The West Coast offense is more prolific than ever in the state of California this October.
And no, I am not talking about football, so you can erase all Joe Montana to Jerry Rice images from your minds.
Through the first two games of the World Series, Anaheim and San Francisco combined to use 16 pitchers, whose total earned run average was a whopping 6.94. Eleven home runs were hit (a new record for most dingers in the first two games of a World Series) and 28 runs crossed home plate, 21 of which came in Anaheim’s 11-10 game two victory. Put in perspective, Anaheim’s 11 runs last Sunday were higher than the points scored by nine National Football League teams this weekend.
This offensive explosion seems out of place in the Fall Classic, but, then again, so do the Giants and Angels. Two teams no one thought would advance to the World Series — let alone both of them — are playing a style of baseball unheard of at this time of year. Granted, there have been high-scoring affairs in recent years, but those were usually blowouts (Arizona defeated the Yankees 9-1 and 15-2 last year). But when both teams light up the scoreboard, people are bound to search for explanations, most of which center on pitching inferior to that of years and decades past.
No doubt the level of pitching talent is nowhere near where it used to be. Blame it on over expansion or whatever else you desire, but it is a fact. As good as both lineups are, most of the big hits have come off pitching mistakes. Some of the pitchers, from both teams, have tried to claim that the specially designed World Series balls are juiced, meaning they are wound tighter and will thus travel longer distances. Who knows whether or not these accusations are true, but they simply do not matter. If the hitter doesn’t make solid contact, it does not matter what he is swinging at. A good pitcher will offset a juiced ball.
The only juice on the balls fired from Anaheim’s Francisco Rodriguez — who won Sunday’s game — comes from his lively arm. In 13 postseason innings, Rodriguez, 20, is the youngest pitcher to win a World Series contest, has allowed only two runs and four hits while striking out 19. In Game Two of the World Series, he pitched to nine batters, retiring all of them.
Remarkably, he needed only 26 pitches — less than three per batter — to record those outs, and 22 of those pitches were strikes.
That said, it is rare that a pitcher’s mistake goes unpunished nowadays, and especially in games one and two of this series, the result has more often than not been a home run. Some have pointed to the sheer size of some of the players in the game today to explain this trend. Anyone who watched the 1991 Pirates-Braves National League Championship Series on ESPN Classic last week observed that Barry Bonds is twice the size now as he was then. Whether legally or illegally, many players also follow such trends during their careers; it does not matter whether or not a player’s steroid use contributed to increased muscle mass and home run power. What does matter is that players today increase bulk over their careers while in the past this was the exception, not the norm. The physical statures of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio were nearly identical at the beginning and end of their careers.
Like it or not, hitters have evolved to find ways to hit the baseball out of the park with more regularity than ever before. The batters are stronger. The pitchers are weaker. The baseballs may very well be wound tighter.
But the game is not better. Call me a purist, but the most exciting moment for me — as a fan of the game — was watching Rodriguez dominate the opposition. The long-used baseball cliche is that good pitching stops good hitting. Right now, there is much more of the latter than the former. The scales are tipped in favor of the hitters, but here’s hoping that somewhere in this World Series we get a good, old-fashioned pitcher’s duel.