Phillies

Juiced baseballs? Another World Series HR derby raises more questions

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Juiced baseballs? Another World Series HR derby raises more questions

HOUSTON -- Home runs kept flying over the wall at Minute Maid Park, on line drives up toward the train tracks, on fly balls that just dropped over the fence.

Seven more were hit in Game 5, raising the total to a World Series record 22 -- with two possible more games to play. Twenty-five runs were scored in a game started by the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and the Astros' Dallas Keuchel, Cy Young Award winners regarded as among baseball's best.

After a season when sluggers outpaced even their steroid-era predecessors for home runs, some are convinced that something is amiss with the baseballs.

"The main complaint is that the balls seem a little bit different in the postseason, and even from the postseason to the World Series balls," Justin Verlander said Sunday, two days before he takes the mound in Game 6 and tries to pitch the Astros to their first title. "They're a little slick. You just deal with it. But I don't think it's the case of one pitcher saying, `Hey, something is different here.' I think as a whole, everybody is saying, `Whoa, something is a little off here.'"

A record eight home runs were hit in Game 2, including five in extra innings, and Game 5's seven long balls would have tied the old mark. The 13-12, 10-inning Astros' win Sunday night was the second-highest scoring game in Series history.

Keuchel was quoted as saying after Game 2: "Obviously, the balls are juiced."

Not so obvious to everyone, even amid the power surge.

"I haven't personally noticed anything. I haven't tried to think about it either," Dodgers reliever Brandon Morrow said after giving up two homers in Game 5. "It's not something you want to put in your own head."

Same for Kershaw, even after giving up his record eighth homer of the postseason Sunday.

"I don't really pay attention to it," Kershaw said. "I just assume that both sides are dealing with it, so I'm not going to worry about it."

This year's long ball assault topped the 21 of the 2002 Series. Anaheim hit seven and Barry Bonds and his San Francisco Giants slugged 14 over seven games. That was the year before survey drug testing.

Speculation that something has changed includes a study claiming to have found differences in the size and seam height of balls since the 2015 All-Star break.

"I know there was talk about different sizes and some of the baseballs were slightly bigger and some were smaller. Some of the seams were higher, some of the seams were lower. But, no, it's been consistent," said Rich Hill, who will start Game 6 for the Dodgers. "I think that just has to do with conditions -- if it's colder it's going to be slicker. If it's a little bit warmer out or humid, I think you're going to find that you're going to have a little bit more of moisture to the baseballs."

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred insists nothing nefarious is going on.

"I'm absolutely confident that the balls that we're using are within our established specifications," he said Friday.

Verlander rejected that assertion.

"I know Mr. Manfred said the balls haven't changed, but I think there's enough information out there to say that's not true," he said.

Verlander also does not think it's an issue of how balls are rubbed up before games.

"I know baseball uses the same mud for every single ball for every single game that's played," he said. "I think there's a broader issue that we're all missing."

On the day he become commissioner in January 2015, Manfred said, "I'm cognizant in the drop in offense over the last five years, and it's become a topic of conversation in the game, and it's something that we're going to have to continue to monitor and study."

Offense started rebounding during the second half of the season, and a record 6,105 home runs were hit this year, 2.4 percent more than the previous mark of 5,963 set in 2000 at the height of the Steroids Era.

"I think it's pretty clear," Verlander said. "I think our commissioner has said publicly that they wanted more offense in the game. I'm pretty sure I'm not fabricating a quote here when I say that. I think it was already All-Star break of `15, or right before, when he said that."

San Francisco's Johnny Cueto and Toronto's Marcus Stroman also think the balls have changed, with Stroman blaming slick balls for a rise in pitcher blisters -- an affliction which has struck Hill a few times in the past couple seasons, too.

Houston's Brent Strom and the Dodgers' Rick Honeycutt, the World Series pitching coaches, both were quoted by Sports Illustrated on Sunday as saying the slickness of the ball made throwing sliders difficult.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I don't see a ton difference, but I'm not going to get in a verbal war with coaches and players who think otherwise."

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had a similar view but acknowledged the power records got his attention.

"The pitchers talk about it feels different in their hand. The one component is the slickness and guys at different ballparks rub it up differently," he said. "Sort of feels the same to me. But it's hard to argue the numbers. You know there's more velocity. Guys are swinging harder. I know in Los Angeles the air was light. It was hot. The ball was flying, carrying more than typically. But I hesitate to try to give you any insight because I really don't know."

Another old friend joins Phillies' spring coaching staff

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Another old friend joins Phillies' spring coaching staff

Another old friend is joining the Phillies' coaching staff as a guest instructor in Clearwater this spring.

Bobby Abreu will make his coaching debut, while Larry Bowa, Brad Lidge, Charlie Manuel, Dan Plesac and Mike Schmidt will all be back to assist in spring training.

Gabe Kapler has a lot of experience on his side as he prepares for his first camp as a major-league manager.

Abreu was a polarizing player in these parts, drawing criticism from fans for a perceived lack of hustle and not nearly enough praise for hitting .303/.416/.513 in his nine seasons with the Phils. He was one of the most complete players in the game during his peak from 1998 to 2006.

The Phillies' first workout with pitchers and catchers is Feb. 14 in Clearwater. Full-squad workouts begin Feb. 19.

Big rise, big fall for Phillies prospects on Baseball America list

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Big rise, big fall for Phillies prospects on Baseball America list

Baseball America is out this week with its annual ranking of what it considers the top 100 prospects in the game.

The always interesting list offers a glimpse at just how fickle the ranking of prospects can be.

J.P. Crawford, who will take over at shortstop for the Phillies in the coming season, ranks 16th on the list, not far off from his standing as BA's 19th-ranked prospect a year ago, but dramatically higher than No. 92. That's where he was on BA's midseason list in July. Crawford had slipped that far after a poor first half. He recovered in the second half, played in the majors in September and ascended to the starting shortstop job after Freddy Galvis was traded in December. Now, he finds himself in better standing with BA.

The Phillies are well represented with five players on BA's list. Atlanta leads the way with eight players. Milwaukee, San Diego, Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees have six each.

After Crawford, the Phillies come in at No. 25 with right-handed pitcher Sixto Sanchez, No. 31 with second baseman Scott Kingery, No. 84 with right-handed pitcher Adonis Medina, and No. 100 with outfielder Adam Haseley.

Sanchez, 19, is a power-armed strike thrower who projects to pitch at High A Clearwater with a good chance to get to Double A Reading in 2018.

Kingery, 23, projects as the Phillies' second baseman of the future. He will be in major-league spring-training camp but is expected to return to Triple A for at least a couple of months before arriving in the majors sometime in 2018.

Medina, 21, is another power arm. He is expected to open at Clearwater.

Haseley, 21, was the Phillies' top pick in last year's draft. He was selected eighth overall out of the University of Virginia. He has strong on-base skills and projects to open the season at Clearwater, as well.

Notably absent from Baseball America's ranking is Mickey Moniak. The 19-year-old outfielder was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft. He ranked 46th on the list a year ago, but struggled in his first pro season, hitting just .236 with a .284 on-base percentage in 123 games at Low A Lakewood, and dropped off the list. 

Phillies officials remain high on Moniak and he has plenty of time to climb the list. Nonetheless, third baseman Nick Senzel, picked by Cincinnati with the second pick in 2016 draft, one spot behind Moniak, ranks No. 7 on BA's list. 

Braves' outfielder prospect Ronald Acuna is No. 1.