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Francisco Liriano fans 10 in Pirates’ Opening Day win over the Cardinals

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At long last, meaningful baseball is finally here. We’re treated to a trio of games to kick off the 2016 regular season, starting with Cardinals-Pirates at PNC Park on Sunday afternoon.

Pirates starter Francisco Liriano was in top form, both with the bat and with his arm. He helped his own cause, kicking off the scoring in the bottom of the second inning with a ground ball single to right field off of Adam Wainwright. On the mound, he was nearly unhittable, albeit a bit wild. The lefty walked five, but yielded only three hits while striking out 10 over six innings. According to August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs, Liriano is the first pitcher, dating back to 1913, to have such a line score. Last year, two pitchers struck out double-digit batters in their teams’ first game: Johnny Cueto and Felix Hernandez.

Along with Liriano’s single, Pirates first baseman John Jaso added an RBI single in the second inning. They made it 3-0 in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly to center field by Josh Harrison, which ended up being an interesting play. Gregory Polanco, who was on first base, tried to advance to second base, but was tagged out on a play that was reviewed and upheld on replay review. The Pirates tacked on a fourth run in the eighth on an RBI double by Jordy Mercer.

Wainwright, making his first start since April 25 last year, went six innings, allowing the three runs on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts. The right-hander suffered a ruptured Achilles last season and returned at the end of September, making three relief appearances.

Cardinals reliever Seung-hwan Oh, making his first appearance in the majors, worked around two walks with two strikeouts in a scoreless seventh inning. The club inked him to a one-year deal for roughly $5 million in January.

For the Buccos, Tony Watson and Neftali Feliz pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth, respectively, in relief of Liriano. Closer Mark Melancon allowed the first two batters he faced to reach base to start the ninth inning in a non-save situation, but only one came around to score before the right-hander ended the game in a 4-1 victory for the Pirates.

The Blue Jays and Rays are just under way. The Mets will take on the Royals in a World Series rematch in a few hours. Baseball!

MLB’s juiced baseball is juicing Triple-A home run totals too

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There has been considerable evidence amassed over the past year or two that the baseball used by Major League Baseball has a lower aerodynamic profile, leading to less drag, which leads directly to more home runs. If you doubted that at all, get a load of what is happening in Triple-A right now.

The minors have always had different balls than the majors. The MLB ball is made in Costa Rica at a Rawlings facility. The minor league balls are made in China. They use slightly different materials and, by all accounts, the minor league balls do not have the same sort of action and do not travel as far as the big league balls. Before the season, as Baseball America reported, Major League Baseball requested that Triple-A baseball switch to using MLB balls. The reason: uniformity and, one presumes, more accurate analysis of performance at the top level of the minor leagues.

The result, as Baseball America reports today, is a massive uptick in homers in the early going to the Triple-A season:

Last April, Triple-A hitters homered once every 47 plate appearances. As the weather warmed up, so did the home run rate. Over the course of the entire 2018 season, Triple-A hitters homered every 43 plate appearances. So far this year, they are homering every 32 plate appearances. Triple-A hitters are hitting home runs at a rate of 135 percent of last year’s rate.

Again, that’s in the coldest, least-homer friendly month of the season. It’s gonna just get worse. Or better, I guess, if you’re all about the long ball.

Which you had better be, because if they did something to deaden the balls and reduce homers, we’d have the same historically-high strikeout and walk rates but with no homers to provide offense to compensate. At least unless or until hitters changed their approach to become slap hitters or something, but that could take a good while. And may still not be effective given the advances in defense since the last time slap hitting was an important part of the game.

In the meantime, enjoy the dingers, Triple-A fans.