Justin Verlander

J.D. Martinez seems to disagree with Justin Verlander's juiced ball take

J.D. Martinez seems to disagree with Justin Verlander's juiced ball take

Find us a pitcher who thinks MLB's baseballs are giving hitters an unfair advantage, and we'll find you a hitter who believes otherwise.

Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander made headlines Monday when he said MLB is "100 percent" using "juiced" baseballs to increase offense, pointing to the dramatic increase in home runs in recent years.

"It's a f---ing joke," Verlander told ESPN's Jeff Passan. "Major League Baseball's turning this game into a joke."

But when asked about Verlander's comments Monday at MLB All-Star media day, Boston Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez admitted he has his "own opinion" on the juiced ball debate.

So, why are MLB batters on pace to hit 6,668 home runs this year, a number that would smash the 2017 record of 6,105?

"I think hitters are more prepared then they have ever been," Martinez said Monday at a press conference. "I think hitters have more of an idea of what they're trying to do, hitting the ball in the air more. I think pitchers now, it's a power-arm league. It's either a walk or a strikeout, stuff over command. So I think you see a lot more mistakes over the plate.

"The velocity and the guys trying to hit the ball in the air is a recipe for home runs. In years past it was more of a command and location, movement-type stuff. A weak-contact kind of league. Now everybody wants the strikeout."

Martinez, who has 18 home runs this season and clubbed 43 long balls in 2018, added he expects a "swing back" in the next few years as pitchers adjust to hitters' new approach.

Martinez's theory makes sense, as baseball's "three true outcomes" -- walks, strikeouts and home runs -- are at an all-time high. But he and Verlander may both have a case, as MLB's new baseballs implemented in 2017 have a lower "drag coefficient," which helps batters hit longer fly balls.

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Red Sox' Mookie Betts bowled over by Justin Verlander

Red Sox' Mookie Betts bowled over by Justin Verlander

How difficult is it to face Astros ace Justin Verlander?

In his first spring training session with the media Thursday in Fort Myers, Mookie Betts answered with a bowling analogy.

Now, a 2-10 split may be tough, but Betts - an accomplished bowler who earlier this month won a Pro Bowlers Association Celebrity Invitational tournament - but the reigning American League MVP found Verlander even tougher. 

He's 0-for-13 in the regular season against the Houston right-hander, but finally got his first hit off him in Game 1 of the ALCS. Betts' team, of course, found a lot more success against Verlander and the Astros as the rolled past Houston in five games on the way to the World Series title.

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With Verlander's numbers vs. Sox and Sale's vs. Astros, expect epic clash

With Verlander's numbers vs. Sox and Sale's vs. Astros, expect epic clash

Apparently, Chris Sale and Justin Verlander are very good. Who knew?

The 35-year-old Verlander (16-9, 2.52 ERA, 290 strikeouts) has 204 career wins, tied with Orel Hershiser on the all-time wins list and third among active pitchers behind Bartolo Colon and C.C. Sabathia. The 14-year vet doesn't seem like he's even thought about slowing down. 

The 29-year-old Sale (12-4, 2.11 ERA, 237 K) is second in strikeouts since 2012 (when he became a starter) with 1,678, behind only Max Scherzer. Verlander is fourth on that list. In that span, Sale is third in ERA (2.91), trailing only future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw and probable 2018 NL Cy Young winner Jacob DeGrom. 

Point is, these are two of the best pitchers in the game, and they will be matching up in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series Saturday night at Fenway Park.

Usually, when two starters of this magnitude go head-to-head, the assumption is that it will be a pitchers duel. But Boston and Houston's lineups feature some of the best hitters in all of baseball. Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa...you get the idea. There's a reason these two teams had the most wins (Red Sox 108, Astros 103) in baseball this season.  The opener pits two of the best pitchers against a handful of the best hitters, which makes for some intriguing matchups:

Here's how the two lineups have fared against the pair of aces. 

VERLANDER VS RED SOX

Andrew Benintendi: 1-for-9, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K
Mookie Betts: 0-for-13, 2 BB, 2 K
Xander Bogaerts: 4-for-17, 2 2B, 1 BB, 4 K
Jackie Bradley Jr.: 1-for-9, 1 RBI, 2 BB
Rafael Devers: 0-for-2, 2K
Brock Holt: 3-for-10, 2 RBI, 2 BB
Ian Kinsler: 6-for-38, 1 2B, 4 BB, 7 K
Sandy Leon: 2-for-9, 3 K
J.D. Martinez: 2-for-3, 2 RBI, 1 K
Mitch Moreland: 10-for-32, 6 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K
Eduardo Nunez: 6-for-18, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K
Steve Pearce: 1-for-2, 1 HR, 1 RBI
Blake Swihart: 0-for-5
Christian Vazquez: 0-for-2
Total: .211 AVG, .283 OBP, 1 HR, 11 2B, 15 RBI, 35 K

Okay, that's a lot of numbers, so here are the highlights: Holt, Martinez, Moreland, Nunez, and Pearce have had success, albeit, with a small sample size. Everyone else is somewhere between below average and terrible. Don't be surprised if Holt gets the start at second. Kinsler's had more at-bats against Verlander than anyone on the team but has hit just .158.

SALE VS ASTROS

Jose Altuve: 8-for-24, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 6 K
Alex Bregman: 1-for-3, 2 K
Carlos Correa: 3-for-13, 2 RBI, 3 K
Evan Gattis: 2-for-12, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 K
Marwin Gonzalez: 1-for-9, 1 RBI, 2 K
Yuli Gurriel: 2-for-3, 2 RBI
Tony Kemp: 0-for-3
Martin Maldonado: 2-for-8, 5 K
Jake Marisnick: 1-for-11, 4 K
Josh Reddick: 3-for-14, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 4 K
George Springer: 5-for-14, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K
Tyler White: 0-for-4, 3 K
Total: .237 AVG, .250 OBP, 3 HR, 3 2B, 11 RBI, 34 K

Again, the highlights: Altuve and Springer are a combined 13-for-38 with four extra-base hits. Other than that, for the most part, the rest of the Astros have had a rough go. 

Based on how the hitters have fared in their careers against the Game 1 starters, the scales certainly tip toward the aces. However: Verlander has had his October struggles. In three of his seven postseasons, he's had an ERA over 5.30. And we all know Sale was not good, to put it mildly, last season in the ALDS against these very same Astros. (0-2, 8.38 ERA, 4 HRs allowed). 

Don't be surprised if this game ends 2-1 or 8-7.

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