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There have been plenty of players complaining about baseballs so far this season. What has been interesting is that it has been both hitters and pitchers.

The hitters are complaining that the balls are dead and not sailing nearly as far as they did even a year ago. The pitchers say that the balls are inconsistent and feel different in their hands from inning to inning, making it more difficult to grip and spin the ball.

I thought this was just players trying to explain some of the early season struggles since there had been no public announcement about changes in ball manufacturing. However, there were reports recently that the Commissioner’s Office sent a memo to teams this winter saying they were manufacturing the ball with looser twine around the core, which would make the ball a bit lighter and less bouncy. To try and standardize the balls, all 30 teams are now using humidors in their ballpark to assure consistency around the league.

The Commissioner’s Office wants the ball to travel less than it has been with the notion that it will cause players to shorten their swings, trying for more singles and fewer home runs. It believed the changes would cause the ball to travel an average three feet less but there have been reports that the balls are sailing an average of eight feet less.

The reality is that the hitters’ response will not be what the Commissioner’s Office wants immediately. Instead, we’re seeing guys swinging harder to make up for the lost distance. It will likely take a couple of years to get the intended result.

Players are creatures of habit. They want the same schedule and same tools to use every day. When the ball keeps changing their world is thrown into a tizzy. Major League Baseball needs to make a decision and stick to it. Of course, I say that knowing that there is another change around the corner when they add tackiness to the baseball to aid in the grip for pitchers. There will be more complaining until they find the right formula.

A slow start for the Red Sox 

There is a saying in baseball that you can’t win a division in the first month of the season, but you can lose one.

Last week I wrote about how bad the Cincinnati Reds (7-24) have been. They have had a better week, winning five of their past seven games. But they are done. They have already lost the N.L. Central – not mathematically, but they have no chance of coming back.

I feel the same about the Detroit Tigers at 9-23. They will make a run and likely play .500 baseball in the second half of the season, but they aren’t winning the A.L. Central. 

I thought the Baltimore Orioles (14-18) would be as bad as the Reds and Tigers, but they have played decent baseball to start the year. I don’t believe they have any chance to stand toe-to-toe with the Yankees, Jays and Rays in the A.L. East.

Shockingly, the Boston Red Sox (11-20) are in last place in the division and don’t look like they can compete. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for them so far. It isn’t surprising that they have lost 20 games, it’s surprising they have won 11.

The Sox are ranked 13th in runs per game in the American League. They are ranked ninth in ERA but that is a bit misleading because their bullpen is ranked 14th (4.14 ERA). The bullpen has 11 of their 20 losses already and has nine blown saves.

Free-agent second baseman Trevor Story hasn’t hit at all yet. Only three players are hitting for them so far: 3B Rafael Devers, SS Xander Bogaerts and OF/DH JD Martinez. Everyone else in the lineup is scuffling. They are getting no production from their outfield. 

The Sox can’t wait until August to turn it on and make a run to the postseason because if they aren’t within an arm’s length of a playoff spot, I fully expect they will trade Bogaerts. He has an opt-out at the end of the season and efforts to make a deal have failed. It could be a long summer in Boston.

The Red Sox aren’t finished just yet because they are an experienced team, but they are on early life support and at some point, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom will have to pull the plug. 

Spitting Seeds

- Jose Berrios hasn’t looked anything like what the Jays had hoped he would after giving him a big contract extension in the off-season. There is no reason to panic, but they need to get to the bottom of his struggles as soon as possible. The Yankees are playing good baseball, so Toronto can’t spend time trying to fix themselves. They need to compete and start winning again.

I did a deep dive on Berrios’s season so far and came back with some interesting observations:

The league is hitting .413 against his four-seam fastball, yet he is throwing that pitch 9 per cent more than he was last season. Clearly, there is an issue with his command of the pitch, but also his usage and sequencing.

The other thing to consider in his sequencing is that batters are hitting .435 on the first pitch of at-bats. That is a very high number, indicating that hitters are being very aggressive early, and Berrios may be predictable early in the count.

Opponents are hitting .339/.397/.645 against him when the bases are empty, but only .262/.328/.415  with runners on base. This tells me that there is something amiss when he is pitching out of the wind-up, which he uses with no one on base.

I looked at his mechanics and noticed he has made a rather dramatic change from last season. In 2021, Berrios took his hands above his head in his delivery, but this season he has cut down on the movement and his hands no longer go above his head. Obviously, that is a place to start. Pitching coach Pete Walker and Berrios need to figure out if the change in mechanics is flattening out his fastball or if he is tipping his pitches.

The Jays and Berrios need to find answers quickly. They need a stopper in the rotation, and they are paying him to be that guy. 

- I have always been a proponent of the umpires having the wherewithal to eject the first-strike offender in a beanball situation.

Although umpires, by rule, have the latitude to eject a pitcher they deem intentionally hit a batter, most umpires issue warnings. The problem with that is the team that got hit with the pitch doesn’t feel like there is justice. They get hit with the pitch and then they get punished if they retaliate, while the other club suffers no penalty. If it was obvious, I wanted the offending team to suffer with an ejection. 

I have changed my mind after the situation on Tuesday between the Jays and Yankees where relief pitcher Yimi Garcia was ejected after hitting former Blue Jay third baseman Josh Donaldson with a pitch in the sixth inning. The incident happened immediately after Giancarlo Stanton banged a three-run homer to tie the game. It can be suspicious when a pitcher hits a batter with a pitch after a home run, but not in a 3-3 game in early May between two teams that are going to battle for the division title.

The umpires said they ejected Garcia because Jays catcher Tyler Heineman and Donaldson were bickering after the hit by pitch. The bizarre result of that interaction between the batter and catcher was to eject the pitcher. It makes no sense. The umpires were well-intentioned, but completely misread the situation. Garcia shouldn’t have been ejected nor should pitching coach, Pete Walker. Jays manager Charlie Montoyo was ejected later for complaining about a pitch at Bo Bichette’s head.

Certainly, the Jays would have managed their bullpen differently if Garcia had not been ejected, and maybe it would have made a difference against Aaron Judge in the ninth inning when hit a walk-off home run. We will never know.

Umpires should now only be able to issue warnings when someone gets hit by a pitch for the first time. They aren’t knowledgeable enough to handle the responsibility of interpreting the situation properly to make an immediate ejection.