Rawlings baseball

Did they mess with the balls this year?


You and I are men of action. Simplistic projections based on small sample sizes do not become us. So please, while there have been a lot of home runs hit in the season’s first five days, let’s not play the “on pace” game. Not yet anyhow.

But we can listen to the anecdotes, can’t we? Such as the one Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution passed along a few minutes ago in which an unidentified bullpen catcher said that the baseballs are harder this year and that he believes “they’ve been juiced to aid attendance in bad economy.”

Hurm. On the one hand, I’m guessing that there are few places on the planet where more b.s. is tossed around than in a bullpen. Lots of time to just sit there without the bosses nearby. I’ll bet there are more conspiracy theories hatched in bullpens than anywhere besides a barber shop and a Glenn Beck/Oliver Stone fishing outing. Put differently, I wouldn’t bet my life on the claim of a bullpen catcher.

On the other hand, baseball has a long and rich history of fiddling with the ball, both officially and unofficially, so you can’t really discount the notion out of hand.

My biggest question is why?  I mean, sure, a lot of people got off on calling last season “the year of the pitcher,” but there really wasn’t a lot to it. There were some high profile pitching performances and there was a dip from historic highs, but 2010 offensive levels were still elevated, historically speaking. It would make no sense to jack the ball for the purpose of boosting offense when it doesn’t need boosting.

Likewise, the economic argument is weak. Baseball has weathered the downturn pretty well, thank you. And besides, if MLB was going to make a panicky, gimmicky move to deal with the downturn, they would have done it before the 2009 or 2010 season when people were scared that we were entering the second Great Depression. Most people have chilled since then.

Fun chatter. I’d be curious to hear more of it, actually, because for every 10 lines of b.s. you hear, an interesting truth comes out.  But unless offense just goes crazy in 2011 — or unless, you know, someone actually finds some evidence of a juiced ball — I’m going to file this under “whatever dude, call me later.”

UPDATE: Official statement of MLB’s Pat Courtney: “There has been no change whatsoever on the composition of the baseball or the process in which they are made.”

Unless a scientist tells me differently, I’m goin’ with that.

There’s no one to blame in Yankees’ loss

Joe Girardi

You’re going to boo All-Star Brett Gardner for striking out against a Cy Young contender?

You’re going to bash Alex Rodriguez for going hitless in another postseason game, three years after his last one?

Maybe you’d prefer to put it all on Masahiro Tanaka for giving up two solo homers to a lineup full of 20-homer guys?

The truth is that the Yankees were supposed to lose tonight. They were facing an outstanding left-hander with their forever-lefty-heavy lineup, and they simply didn’t have anyone pitching like an ace to set themselves up nicely for a one-game, winner-take-all showdown. The 3-0 result… well, that’s how this was supposed to go down.

It didn’t necessarily mean it would; what fun would it be if the better team always won? And the Astros might not even be a better team than the Yankees. However, the Astros with Dallas Keuchel on the mound were certainly a better team than the Yankees with whoever they picked to throw.

I just don’t see where it’s worth putting any blame tonight. Joe Girardi? He could have started John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann against the tough lefty, but he wasn’t willing to risk Tanaka losing his comfort zone by using a backup catcher.

The front office could have added more talent, perhaps outbidding the Blue Jays for David Price or the Royals for Johnny Cueto, and set themselves up better for the postseason. However, that would have cost them Luis Severino and/or Greg Bird, both of whom went on to play key roles as the Yankees secured the wild card. Would it really have been worth it? I don’t think so.

Tanaka gave the Yankees what they should have expected. Had Keuchel’s stuff been a little off on short rest, Tanaka’s performance would have kept the Yankees in the game.

Keuchel, though, was on his game from the first pitch. The Astros bullpen might have been a bit more vulnerable, and late at-bats from Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Rodriguez and McCann definitely left something to be desired. Still, on the whole, the lack of offense was quite a team effort.

The Yankees got beat by a better team tonight.  I’m not sure the Astros would have been better in Games 2-7 in a longer series, but they had everything in their favor in this one.

Keuchel, Astros cruise past Yankees in AL Wild Card Game

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Dallas Keuchel faced the Yankees two times during the regular season and was fantastic in each outing, striking out 12 in a complete-game shutout on June 25 and whiffing nine batters over seven scoreless frames on August 25.

The 2015 Cy  Young Award candidate continued that trend in Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card Game, limiting the Yankees to three hits and one walk over six innings of scoreless ball as the Astros earned a 3-0 win and advanced to a best-of-five ALDS with the top-seeded Royals.

Keuchel was working on three days of rest but didn’t show very many signs of fatigue, whiffing seven and needing only 87 pitches to get through six. He sure looked like he could have gone an inning longer, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided to turn the game over to his bullpen and they added three more big zeroes to the scoreboard at a very loud then very boo-heavy Yankee Stadium. Tony Sipp worked around some early jitters to throw a scoreless seventh, Will Harris kept the Yankees off the bases entirely in a scoreless eighth, and closer Luke Gregerson went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

Impending free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus provided the first burst of offense for the Astros in the top of the second inning with a leadoff homer against Masahiro Tanaka. And then deadline acquisition Carlos Gomez, who missed a bunch of time down the stretch with an intercostal strain, got to Tanaka for another solo shot in the top of the fourth. Houston scored its third run on a Jose Altuve RBI single in the top of the seventh.

This is a young, talented Astros team with an ace at the head of its rotation.

Kansas City could have a problem.