CLEVELAND — Much of the conversation the past two days here at the All-Star festivities has been about the baseballs. People believe they are “juiced” and there’s plenty of evidence that the balls are traveling further due to changes in the drag in the last several seasons.
On the players’ end, the pitchers especially are pretty adamant that there’s been a change. Justin Verlander has been most outspoken. Commissioner Rob Manfred keeps pushing back on it. It’s a thing.
Anyway, with balls flying out of the parks at gigantic rates all season, it felt pretty likely that we’d see a light show in the All-Star Game. Last year’s game ended up 8-6 with 10 home runs, after all. The ball was flying in the Derby on Monday night and in batting practice before the All-Star Game.
But we shouldn’t have forgotten about the power arms each side could run out. Most of the 2019 Midsummer Classic was a reminder that guys can flat out pitch, too.
Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Berrios worked around one hit each. Lucas Giolito worked around a walk. Shane Bieber struck out all three batters he faced. Liam Hendriks gave up a solo bomb but struck out three.
Through six innings with those six pitchers, the American League gave up just three hits and one walk while striking out 12. Even with the solo shot, that’s utter domination of a National League lineup so stacked it had Josh Bell hitting sixth, Willson Contreras hitting seventh, Ketel Marte hitting eighth and, get this, Ronald Acuna ninth! That’s unreal, but the AL pitchers completely stifled them.
They did it by beating power with power.
Verlander’s average fastball was over 96 miles per hour and he threw it 10 times out of 14 pitches. Seven of Berrios’ 13 pitches were either four-seam or two-seam fastballs and he sat around 95. Nine of Giolito’s 13 pitches were heat and he averaged almost 96. Nine of Bieber’s 19 pitches were fastballs, sitting at an average of 94.5. A whopping 16 of Hendriks’ 19 pitches were four-seamers, averaging 95.9. We know what Aroldis Chapman can do to the radar gun and he closed things down.
Looping in Shane Greene (one clean inning, though no strikeouts), Brad Hand (who got roughed up a little, but struck one out) and Chapman (who struck out all three batters he faced), the AL pitchers struck out 16 of the 27 NL hitters that came to the plate. And that is a team full of the best hitters on the planet.
It was a good, quick(ish) All-Star Game and let the results serve as a reminder that while power seems to be the key in today’s game, there’s plenty of that on the mound as well as in the batter’s box.