Dallas Keuchel: “Obviously, the balls are juiced . . . I think they’re juiced 100%”

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Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel was obviously thrilled with his team’s victory last night. A victory made possible by three extra innings homers from his teammates and eight home runs from both teams in all.

But however happy he was with the result, he doesn’t think all of those bombs were mere happenstance. No, Keuchel sounds pretty convinced that the balls have been altered by Major League Baseball with the specific intention of creating exciting, dinger-filled games. Here he is after last night’s win:

“Obviously, the balls are juiced. I think they’re juiced 100%. But it is what it is. I’m just glad we came out on top . . . There are really powerful guys in this league, and they’re going to get theirs. But where you can tell a difference is the mid-range guy who’s hitting 20-plus home runs now. That doesn’t happen. That’s not supposed to happen . . . That’s what Major League Baseball wants. They want that exciting two home-run lead, and then they [the Dodgers] come back and hit another home run, and everybody’s still watching. That’s what they want. That’s what they’re getting.’’

Major League Baseball set — shattered, really — the record for most home runs this year, with 6,105 bombs being hit in the regular season. That was more than 400 more than the previous record. As Keuchel suggests, it’s not a matter of some muscle-bound freaks entering the game and breaking records. While a couple of guys hit 50 homers in 2017, the increase was an across-the-board affair, with many, many guys hitting, say, 20-25 homers in ways that players of their stature didn’t do in years past.

What’s more, the spike in homers in Major League Baseball was not a gradual thing. It began suddenly, in the middle of the 2015 season. This past summer there were two studies released in the month of June which suggest that the sudden spike in home runs was due to alterations in the construction of the baseball, possibly inadvertent, giving it slightly lower seams which enabled the ball to fly as many as 15-20 feet farther than on similar hits in the past. Major League Baseball denied that the ball is different, but as I noted in July, MLB’s denials were disingenuous and not convincing. At the same time, the studies which suggested a different baseball were not so robust and did not cover so large or necessarily a truly representative sample size of balls, so it’s hard to draw anything conclusive from them either.

To be sure, some of the homers hit last night were not moon shots. Joc Pederson‘s fifth inning homer was a bloop, really, Corey Seager‘s only went 383 feet and George Springer‘s game-clincher traveled only 389. If they flew 15-20 fewer feet like they might have in 2013, they’d be outs.

At the same time, it was a hot, dry night, and when it’s hot and dry in Los Angeles — usually during day games — the ball can fly out of that place. The absence of that typical southern California marine layer makes it a different park. Likewise, Both the Dodgers and Astros are run by analytically-bent front offices, who have no doubt preached the gospel of uppercut swings that are all the rage these days. It’s also worth noting that pitchers are always going to think that the deck is stacked against them. Indeed, Keuchel is certainly not the only one who has said he thinks the ball is juiced. Many pitchers have, in fact, claimed that the ball has been altered to create more homers. Some may truly believe it. Others could, quite possibly, just be looking for an excuse.

Still, you have to wonder. You have to wonder if Major League Baseball didn’t take a glance at the NBA’s three-point revolution and envision, as Keuchel suggests, a means of making games more exciting via quick strike offenses. You have to wonder if it looked at the sharp decline in offense in the years preceding the home run spike that began in the second half of the 2015 season and said “I wonder if we can do anything about it?” League spokesmen will deny it, of course. And as I said back in July, it’s quite possible that this is all a happy accident.

It doesn’t sound like Dallas Keuchel believes it’s an accident, though. I imagine he’s not alone in this regard.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.