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Baseball Report: MLB On Pace To Smash Season Home Run Record

(CBS Los Angeles/CBS Local) -- It's been the season of the home run in Major League Baseball. So many balls have flown over so many fences in so many ballparks that fans are starting to ask questions. And while there are certainly lots of theories for the spike in long balls -- juiced baseballs certainly among them -- there don't appear to be any concrete answers. But if the pace keeps up, MLB will far surpass 2017's record-setting total.

Los Angeles Angels two-way phenomenon Shohei Ohtani is doing his part. While not pitching -- Tommy John surgery last October will keep him off the mound throughout 2019 -- the Angels designated hitter is contributing with the bat. If only he had some help from someone other than Mike Trout.

The American League East-leading New York Yankees welcome the second-place Tampa Bay Rays to the Bronx this week for a three-game series. The two struggling teams are separated by 1.5 games after the Yankees' win Monday night.

This week's Baseball Report looks at the home run derby playing out this season, along with Ohtani's return to form and the important Yankees-Rays series.

MLB On Pace To Break Home Run Record

For all the hand-wringing over pitcher dominance, MLB teams have hit total of 2,911 home runs so far this season through Monday. And the All-Star break is still three weeks away. The record is 6,105, set in 2017, and MLB is on track to blow by that total.

Much has been said about team leaders like the Minnesota Twins (137) and the Seattle Mariners (133). But home runs are flying all around the League. Over two thirds of teams are on pace to hit at least 200 home runs.

Individual home run leaders also attract headlines. Those include Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich (26) and San Diego Padres outfielder Hunter Renfroe (23), Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Cody Belinger (23) and New York Mets' Pete Alonso (23). But they're far from the whole story.

The power surge is much more widespread. MLB teams hit 55 home runs on Friday alone. And last week the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks combined for a record 13 home runs in a game.

So why so many home runs? A few theories have been trotted out, though none seem conclusive. Here are a few of the most popular and/or realistic.

  • The baseball is juiced.
  • The baseball has been altered to reduce drag and allow it to fly further.
  • Batters are hitting the ball harder, again causing the ball to fly further.
  • Batters have increased their launch angle, hitting more balls in the air.

Most likely the additional home runs have resulted from some combination of the above factors.

Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels, center, is congratulated on his three-run home run by Tommy La Stella #9 and Mike Trout #27 in the first inning of a baseball game at Tropicana Field on June 13, 2019 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Shohei Ohtani (Photo Credit: Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

Angels Shohei Ohtani Rounding Into Form

Coming into the league last season, Ohtani was expected to pitch and hit. And in his 2018 rookie of the year campaign, the budding two-way star showed off his prowess on the mound and at the plate. But Tommy John surgery last October threatened to limit his production for 2019. It would certainly keep him from pitching.

By early May, Ohtani had recovered enough to return to the batter's box. Since then, in 138 at-bats as designated hitter, he's hit .283 with nine home runs and 30 RBIs. Last Thursday he became the first Japanese-born MLB player to hit for the cycle. His four hits in four at-bats, which included a three-run home run, helped propel the Angels to a 5-3 win over the Rays.

The Angels continue to struggle, sitting at 36-37 in the AL West, 12 games behind the Houston Astros.

Yankees-Rays For AL East Control

The Rays and Yankees, the top two teams in the AL East, both continue to struggle as they opened a pivotal three-game series in the Bronx Monday night. Division control is on the line.

The Yankees led by 0.5 games before the series opener after going 5-5 in their last 10 games. They split with the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets in their most recent series, giving up double-digit runs in a game to each team.

The Rays were 43-28 and also 5-5 in their last 10 games after splitting with the Angels and dropping two of three to the Oakland Athletics.

The series also offers the potential for extracurricular fireworks. Lingering bad blood between the teams threatens to escalate or at least continue the ongoing beanball war, which dates back to late last season. So far five batters have been hit, though the benches have not cleared.

The series brings the Yankees some good news. The team is getting healthy, with recently acquired Edwin Encarnacion debuting Monday and outfielder Giancarlo Stanton scheduled to return Tuesday.

Masahiro Tanaka opened the series with a complete-game shutout, allowing two hits and striking out 10. DJ LeMahieu hit a two-run homer, as the Yankees cruised to a 3-0 win over the Rays. Encarnacion, welcomed warmly, went 0-4.

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