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Various members of Dodgers, Astros suggest World Series baseballs are slicker

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On Friday, commissioner Rob Manfred responded disingenuously to claims that the makeup of baseballs used in the majors had been altered. Despite two different studies concluding the balls were altered around the second half of the 2015 season, and despite various players — including Astros starter Justin Verlander — agreeing with that conclusion, Manfred has gone up to the microphone and shot down those claims.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci has a new report in which various members of the Dodgers and Astros agree that baseballs used during the World Series are slicker than those used during the regular season, which may explain why there have been so many home runs (15) hit during the first four games of the World Series.

Astros pitching coach Brent Strom said after Game 4, “I just want to know why. Why in the world would the baseballs in the World Series be different? Because you can see the difference. You can feel it. I don’t understand it at all.” He added, “It’s obvious. You can see it and you can feel it. It’s not the same. Someone’s got to explain to me why.”

Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said, “Yu [Darvish] noticed the difference. He told me the balls were slicker and he had trouble throwing the slider because of how slick they were. He wasn’t able to throw his slider the same way.”

Astros Game 4 starter Charlie Morton said, “Lance McCullers took the blindfold test in the bullpen. He could tell which ball was which with his eyes closed. It’s that different.”

Verlander said, “The World Series ball is slicker. No doubt. I’m telling you, we’re in here signing [World Series] balls before the game, and it’s hard to get the ink on the ball sometimes. You know when you sign a receipt at Starbucks, and if you don’t hold the paper down with your hand, the pen just slides across the paper and the ink doesn’t stick to it? That’s what it’s like sometimes trying to sign these balls. That’s how slick the leather is.” He continued, “It’s different. I noticed it especially throwing a slider. It didn’t feel the same. The home run I gave up to [Joc] Pederson was a slider.”

Verducci included in his report a side-by-side picture of two different baseballs held by Strom, a 2017 regular season ball and a 2017 World Series ball. Verducci himself agreed that the World Series ball felt slicker. Furthermore, during the ALCS, Verducci heard from members of the Indians that the playoff balls felt different than those used during the regular season.

Obviously, the World Series balls being different than the regular season balls doesn’t explain why the 2017 regular season eviscerated the previous record for home runs in a season (5,693 in 2000) at 6,105. But if Major League Baseball can and is willing to alter the balls used during the post-season, it follows they would be willing to do so for those used in the regular season as well. The evidence is undeniable at this point and Manfred has had no good explanation. As I mentioned when responding to Manfred’s continued denial on Friday, changing the baseballs in and of itself isn’t necessarily wrong. Keeping the players blind to the changes and publicly denying that any changes have been made is, however, wrong and it’s why so many people are making a big deal about this.

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.