inning, we're almost like playing a [hyped-up] version of baseball right now, where it's these huge elation moments — home run, home run, yeah, yeah. And then you're just kind of sitting there waiting for the next moment with a bunch of strikeouts in between.
“If you're not a fan of strikeouts, then what are you watching? You think of getting a guy on first base, the next guy hitting ball to rightfield, that guy going from first to third. That's a great moment to cheer. The next guy hitting a sac fly. That's another good moment to cheer. There's so many different ways to love this baseball game that I think have kind of fallen by the wayside a little bit.”