Mark Trumbo

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MLB league-wide single season home run record set to fall Tuesday

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NEW YORK (AP) Giancarlo Stanton‘s smacks, Aaron Judge‘s jolts and all those dizzying long balls helped Major League Baseball move another poke closer to the inevitable.

Nearly two decades after the height of the Steroids Era, the sports is on track to break its season record for home runs on Tuesday – and not just top the old mark, but smash it like one of those upper-deck shots that have become commonplace in the Summer of the Slugger.

There were 5,663 home runs hit through Sunday, 30 shy of the record set in 2000.

Juiced balls? Watered-down pitching? Stanton’s renaissance? Sensational starts by Judge and Cody Bellinger?

“I don’t think that we are ever going to have a single explanation for exactly why we’ve see so many,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “But players are bigger and stronger. They’re playing a little differently, in terms of the way they swing. Pitchers throw harder. The one thing I remain comfortable with: Nothing about the baseball, according to our testing, is materially different.”

There were 5,610 homers last year, an average of 2.31 per game, and this year’s average of 2.53 projects to 6,143. That would be up 47 percent from 4,186 in 2014.

In just three years, home runs will have increased by 1,957 – an extra 149 miles of long balls at this year’s average home run length of 400 feet, or 15 miles more than the driving distance between Philadelphia’s Citizen’s Bank Park and Washington’s Nationals Park.

“The game has changed,” New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “From when I started, there’s a lot less stolen bases, there’s a lot less bunting, there’s a lot less hitting-and-running. You don’t give outs away, and you let guys swing the bat.”

Already 107 players have hit 20 homers this year, just three shy of the record set last season – and up from 64 in 2015, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Along with soaring shots come strikeouts, which will set a record for the 10th consecutive year. There were 36,964 whiffs through Sunday, an average of 8.25 per team per game that translates to 40,099.

“The focus is hitting homers and tolerating strikeouts,” Reggie Jackson said. “I don’t really like all the strikeouts, and I was the king.”

Baseball officials are worried about decreasing action and have been alarmed by the strikeout rise. This year’s total is up from 38,982 last year and an increase of nearly 8,000 from the 32,189 in 2007. The strikeout spike coincides with a rise in fastball velocity; four-seamers have averaged 93.2 mph this year, up from 91.9 mph in 2008, according to MLB data.

“These bullpens are making it extremely difficult. From basically the starter on you’re going to have elite, hard-throwing guys that are looking to strike you out every single time,” said Baltimore’s Mark Trumbo, last year’s home run champion. “The game right now is as max effort as I’ve seen it. Guys are throwing harder. At the plate sometimes you have no choice. It’s hard to steer the ball around when it’s 98 miles an hour and up in the zone.”

Jackson set a record with 2,597 career strikeouts, maxing at 171 in 1968. Six players already have reached 171 this year, led by the Yankees’ Judge at 197. He could break Mark Reynolds‘ season record of 223, set in 2009.

“You’d have been on the bench,” Jackson said. “But I don’t know if you set a guy on the bench with 90 RBIs and 40 homers. That’s Judge. You ain’t going to sit that on the bench.”

Steroids fueled the home run surge in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and power subsided after the start of drug testing with penalties in 2004. The home run average dropped in 2014 to its lowest level since 1992, then started rising during the second half of the 2015 season.

MLB has the UMass-Lowell’s Baseball Research Center conduct periodic testing of baseballs and University of Illinois physics professor emeritus Alan Nathan consults as part of quality control. The sport has said repeatedly that baseballs fall within the specifications in the rules.

Manfred isn’t worried some undetectable substance is fueling the new rise.

“I have never said that it’s impossible there’s something out there that we’re missing,” he said. “What I am saying is we’re doing more, more frequently, less predictably, with better testing, and that’s all you can do.”

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Happy Labor Day. I hope you have an enjoyable one. But I also hope you take some time to think about the reason for the holiday. It’s not just a day off for grilling meat, even if a lot of us plan to spend it that way.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Brewers 7, Nationals 2: Hello. My name is Domingo Santana. You killed my father. Prepare to die. Not sure why Washington even pitched to Santana. You knew it’d be his day. Dang day was named after him for cryin’ out loud.

Rangers 7, Angels 6: I can’t decide if I want to hug or boo the headline writer responsible for this: 

Probably hug. I love headline puns. This one described Elvis Andrus going deep twice, of course.  Robinson Chirinos and Delino DeShields hit back-to-back homers. The Angels rallied in the ninth, though, scoring three times and loading the bases before Luis Valbuena grounded out to end things.

Braves 5, Cubs 1: Rookie Max Fried made his first big league start against the defending World Series champions who came into the game on a six-game winning streak. No worries: Fried allowed one run over five innings and four relievers shut the Cubs out for the final four to give Fried the win. Rio Ruiz backed them offensively, going 3-for-4 and driving in three.

 

Orioles 5, Blue Jays 4: This one ended in the twelfth too, with Mark Trumbo hitting a walkoff RBI double for Baltimore. His cohort in clutchiness was Welington Castillo, who hit two home runs, including a game-tying shot in the ninth. Baltimore has won eight of ten and is now tied with the Angels, 1.5 games behind the Twins for the second Wild Card spot. They’re three and a half back of the Yankees, who they meet this afternoon.

Indians 11, Tigers 1:  Jose Ramirez had five extra base hits on the day, smacking two homers and three doubles and driving in three. That’s not the sort of thing that happens every day. Something else that doesn’t happen every day is hitting a homer that an opposing outfielder helps over the wall. Cleveland outscored the Tigers 29-5 while sweeping them in the four game series. They’ve won 11 in a row overall.

Phillies 3, Marlins 1:  Nick Williams hit a two-run single with two out in the 12th to give Philly the win. Lost in the extra innings heroics was a nice little duel between starters Jose Urena of Miami and Jake Thompson of Philly, who went seven and six innings, respectively, each allowing one run.

Pirates 3, Reds 1: Trevor Williams tossed seven scoreless innings despite allowing eight hits and walking a guy. Cincinnati went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left 10 runners on base. That’s no way to go through life, son.

White Sox 6, Rays 2: Tim Anderson singled in a run, doubled in a run and homered in a run (sure, that’s a thing) on his 3-for-4 day. Jose Abreu hit a two-run homer after missing three games with an elbow injury. Guess he’s feeling better. Lucas Giolito allowed one run on three hits and struck out 10 in seven innings of work.

Royals 5, Twins 4: Lorenzo Cain hit a go-ahead, two-run triple in the seventh inning to lift Kansas City. Melky Cabrera hit a two-run homer. Not a bad bounce back day for the Royals, who lost 17-0 on Saturday.

Astros 8, Mets 6: Two guys who weren’t around for Houston a week ago — Cameron Maybin and Carlos Correa — came up big. Maybin hit a three-run homer and Correa drove in a run. George Springer homered and Josh Reddick had two hits and three RBI as the Astros sweep the Mets in the two-day, three-game series.

Diamondbacks 5, Rockies 1: Arizona seems unstoppable lately, winning ten in a row. Ketel Marte and Brandon Drury homered and Zack Godley pitched out of trouble, allowing only one run on three hits despite walking six. Striking out seven helps. The Dbacks lead for the top Wild Card spot is now six and a half games. The Rockies, who once looked to be locks for the second Wild Card, are now only up by a half game over the Brewers.

Cardinals 7, Giants 3: Madison Bumgarner hit a homer to tie things up at two in the fifth inning but Harrison Bader homered off of him in the sixth to put St. Louis up for good. Tommy DeJong and Jose Martinez took Bumgarner out too. Martinez drove in three on the day.

Mariners 10, Athletics 2: Robinson Cano had a day, going 4-for-5 and driving in four, thanks in part to a two-run homer. Andrew Albers took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before running out of gas, but he’d only allow one run on the day. The M’s sweep the A’s in three.

Padres 6, Dodgers 4: The Dodgers continue to struggle, dropping three of four to San Diego. Here Erick Aybar hit a go-ahead, two-run homer and Jose Pirela went deep as well. Los Angeles has lost eight of nine.

Yankees 9, Red Sox 2: New York takes three of four from Boston and moves to within 3.5 games back of the Sox for the division lead. Aaron Judge snapped his longest home run drought of the season, Chase Headley went deep and Matt Holliday and Todd Frazier hit back-to-back home runs. Chris Sale didn’t make it out of the fifth inning as he falls to the Yankees for the third time this year.

And That Happened: Saturday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Saturday’s scores and highlights:

Marlins 10, Phillies 9: Giancarlo Stanton and Rhys Hoskins broke out of their respective mini-slumps on Saturday, mashing mammoth home runs in a slugfest that was finally decided with Derek Dietrich‘s two-run homer in the seventh. Stanton struck first, dealing a 445-foot blow to Aaron Nola for his 52nd dinger of the year:

Hoskins returned with his 12th home run, narrowing the Phillies’ deficit to one run in the fourth with a 401-foot blast that landed in the heart of the Marlins’ home run sculpture:

The rookie’s heroics were short-lived, however, as a 98 MPH fastball to his right hand cut his performance short in the seventh inning. He’s expected to be day-to-day for the time being.

Astros 12, Mets 8 (Game 1): After 17 years, Minute Maid Park finally opened its gates for its first-ever doubleheader. If only the circumstances were friendlier. Baseball took a back burner as the Astros honored those who assisted in hurricane relief efforts over the past week and held a moment of silence for the lives that were lost during Hurricane Harvey. While the club’s eventual 12-run finish provided a welcome respite from the devastation still lingering outside of the ballpark, skipper A.J. Hinch reminded his players that their responsibilities off the field were far from over.

I don’t want it out of their minds,” said Hinch. “I want them to think about it for this week, I want them to think about it next week, I want them to think about it next month or six months [from now] — or whenever people need something. We have time and energy and money — and whatever we can do to help, I want them to think about it.

Astros 4, Mets 1 (Game 2): The Astros kept their spirits up with another win on Saturday night, spinning a four-run sixth inning and forcing Seth Lugo from the game. The Mets, on the other hand, not only took their third consecutive loss, but lost Wilmer Flores in the fourth after an errant foul ball struck the infielder in the face and fractured his nose.

Yankees 5, Red Sox 1: While the wild card races rage on, the Yankees and Red Sox are still locked in a battle for the AL East pennant this month. The Yankees inched closer to the top of the division with their first win of the series, capitalizing on a strong showing from Masahiro Tanaka and vaulting over their first-place rivals with a pair of home runs by Chase Headley and Matt Holliday and a Gary Sanchez RBI single.

Cubs 14, Braves 12: Rene Rivera had no chill on Saturday, blasting his first career grand slam in the second inning to kickstart the Cubs’ double-digit win:

The Braves responded in full force, highlighting their own 12-run efforts with a handful of home runs from Freddie Freeman, Matt Kemp and Rio Ruiz. While it wasn’t a banner day for any pitcher tasked with corralling the teams’ respective offenses, Wade Davis eventually shut down the Braves after whiffing Freddie Freeman in the ninth, preserving the Cubs’ two-run lead and their much-needed win.

Padres 6, Dodgers 5 (Game 1): The Dodgers may have eclipsed last season’s win total, but they’re slumping something awful right now. Case in point: They dropped back-to-back sets against the fourth-place Padres on Saturday after Brock Stewart collapsed in a four-walk, five-strikeout effort and Yangervis Solarte clubbed a walk-off home run in the ninth.

Padres 7, Dodgers 2 (Game 2): Yu Darvish caught a rare case of the yips in Game 2, distributing five runs on eight hits and three walks over just three innings. Opposite Darvish, Padres’ right-hander Jordan Lyles made his first big league start since May, keeping the Dodgers to two runs, four walks and three strikeouts in 4 1/3 frames. Despite Lyles’ jitters, the Padres broke through with a four-run rally in the third inning, collecting their 61st win of the season and moving within 32 games of the first-place Dodgers.

Giants 2, Cardinals 1 (10 innings): The Giants prevailed in extras after sticking to what they know best: small ball. Jeff Samardzija led the charge for seven innings, fanning nine batters and holding the Cardinals to just one run, but it was backup catcher Nick Hundley who finally came through in the clutch with a leadoff home run in the tenth to clinch the Giants’ first win of the month. They’re still 3-7 in their last 10 games, though, so don’t get too excited.

Indians 5, Tigers 2: The Indians extended their hot streak with another win on Saturday, banking on eight pristine innings from Corey Kluber to lock in their tenth consecutive victory. With the win — his 14th of the season — the ace right-hander owns a 2.56 ERA, 1.8 BB/9 and 11.8 SO/9 in 168 2/3 innings this season: real Cy Young Award-contending stuff.

Pirates 5, Reds 0: While Jameson Taillon and Tyler Mahle duked it out on the mound, rookie outfielder Jordan Luplow snagged the spotlight at the plate, earning his first two major league hits on a second-inning single and eighth-inning three-RBI home run. Taillon’s three-hit, four-strikeout efforts were backed by an equally dominant showing from the bullpen, handing the Pirates their first shutout since Gerrit Cole‘s 1-0 masterpiece last weekend.

Blue Jays 7, Orioles 2: Watching your No. 2 pitcher take a Mark Trumbo line drive to his elbow has to rank among one of the worst feelings for a big league manager, as do the words, “It felt like my arm exploded.” Thankfully, Marcus Stroman appears to be day-to-day after sustaining a contusion on his right elbow, and should be ready to resume his post at the head of the Blue Jays’ rotation next week. The team rallied behind a cohesive 7 1/3 innings from the bullpen, producing three home runs and a bonus sac fly to top the Orioles for their first win of the weekend.

Twins 17, Royals 0: The fight for the second AL wild card spot has been furious, and no one wants it more than the Twins. At least, that’s the impression they gave off on Saturday night, blanking the Royals to the tune of 17 runs — the most single-game runs they’ve compiled since a 20-7 beatdown of the Mariners back in June. Joe Mauer opened the scoring with an RBI double in the first inning, followed by Byron Buxton’s incredible 10.52-second triple, and a pair of Eduardo Escobar home runs capped the Twins’ wild ride in the seventh. They’re not safe just yet, especially with the Angels and Orioles still within three games of securing a postseason berth, but are doing just about all they can to keep their head above water.

White Sox 5, Rays 4: It only took Chris Archer eight pitches (and two home runs) to realize that something was wrong with his arm. The Rays’ ace made his exit in the first inning, followed by a tentative diagnosis of right lateral forearm tightness. There’s been no talk about shutting Archer down for the year — the team maintains that his removal was purely precautionary — but it’s less-than-ideal news for the wild card contenders. The White Sox picked up the win in a nail-biter, edging the Rays with Avisail Garcia‘s go-ahead home run on a 100.7-MPH pitch from Ryne Stanek in the seventh.

Nationals 3, Brewers 2: A late-game surge propelled the Nats to their 82nd win of the year, but the victory came with one notable drawback: the loss of Max Scherzer, who lasted five innings against the Brewers before exiting with a calf injury. He was spotted on crutches in the clubhouse, and while it doesn’t look he’s heading to the disabled list anytime soon, it could conceivably delay his scheduled start against the Phillies on Thursday.

Angels 7, Rangers 4 (10 innings): After dropping a one-run contest in the eighth inning of Friday’s series opener, the Angels returned for some well-paced revenge on Saturday. This time, they waited until the ninth inning to strike, knotting the score 4-4 on a two-out homer from C.J. Cron. Cron returned in the 10th to finish the job, furnishing the Angels with an insurance run after Kole Calhoun produced the go-ahead RBI single off of Austin Bibens-Dirkx.

Diamondbacks 6, Rockies 2: You can forget about ousting the Diamondbacks from their wild card berth anytime soon. They rolled to their ninth straight win, dismantling the Rockies with another lights-out performance from Patrick Corbin, a pair of timely hits from J.D. Martinez (including his 30th home run of the year) and run-scoring wild pitches from Colorado right-handers Jon Gray and Tyler Chatwood. The Rockies, meanwhile, kept their 1.5-game lead over the Brewers, but could undoubtedly use some padding in the standings as they prepare for another eight-game stretch against the Dodgers and D-backs next weekend.

Mariners 7, Athletics 6: Welcome to September baseball, where Matt Joyce is allowed to patrol center field and Bruce Maxwell forgets to block game-winning wild pitches.

The Mariners maintained their 3.5-game deficit in the AL wild card standings, and thanks to a smattering of losses across the AL East on Saturday, are now the third-closest team to a playoff spot.