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Theo Epstein suggests slick baseballs contributed to Yu Darvish’s World Series struggles

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During the World Series, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci wrote a story in which various members of the Dodgers and Astros agreed that the baseballs used during the World Series were slicker than those used during the regular season. The pitchers, and report, suggested that the balls made it particularly hard to throw a slider, leading to slider pitchers having particular problems, leading to a lot of home runs on balls which spin but didn’t break as expected.

Major League Baseball denied that at the time, saying that the only difference in the baseballs was the little gold “World Series” embossing. The photo at the top of Verducci’s article makes such a denial dubious, but by the time October rolled around, we became pretty accustomed to Major League Baseball issuing dubious denials about the composition of baseballs.

Yu Darvish is a guy who relies a lot on a slider and he, quite famously, struggled mightily during the World Series. He was one of the pitchers who noticed a difference in the balls. Yesterday, when he made his first appearance at Cubs’ camp, the president of his new team seemed to acknowledge that the balls could’ve played a factor. Here’s Theo Epstein talking about Darvish’s World Series struggles:

“First of all, there were a lot of reasons for what happened … from the possibility of tipping pitches, the difficulty with the baseballs and then the Astros were red-hot. They won the World Series for a reason, but I don’t think we would be doing our job if we evaluated based on a two-game sample. He’s been over here for six years. He’s proven himself as an elite pitcher.”

“The difficulty with the baseballs” sticks out. Is the comment a matter of Epstein merely nodding at his new employee’s explanation as a means of having his back, or does Epstein put stock in the slick balls theory too?

If the latter, I wonder how many other people inside the game believe the pitchers who issued complaints about the baseballs and how many believe MLB’s denials about it. And I wonder what MLB thinks of that.

Maybe they’ll just deny that Epstein even said that, knowing full well that most of the baseball media will just print their denial without criticism. Worth a try, right?

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.