It took the Dodgers four pitches Wednesday to match the National League record for home runs in a season. Joc Pederson’s leadoff blast in the Dodgers’ 7-3 win over the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium was home run No. 249. Three innings later, Pederson’s two-run shot gave the Dodgers the record.
Pederson was a fitting record obliterator, a boom-or-bust slugger who has come to epitomize the era baseball has drifted into. And it’s been plenty of boom for Pederson lately. His home run in the fourth inning was his fifth in seven plate appearances since Sunday. He walked in one of the other plate appearances. He missed a home run by inches in the other, settling for a double. A strikeout in the sixth inning stopped his tear.
“He’s an impact player,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “and today his offense really carried us.”
Pederson’s power display Wednesday — in his first game since exiting Monday’s win after crashing into the outfield wall to make a catch — helped supply enough run support for the teetering Hyun-Jin Ryu, whose alarming slide continued. The left-hander allowed three runs and six hits over a season-low 41/3 innings. He issued a season-high four walks. Chris Taylor’s diving catch to end the fourth inning to rob Josh Fuentes of extra bases with runners at the corners saved Ryu from further damage.
After carrying a league-best 1.45 earned-run average through his first 22 starts, Ryu has allowed 21 runs in 19 innings — a 9.95 ERA — over his last four outings. His ERA has climbed a full run during the span.
“I’m definitely looking at the videos and trying to figure out a way to replicate the things that I’ve been doing in the past,” Ryu said through an interpreter.
The Dodgers were able to absorb his outing to sweep the Rockies and match their win total from last season with seven runs in the first four innings after losing Ryu’s three previous starts. The victory reduced the magic number to seal their seventh straight NL West title to four. The earliest they can clinch is Saturday.
The 2000 Houston Astros, before they switched leagues and MLB implemented testing for performance-enhancing drugs, set the previous NL record with 249 home runs. That team won 72 games.
The Dodgers are riding their prolific power to the best record in the NL in a year when home runs totals have skyrocketed. The Minnesota Twins, on pace for 100 wins, on Saturday set the all-time record with 267.
Before Wednesday, 30 clubs had hit 5,833 home runs, 52 shy of last year’s total. They are on pace to topple the MLB record of 6,105 established in 2017.
“I’ve seen, collectively, more balls hit [out], as far as I’ve seen them, this year more than any year,” said Roberts, who hit 23 home runs over his 10-year career. “More times than not, I don’t think the ball has a chance to go out and it ends up being a homer. Players are getting bigger and stronger I guess.”
There are other theories for the increase. Pitchers are throwing harder and batters are hitting them harder. A lack of variation between pitchers creates similar looks and makes it easier for batters. Striking out isn’t as frowned upon as it used to be, freeing batters to maintain an aggressive approach and swing in any count. Then there’s the ball, which Commissioner Rob Manfred admitted in June is different this season.
“There’s just so many marginal things that you could explain,” Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler said. “Maybe they all play a factor and it’s led to this.”
As they maintained in 2017, pitchers this season have said the ball is central to the uptick. If more evidence was needed, the triple-A level offered it with the end of its season. Last season, triple-A clubs hit 3,652 home runs. This year, triple-A games switched to MLB baseballs for the first time and the home run total soared to 5,749.
“It just seems like you don’t have to put as much effort into your swing to get that home run result,” Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said.
The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw has tied his career high of 23 home runs given up.
“I’m just trying to avoid the balls-are-juiced thing,” Kershaw said. “At that point, it just sounds like you’re whining.”
Kershaw, at least, doesn’t have to face the Dodgers’ sluggers.
Pederson’s first home run Wednesday was his eighth leadoff home run, tying the franchise record he set last season. He has hit a career-high 32 home runs, all against right-handers. He is one of three Dodgers with at least 30 and a franchise-record 11 players have hit 10 home runs or more.
“A lot of good players,” Pederson said. “One through 15, really. ... You just go down the list, anyone can beat you at any time.”