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.”

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Nationals blow 6-run lead, rebound to beat Phillies 8-7

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WASHINGTON (AP) Lane Thomas singled in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals sent the Philadelphia Phillies to their fifth straight loss, winning 8-7 after blowing a six-run lead.

The defending NL champion Phillies have just five victories in their last 18 games and are tied with the Nationals at the bottom of the NL East at 25-32.

“We’ve got to overcome it,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “We’ve got to play better, get consistent in all phases and keep moving forward.”

Alex Call drew a two-out walk against Connor Brogdon (2-1) in the eighth, stole second on a low pitch that catcher JT Realmuto couldn’t make a throw on and scored on Thomas’ single to right center.

“The way Lane’s swinging the bat, if you can get on second base, we can win the game,” Call said. “I look over and the ball’s in the dirt, he doesn’t catch it. Now I’m saying: ‘All right, Lane. Come on!’”

Kyle Finnegan (3-2) pitched 1 2/3 innings for the victory, stranding the tying run on second in the ninth.

Nick Castellanos homered twice, singled, doubled and drove in five runs for Philadelphia, which had scored just three runs in its past three games.

“There’s definitely a lot of positives as a group,” Castellanos said. “Showing some fight. It would have been really, really easy to lay down and allow the way the game started to be the way that it finished.”

Down 7-1 after four innings, Philadelphia tied it at 7 in the eighth. Brandon Marsh worked a nine-pitch walk against Mason Thompson leading off, and Drew Ellis singled with one out. Finnegan came on to face Kyle Schwarber, who hit a ground ball up the middle. Shortstop CJ Abrams fielded it behind it behind second base, touched second for one out, but threw wildly to first and Marsh came home with the tying run.

Castellanos’s second homer, a two-run shot to center in the sixth, pulled the Phillies to 7-3 and Marsh added an RBI single in the inning.

In the seventh, Schwarber doubled with one out and Bryson Scott reached on an infield single. Hunter Harvey came on and walked Bryce Harper to load the bases. Castellanos singled to center scoring two runs to make it 7-6.

Luis Garcia homered and Jeimer Candelario doubled twice and drove in three runs for the Nationals, who have won seven of 12.

Philadelphia starter Zack Wheeler, coming off eight shutout innings against Atlanta, allowed seven runs on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings.

“This one’s on me really,” Wheeler said. “Guys battled back. Just couldn’t finish it out. We know who we have in this room and what we’ve got to do.”

Josiah Gray gave up four runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings for Washington.

Candelario doubled just beyond the reach of left fielder Schwarber to drive in the first of Washington’s two runs in the first.

In the second, Abrams hit a one-out drive to deep center that Marsh misplayed into a double. With two outs and two on, Candelario doubled off the wall in right center to make it 5-0.

Garcia ended Wheeler’s night with a solo homer in the fourth.

“When you come out the way we did, you’ve got to tack on,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “It didn’t happen tonight, but we got one more than the other guys.”

CANDY MAN

Candelario is 9 for 26 (.346) with four doubles, a home run, nine RBIs, five walks, and seven runs scored in his last seven games.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Phillies: Thomson said RHP Taijuan Walker played catch Friday and there are “no worries about his next start.” In a four-inning outing against the Mets on Thursday, Walker’s sinker velocity averaged 90.6 mph, down from 92.7 mph for the season. His fastball, splitter and curveball velocity also dropped.

Nationals: OF Victor Robles (back spasms) took batting practice on the field for the first time since going on the injured list. … LHP Sean Doolittle (elbow) gave up a run on two hits and struck out two batters in 2/3 of an inning working his second straight night for Class A Fredericksburg.

UP NEXT

Phillies: LHP Matt Strahm (4-3, 3.20) will start a bullpen game on Saturday.

Nationals: LHP MacKenzie Gore (3-3, 3.57) went seven innings and struck out a career-high 11 batters in his previous outing – a no decision against the Royals.

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