For the past few seasons in MLB, small ball was virtually nonexistent. Here we are in the month of October when baseball is at its most competitive, and small ball is peaking its head out the window. Is small ball back, or is this just like bringing back a 90s fashion trend?
Baseball is a form of art, and everybody has their favorite type of art. Some people like the way the game is going where launch angle and home runs mean everything, but some prefer the traditional old-school way of baseball. That, my friends, is what we call small ball.
What is Small Ball?
The simplest way to describe small ball is that it is what it sounds like. No, you are not using a smaller ball, but small ball refers to a team doing all the little things in order to give themselves an advantage throughout the course of the game.
An example of small ball is when a runner advances to first and a batter bunts them over into scoring position. There goes the double-play possibility, and now you have a runner on second with only one out. Walks, a sacrifice fly, stolen bases and just being aggressive on the base paths are all examples of how this idea is used.
To try to put this in the context of another sport, let’s think of basketball. Small ball in basketball is literally a team running a smaller lineup, but the idea would be if a team focused on a defensive approach while on offense only taking the easiest shots the other team gives them. You would not see crazy three-point shots as you see in today’s NBA. If you think about it, it makes sense. Both the NBA and MLB are changing, but small ball may be making its way back into baseball.
You can argue that small ball won the Wild Card series for the Philadelphia Phillies and is the reason they are still playing baseball today. The Phillies are one of the worst teams to make the playoffs, but small ball has given them a huge advantage. With the seeming disappearance of small ball in today’s game, teams are not ready for it, and the Phillies are taking advantage of that.
Look back to game one of the Wild Card series win against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies miraculous comeback was the definition of small ball. They did not hit the ball hard at all; they just made contact and used their speed. When you put the ball in play, good things happen.
The Phillies have some scary pop in their lineup, but in their win against the Atlanta Braves in game one of the NLDS, they scored seven runs on 10 hits. They finished with no home runs in the victory.
I saw a tweet that the Phillies have more sacrifice bunts in October than they had in the entire 2022 regular season. Rob Thomson ended the Phillies’ playoff drought, and he knew they had to do something special to compete late into the postseason. The answer was simple; hello small ball.
There is nothing more satisfying than seeing small ball work for your team, and just as aggravating to see it succeed against the team you support. Small ball might just be a playoff thing–or even just a Phillies thing–but I hope it makes a comeback in 2023.
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