Power surge: Home runs more than half of scoring in playoffs

Sports

Tampa Bay Rays’ Brandon Lowe hits a three-run home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the sixth inning in Game 4 of the baseball World Series Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — For all the talk about pride in advancing runners and manufacturing runs, teams in the postseason have really dug the long ball.

Home runs drove in 235 of the 456 runs in the postseason through World Series Game 4, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That comes to 51.5%, up from 46.6% last year and highest since the postseason expanded beyond the World Series in 1969.

Tampa Bay has been more reliant on the long ball than most. The AL East champions became the first team to homer in four consecutive innings of a postseason game during a thrilling 8-7 comeback win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night that tied the Series at two games apiece. Brandon Lowe’s three-run homer off Pedro Baez gave the Rays a 5-4 lead in the sixth, and Kevin Kiermaier tied it at 6 with a home run against Baez in the seventh.

That gave the Rays 33 homers in the postseason accounting for 52 of 76 runs (68.4%).

“I think it’s more part of the trend, When we win, I couldn’t even tell you how we scored the runs: via home run, walk, hit, error or whatever,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I think it’s harder to do anything offensively in this game because the pitching is so talented, just the electric arms that these teams have and definitely in the postseason. The reason they’re in postseason, playing postseason baseball is because a lot of that coincides with great pitching and that’s what we’re seeing. So that is what makes it tougher to score.”

Los Angeles has been far less dependent, hitting 25 homers that drove in 40 of 94 runs (42.6%).

That is a reversal from the regular season, when the Dodgers were second in the majors at 51.3% and Tampa Bay was 20th at 41.5%. Cincinnati was the most long-ball dependent at 59.7%, according to Elias.

“We’re not out there trying to hit a home run. That’s not what we’re talking about in our game plan. We’re just going to stay disciplined to our approach,” Dodgers slugger Max Muncy said. “Those are a result of us doing good things. It’s not us just swinging for the fence every single time up at the plate. It’s guys putting together good at-bats, seeing good pitches and hitting a mistake that the pitcher makes.”

Since the start of League Championship Series in 1969, the highest percentage of postseason runs scoring on homers had been 50.9% in 2017. The percentage rose above this year’s twice back when the sample sizes were vastly smaller: in 1956, when 31 of 58 runs (53.4%) scored on 15 homers, and in 1957, when 25 of 48 runs (52%) scored on 15 homers.

It’s not just the postseason.

Home runs have accounted for more than 40% of runs in each of the past five seasons, with 2020′s 43.7% second to a record 45.2% in 2019, according to Elias. Through 2015, 38% of runs on homers had never been reached.

As the postseason keeps getting longer, more pitchers appear to miss locations in high-pressure situations.

“We realize on the pitching side, both teams are at the very end of their rope when it comes to the season, when it comes to high-leverage situations, the intensity of their innings, and their mistakes are getting hit,” then-Houston manager AJ Hinch said following his team’s 13-12 win over the Dodgers in the 2017 Series. “The volume is certainly record-setting and certainly the intensity of the moments that are ending in home runs is hard to fathom.”

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