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Phillies eliminated from postseason contention

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The Phillies lost to the Washington Nationals 4-1 in the first game of today’s double header. The nightcap won’t matter a bit for Philly, though, because with today’s loss they have officially been eliminated from postseason contention.

As the 2019 Phillies play out the string, their management and their fans will have a lot to think about. Injuries, mostly. While the Yankees have been an amazing story about a team enduring tons and tons of injuries and still prevailing, the Phillies are a good example of what usually happens when you lose multiple key players to the injured list. Andrew McCutchen, who was on pace for an excellent year, was one of the biggest individual injuries but the sheer volume of injuries to their bullpen arms was just way too much to overcome.

Still, as John Stolnis of the Phillies’ blog The Good Phight pointed out recently, the Rays, Astros, Dodgers, Twins and those Yankees all had major injury issues of their own and they’ll all be playing in October. The larger issues for the Phillies was one of lack of depth, lack of offensive production, a poor rotation, and overall underachievement. Basically, if you gave a worst case scenario for every aspect of the team’s performance ahead of time, the Phillies pretty much fulfilled it. The team had a big, splashy offseason with the signings of Bryce Harper and McCutchen, they had a decent enough plan on paper, and they had a lot of talent on board, but they simply did not execute.

With so many commentators thinking the Phillies were heading to the postseason, expectations were high. Now it’ll be interesting to see who, if anyone, pays for failing to meet such high expectations. And how the Phillies will address their multiple shortcomings this offseason.

MLB report blames seam height, not juiced balls, for 2019 home run surge

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SAN DIEGO — This morning Major League Baseball released a report from a committee of scientists tasked with studying baseballs and the home run surge from 2019. Their verdict: that manufacturing variation leading to inconsistent seam height — not any intentional act taken to “juice” baseballs — is the reason for last year’s power explosion.

There were 6,776 home runs hit during the regular season, which shattered the previous record, set in 2017, by nearly 11 percent. Numerous players around the league suspected or assumed that the league, which owns the ball manufacturer, Rawlings, had intentionally juiced the baseball to promote offense. The committee concluded in the report that “no evidence was found that changes in baseball performance were due to anything intentional on the part of Rawlings or MLB and were likely due to manufacturing variability.”

That conclusion would appear to only be partially accurate.

Dr. Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist who has been conducting her own research on baseballs and the home run explosion, published her own work on all of this in The Athletic last June. Wills concluded that, based on her examination of baseball seams and seam height, a key part of the manufacturing process — the drying of damp, finished baseballs after assembly is complete — likely did change.

Specifically, she concluded that seam height and decreased bulging of baseballs which led to less aerodynamic drag and farther ball flight was likely the result of Rawlings using heaters to dry balls, as opposed to the traditional air-drying, allowing them to produce more balls in a shorter period of time. Wills told NBC Sports this morning that she suspects Rawlings did this because many more balls were needed due to Major League Baseball mandating that Triple-A adopt the major league ball for the 2019 season.

As such, the key word in this morning’s report is “intentional.” Wills:

“The decrease in drag was very likely unintentional, but the change in the drying process would be intentional. No, they didn’t intend to juice the ball, but yes, they did make an intentional change to the manufacturing process. It was not ‘manufacturing variability’ it was deliberate process improvement to accommodate higher demand. ‘Variability’ makes it sound like it’s random or a mistake. It was not.”

There is also the matter of the decrease in ball flight and home runs observed — and confirmed by today’s report — in the 2019 postseason.

MLB’s expert panel basically punts on any explanations for the variation, noting small sample size and no other apparent explanation. As such, the matter for the immediate change in the home run rate and fly ball distance the moment we moved from September to October baseball is not clear. Wills is continuing her research on 2019 postseason game balls — a matter about which there has already been no small amount of controversy of late — and expects to publish her results soon.

There will be a press conference regarding the study here at the Winter Meetings at 1PM Eastern time today. NBC Sports will be at that press conference. NBC Sports has a good number of followup questions.