Are the World Series Balls Too Slick? Some Say Yes

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The Astros’ Ken Giles, who relies on a slider, departed Game 4 after failing to get an out in the top of the ninth inning. The Dodgers scored five times before the inning was over.

Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

HOUSTON — No World Series has had as many home runs through the first four games as this one. Heading into Game 5 on Sunday, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros had smashed 15 of them, putting the teams on pace to break the World Series record of 21, set in 2002.

Naturally, perhaps, pitchers are citing the baseball as a culprit.

“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,” said the Astros’ Justin Verlander, referring to Commissioner Rob Manfred.

“I think 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,” Verlander said “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.’”

After Game 2, which included a single-game World Series-record eight home runs, the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel said the balls were juiced because Major League Baseball wanted more offense. In an online report Sunday, several pitchers told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci that the slickness of the World Series balls has kept them from throwing their best sliders.

Slicker leather affects a pitcher’s ability to pull down on an off-speed pitch, and the loss of friction would affect the tightness of the spin. The Dodgers’ Yu Darvish and the Astros’ Ken Giles are pitchers who rely on sliders, and both have struggled in the World Series.

Darvish and others told Verducci the balls were slicker, though not all pitchers are convinced. The Dodgers’ Rich Hill, who will oppose Verlander in Game 6 and throws more curveballs than sliders, said he thought the balls felt the same.

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