Rob Manfred once again responds disingenuously to questions about “juiced” baseballs

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This past summer, two different studies — one by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchell Lichtman for The Ringer, and another by FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur — found evidence that baseballs were altered at some point towards the middle of the 2015 season. In 2015, 4,909 home runs were hit across the league. That wasn’t an alarming number. However, in 2016, 5,610 homers were hit, which was then the second-highest total of all time, trailing only 5,693 in 2000. This year, 6,105 home runs were hit, vastly eclipsing 2000’s all-time record. That’s a 412-homer difference.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has already gone on record disingenuously trying to blame anything else for the spike in home runs. Major League Baseball released a statement in early July claiming balls remain within established guidelines and that there is no evidence that the ball has been changed “in any way that would lead to a meaningful impact on on-field play.” Later in July, he blamed bats. He said, “One thing that we’re thinking about is bats. We’ve kind of taken for granted that bats aren’t different. We’re starting to look at the issue of bats.”

Game 2 of the World Series saw the Astros and Dodgers combine for eight home runs, a World Series record. The next day, Astros starter Dallas Keuchel said, “Obviously, the balls are juiced. I think they’re juiced 100 percent.” He added, “But where you can tell a difference is the mid-range guy who’s hitting 20-plus home runs now. That doesn’t happen. That’s not supposed to happen. […] That’s what Major League Baseball wants.”

On Friday, prior to Game 3 of the World Series, Manfred responded to claims of a juiced ball. Via Eric Fisher of the Sports Business Journal, Manfred reiterated that game balls have been tested and remain within specifications. Manfred also said that people analyzing a supposedly juiced ball based on one homer-happy game (Game 2) isn’t really analysis.

Which, of course, is disingenuous. It’s not a one-game sample. We have two and a half regular seasons worth of data, plus two well-performed studies. Keuchel thinks the balls are juiced. So does Justin Verlander. So do David Price, Dan Warthen, Brad Ziegler, Jerry Blevins, and Chris Archer. Meanwhile, Manfred has been unable to actually refute any amount of the overwhelming evidence. He has only attempted to deflect.

The game changes every so often. The mound gets lower. Stadiums get smaller. Players get bigger, focus on different mechanics. Rules get added, removed, and amended. Changing the baseball isn’t a capital offense. The constant disingenuous deflection and denial is really why everyone is going for the jugular. Just admit the balls were changed so we have official context for recent statistics. That’s all.

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Atlanta Braves beat the New York Mets 5-3, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closed out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before 15-game winner Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).