x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Hit men lose their edge

Baseball in 2010 already has seen one no-hitter and two perfect games and the clampdown on drugs is one explanation for that.

The Oakland pitcher Dallas Bredan, right, with Bob Geren, the manager of the A's.
The Oakland pitcher Dallas Bredan, right, with Bob Geren, the manager of the A's.

No, it is not your imagination. A no-hitter or a near no-hitter is being thrown every week this season. Baseball in 2010 already has seen one no-hitter (by Ubaldo Jimenez) and two perfect games (Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay), only the 19th and 20th in the history of the game. Another perfect game, by Armando Galarrago, was spoiled only by an egregious umpiring mistake.

Then there are the many close calls, including one on Sunday night when a double no-hitter seemed to be taking shape in Chicago. Gavin Floyd of the White Sox did not give up a hit until two were out in the seventh inning; Ted Lilly of the Cubs took a no-hitter into the ninth. What in the name of Nolan Ryan (who amassed a record six no-hitters), is going on here? A survey of people in the game yielded some theories:

? The clampdown on performance-enhancing drugs and amphetamines. Baseball is in its sixth season of drug-testing for steroids, and stiff penalties are in place. With fewer muscle-bound, chemically enhanced sluggers, batting numbers are down across the board. The home run is out; speed and defence are in. And do not discount the ban on amphetamines. When baseball took "greenies" out of the game, it eliminated a huge hitters' aid.

One veteran baseball man said he believes that "getting rid of greenies" hurt hitters more than the attempt to eliminate steroids. It stands to reason: if hitters' energy and focus are down, their statistics will follow. ? Stockpiling pitchers. Because they lived through an era of explosive offence, teams put greater emphasis on scouting, drafting and developing young pitchers. Now, some of those pitchers have blossomed and are dominating the very hitters they were developed to shut down.

Don't look for this trend to end soon. Many of the best (and hardest-throwing) pitchers in the game, including Tim Lincecum, Clay Buchholz, Stephen Strasburg and Jimenez) are still under 26. ? Cycles. The history of baseball includes ups and downs for offence and pitching. After a particularly punchless season in 1968, baseball owners lowered the pitching mound to help hitters. A few years later, still unsatisfied with low-scoring games, the American League introduced the designated hitter. Now it may be that we are entering an era in which pitchers - and not bulked-up home run hitters - will dominate. That would not necessarily be a bad thing; well-pitched games can be riveting. Just ask the fans who watched Strasburg's debut. @Email:sports@thenational.ae

? Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: in his first two starts, Strasburg struck out 22, won both games and captivated the baseball world. Not bad for his first week in the big leagues. ? Carlos Pena, Rays: In some ways it has been a miserable season for Pena, below, who whose batting average is a miserable .193 as the halfway point approaches. But he is making the hits he gets count: he powered seven home runs in six games last week. 

Teams of the week 

Chicago White Sox: Kenny Williams, the general manager and Ozzie Guillen, the field manager are feuding and the White Sox are telling teams they are ready to start trading away players. So what happens? The White Sox go 5-1. 

New York Mets: Who can figure out this bunch? They run hot and cold and have been everywhere from first to last in the standings. Last week, they were 6-1 and on the up. At least for the moment. 

Duds of the week 

Pittsburgh Pirates: It was not enough to be the token opponent in Strasburg's National League debut. No, the Pirates had to lose eight in a row, too, positioning themselves for their 18th consecutive losing season. 

Series of the week 

Tampa Bay at Atlanta, today-Thursday. The Rays are tied for first in the American League East and the Braves are first in the National League East. Together, these teams boast some of the best young players in the game. ? New York Mets at New York Yankees, Friday-Sunday. The Subway Series matters again. The Yanks are tied for first in their division; the Mets are only 1.5 games back in theirs.