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INFIELD CHATTER: October delivers drama — and plenty of strikeouts

October has already provided so many dramatic baseball moments, it’s impossible to say which has been the biggest highlight. From the stirring Nationals’ comeback in the National League Wild Card game to the crazy back-and-forth of Atlanta and St. Louis to the madhouse in Tampa as the Rays shellacked Houston Monday afternoon, it’s been yet another delightfully fun start to the best month of the year.

While the Rays offered some excitement in the Divisional Series round, having an ALCS without the Astros, and specifically Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, would seem to be a waste of a perfectly good dynasty. The only true disappointment thus far has been the 101-win Twins sputtering against the 103-win Yankees. Obviously the deeper Yankees had been more tested — dominating the AL East is a tougher challenge than the AL Central — but the Minnesota offense never really flashed its regular-season prowess and the Target Field crowd barely got a chance to cheer in its one game as New York closed out the sweep.

But the buzz is back today with two NL elimination games, the first since the absolutely bonkers Cubs-Nationals NLDS Game 5 on Oct. 12, 2017. After what we’ve seen over the first week there’s really no bad NLCS matchup regardless of which teams survive, but my heart certainly wants to see the exciting young Atlanta roster advance. Like Houston, the Dodgers have long felt inevitable to at least play for another pennant, but the Dodgers already have 13 NLCS appearances (tied with St. Louis) including three in a row and six of the past 11.

Running up the number of divisional series games isn’t just about fun for baseball junkies, it also yields that many more plate appearances to turn into home runs or strikeouts as relates to my (not all that adequately researched) predictions for a record number.

Through Monday night, the first 16 playoff games, the 10 teams combined to hit 40 home runs, an average of 2.5 per game. That’s a slower pace than the regular season average of 2.79 (6,776 dingers in 2,429 games) and only the third largest playoff rate since 2012: In 2015, there were 91 homers in 36 games (2.53) and in 2017 there were 104 homers in 28 games (2.74).

That means it would take 65 more home runs to break the record. At the current rate it would take 26 games to see that many more homers, but the maximum remaining is 23, which would require both league championship series and the World Series to go the full seven games each. That would that be unprecedented.

The only times both the ALCS and NLCS went to the maximum in the same October was 2003 and 2004, and the World Series those years lasted just six and four games, respectively. We’ve only had 82 percent of possible league championship games since that round expanded to seven games in 1985, and only 80.5 percent of World Series games in the same window.

In other words, breaking the homer record this month is going to require avoiding short series and hitters showing even more power.

Breaking the strikeout record remains more plausible. (Why didn’t I make that prediction?) The record is 689 K’s in 2017. With 38 playoff games that season, the rate was 18.1 per game. That number jumped to 19.2 in 2018 over 33 games. With 321 K’s through the first 16 this October, the pace is a staggering 20.1 per game — the regular season rate was 17.63 — and there’s every reason to believe the torrid totals will continue.

Last year’s seven-game NLCS had a whopping 161 strikeouts between the two teams, which has a lead of 28 over the 2016 World Series as the most in any one series since 2012. Even without that madness the record is in jeopardy unless the next three series all end in sweeps.

I’m almost always cheering for more baseball, but keeping these running tallies has me glued more than usual to each passing inning.

It’s bittersweet to know we’re so close to the cold void of the baseball-free winter months, but at least we’ve got another two weeks of games to make new lifetime memories.

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