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Did MLB supply a different ball for October?


Rob Arthur of Baseball Prospectus has been the leader in researching the changes we’ve seen in the baseball — and the skyrocketing home run rate — over the past several years. Today he makes an observation that suggests, perhaps, things are moving back in a less-launchy direction, at least for the postseason. And it may be no accident.

With the caveat that we’re dealing with a small sample size — only 17 postseason games have been played — Arthur, using MLB’s own data, looked at how many homers one would expect to see based on exit velocity, launch angle, and the ballpark in which the ball was struck. He found that, compared to the home run rates we’ve seen all season long, there have been about 50% fewer home runs than expected. Fifty percent!

And no, those “cool October temperatures” have nothing to do with it because (a) his model controls for weather; and (b) it, actually, has been warmer in October thus far than it had been, on average, over the course of the season.

Has Major League Baseball, stung by increasing criticism over the juiced ball that has been in play over these past couple of seasons, corrected — or, perhaps, overcorrected — for it? We can’t know for sure, because no one ever talks about this stuff, but the change, which Arthur says corresponds perfectly with the start of the postseason, is most curious.

Astros claim AL pennant with walk-off win against the Yankees

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Following a rollercoaster performance on Saturday, the Astros clinched the American League Championship Series with a decisive 6-4 walk-off win against the Yankees, claiming their second AL pennant and earning a well-deserved entrance to the World Series.

Both clubs decided to preserve possible Game 7 starters Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole, electing to have a “bullpen day” for a pivotal Game 6. Chad Green took the mound for the Yankees, tossing one inning before handing the ball off to a long line of relievers, while Brad Peacock‘s rare playoff start was capped at 1 2/3 innings. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that made it the first postseason game since 1999 in which neither starting pitcher lasted two innings or longer.

All told, the two clubs utilized a total of 13 pitchers to make it through nine innings. The Astros lost Ryan Pressly to a worrisome knee injury in the third, but were able to lean on José Urquidy for 2 2/3 innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball. Although Yankees’ bullpen fought back in every inning, they had considerable difficulty recovering from Yuli Gurriel‘s three-run homer off of Green in the bottom of the first:

Still, New York managed to get in a couple of knocks as well: first, with Gary Sanchez‘s RBI single in the second inning, then with Gio Urshela‘s 395-foot blast in the fourth inning — the second of his postseason career to date. That wasn’t enough to close the gap, however, and Alex Bregman‘s productive groundout in the sixth helped cushion the Astros’ lead as they headed toward the final few innings of the series.

That lead started to look a little shaky in the ninth. Only three outs away from a ticket to the World Series, Houston closer Roberto Osuna gave up a leadoff single to Urshela, which was quickly followed by a jaw-dropping, full-count, game-tying two-run shot from DJ LeMahieu that barely cleared the right field fence.

With the threat of extra innings and a potential loss looming, the Astros engineered a last-minute rally to regain the lead and stake their claim for the pennant. With two outs and no runners on, George Springer took a five-pitch walk from Aroldis Chapman. In the next at-bat, Houston pinned their hopes on José Altuve — and he didn’t disappoint, lifting a 2-1 slider out to left field for a 406-foot, two-RBI homer that confirmed the Astros’ series win.

The 2019 World Series will mark the third Fall Classic appearance for the Astros and the first for the Nationals. It all begins on Tuesday night.