Did they mess with the balls this year?

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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.

Dodgers plan to tab Clayton Kershaw for Game 1 of World Series

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MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports that the Dodgers plan to tab ace Clayton Kershaw for Game 1 of the World Series. Nothing is set in stone yet ahead of Tuesday’s Game 1 of the World Series. In the event Kershaw can’t start Game 1, Rich Hill would start. Otherwise, Hill would start Game 4.

Kershaw, started Game 1 and Game 5 of the NLCS against the Brewers, then closed out Game 7 with a flawless inning. He was hit around to the tune of five runs (four earned) over three-plus innings in Game 1, but rebounded for seven innings of one-run ball in Game 5. He struck out two en route to sending the Dodgers to the World Series in the ninth inning of Game 7.

Kershaw also tossed eight shutout innings against the Braves in Game 2 of the NLDS. Overall, he has a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings this postseason. There was no doubt who would be the Dodgers’ first choice to start Game 1, but it’s a relatively recent situation where the ace of a team also closed out the final game of the previous series.

Hill has put up a 2.61 ERA in 10 1/3 innings this postseason. While he doesn’t have Kershaw’s pedigree, the Dodgers would be confident having him lead off the series. Hill was excellent down the stretch last year, helping the Dodgers reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Astros.

The Red Sox plan to start Chris Sale in Game 1 now that he’s recovered from a brief stint in the hospital due to a stomach ailment. The lefty has a 3.48 in 10 1/3 innings in the playoffs this year. He’s among a handful of candidates for the AL Cy Young award after posting a 2.11 ERA in the regular season, but his lack of innings (158) may hurt him.