Every regular season, each club in Major League Baseball goes through about 40,000 baseballs. There are 30 clubs in MLB, and if you add up all the baseballs used in all the games and all the practices for each team, you’d find that about 1.2 million baseballs are used leaguewide over the six-month season.
From the perspective of a baseball, the sheer number of baseballs you’re competing against makes your life a lottery — you could just as easily be the grand slam ball that goes down in history as you could be the ball that gets thrown away after one go through the pitching machine during batting practice. Much like the balls they use, each team in the playoffs has the potential to either bear the World Series crown after a season marked by unprecedented success or return home with heads hung low and bitterness that will smolder into an even greater desire for a win come next postseason.
If you just so happened to be a baseball in Houston over the weekend, you may have been lucky enough (or unlucky enough, depending on who you talk to) to have been met by George Springer’s very lively bat. With four runs and six hits in just three games against the Cleveland Indians, Springer alone increased the chances of each of the 120 balls used per game to be a home run ball. In fact, the chances of being a ball that ended up scoring a run were pretty high if you were being pitched by anyone in the Indians’ starting rotation, as the Astros swept the hopeful Indians to cruise to another American League Championship Series appearance.
Baseballs in two of the three ballparks named for America’s favorite carb-loaded, alcoholic beverages experienced similar excitement, with the Brewers from Miller Park shutting out the Rockies of Coors Field in two of the three games that it took to sweep Colorado out of the playoffs. Of the 28 innings that the Rockies came to the plate, they were held scoreless by the Brewers for 27 of them, scoring only two runs in the ninth inning of Game 1. While Rockies fans and players undoubtedly walked away upset, those two baseballs that scored Colorado’s only runs are probably as content as can be.
Back in the American League, a historic battle in the other Divisional Series made it the heyday for hopeful baseballs — in a series that featured a combined 39 runs between the two teams in only four games, the Red Sox pulled away with three wins over the Yankees to set a date with the Astros on Saturday, Oct. 13th. It is worth noting, however, that Yankees catcher and first baseman Austin Romine became the second position player in MLB history to pitch during the postseason, which led to him surrendering a cycle-clinching home run to Brock Holt, of all people.
I can imagine that the chances of any baseball being involved in that were pretty low.
In a series that was nearly parallel but not as high-scoring, and thus more disappointing from an eager baseball’s point of view, the Dodgers put the Braves away in four games after Manny Machado once again came to LA’s rescue. The Braves seemed to be putting up a fight when they topped the Dodgers in Game 3 after being shut out in the first two, but their efforts proved to be too little as Hollywood’s finest advanced to the National League Championship Series for the third year in a row. The Dodgers will be headed to Cream City to face off against the Brewers on Friday night.
Boston and Houston are undoubtedly the strongest clubs in baseball this year. The Red Sox will be the Astros’ toughest competitors thus far in the postseason, and both teams are filled to the brim with players who baseballs would be honored to be sent over the fences by. But the Astros seem to have the edge because they have the depth and the postseason know-how of recent years. Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman will lead the charge at the plate, while Justin Verlander and the trusty bullpen that worked like clockwork last season should keep ticking in the ALCS. If the Astros can pull it off and make it past the best hitting team in baseball, there’s very little doubt that they’ll take home the World Series crown for the second year in a row.
The Dodgers, however, are going to need more than angels in their outfield if they want to meet Houston again in the World Series. LA will need to utilize its many, many assets on the mound and throughout its lineup — Machado, Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw, just to name a few.
But they’ll be sure not to make any foolish mistakes that might give the Brewers a chance to use any of their no-longer-so-secret weapons. Despite this Brewers team being arguably the best in franchise history, it’ll be hard, if not altogether impossible, for Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain to slay the dragon that is the postseason Dodgers. I wouldn’t count on the Brewers just giving up, though — they’ve won 11 straight games and will have home-field advantage beginning Friday night.
Even though as the World Series draws closer, the stakes grow higher and the tensions continue to rise, there will still be 120 baseballs rubbed down per game in the ALCS and NLCS. There will be baseballs hit into the stands and there will be baseballs that never touch a bat because the pitcher so wills it. Some things about baseball will never change, but these baseballs and the teams that hit the most of them will certainly be remembered for years to come.
Emily Ohman writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact her at [email protected].