Will the weather have a chilling effect on Red Sox, Dodgers?
As Game 1 of the ALCS against the Astros moved at a crawl, the October chill invaded Steve Pearce.
“Your fingers go numb, your body starts to hurt, you can’t move as fast,” Pearce recalled of a game with an announced starting temperature of 50 degrees.
With Games 1 and 2 of the World Series expected to have first-pitch temperatures in the 40s, members of the Red Sox and Dodgers understand that in addition to their preparations for the opposing teams, they’ll also have to prepare for the elements. The undertaking can take a number of forms.
Some players, like Chris Sale, refuse to bow to the elements and wear short sleeves. He is the exception, someone whose sanity is questioned by teammates in taking such an approach. Mookie Betts, after all, always wears long sleeves. He plans to double up on batting gloves during the first two contests at Fenway Park and to hover near the dugout heater when the Red Sox are hitting.
“I bundle up,” Betts said. “When I’m in the dugout, I’m trying to stay close to the heater to stay warm. Other than that, adrenaline kind of keeps you going, too. It’s one of those things where it gets cold, but it’s not just cold for me. It’s cold for everybody.”
Dodgers second baseman Brian Dozier spent parts of seven seasons in Minnesota as a member of the Twins. He thus qualifies as one of the foremost experts on the subject of accounting for the elements.
“I’ve learned throughout the years that Vaseline is, like, your best friend of coating your whole body down,” he chuckled, recalling the unpalatable extreme of playing when the temperature had dropped to 18 degrees earlier this year. “It used to be just wind resistance, but it works just to stay warm.”
Games in Los Angeles, by contrast, will be comfortably in the 80s at first pitch. So it’s worth asking: Will the warm-weather Dodgers be able to handle the cooler climate of their road games? And how do temperature drops affect the game environment?
There are different theories on the subject. In 2014, for instance, Pearce recalled heading an Orioles team that could not translate its regular-season home run prowess to the colder conditions of the postseason, with the ball feeling like it was made of lead coming off the bat.
“We had a very potent team, and we got neutralized by a big ballpark, tough weather conditions, and we couldn’t play the kind of baseball we wanted,” Pearce said. “It’s a lot better to have a well-rounded lineup where we can hit, steal bases, and not have to rely on the long ball.”
This year’s Red Sox offense — whose diverse offensive attack isn’t built narrowly around homers — fits that description. That said, it’s possible to exaggerate the power-sapping effects of the cold as well. Houston blasted a pair of homers in Game 1 of the ALCS to blow the game open. Betts blasted a homer in Cleveland in sub-40 degree temperatures on Opening Day of the 2016 season.
“Ball’s not going to go as far, but we’re all professionals,” Betts said. “We can all still hit home runs in 30 degrees.”
There’s also a case to be made that the greater impact is on pitchers.
“We were discussing that earlier today,” Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers said. “Hitters can try to get warm, do their thing. But I think gripping a baseball is probably the most difficult in cold weather. I think it affects them probably more than it affects hitters.
“Early in the year, [Yankees starter Luis Severino] had a tough time getting his slider over [in cold weather]. I felt [Justin] Verlander, that first inning [of ALCS Game 1], didn’t have his slider, then he got it after that and found a way to make that adjustment. It’ll be interesting. [Dodgers starters Clayton] Kershaw and Rich Hill spin the ball really well. It will be interesting to see how they adapt.”
There’s not a lot to draw upon to determine how they’ll handle the task. In the last three years, the Dodgers have played just three games with a starting temperature under 50 degrees, dropping two of three and scoring a total of four runs over a three-game set against the Cubs in April 2017. Before that, however, Los Angeles had an eight-game winning streak in such temperatures between 2011 and 2015.
In 2018, there were 109 games with a first-pitch temperature under 50 degrees. Those games saw players hit for lower averages, lower slugging percentages, and fewer home runs than in games played at 50 degrees and over. Yet the on-base percentage in such games remained virtually unchanged, with pitchers issuing more walks, aligning with the view that command is more challenging for pitchers in cold weather.
The kicker? Run-scoring was almost identical in the games with chilly starting times and those that were in the more comfortable zone of 50 degrees and up.
“There’s no difference in the game,” Red Sox second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “It’s the same game, just colder.”
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