Mason: There's a clear winner in Justin Verlander vs. Rob Manfred juiced baseball dispute

American League starting pitcher Justin Verlander, of the Houston Astros, throws during the first inning of the MLB baseball All-Star Game against the National League, Tuesday, July 9, 2019, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Around the Horn is a weekly column from Chris Mason, where the Eagle-Tribune beat writer offers nine thoughts from the Red Sox clubhouse.

This installment focuses on All-Star week and the World Series rematch awaiting the Red Sox when they return from the break. 

1. Verlander sounds off

Justin Verlander was easily the American League’s best pitcher in the first half, and Alex Cora named him the All-Star starter accordingly. 

His 2.98 ERA and 0.831 WHIP were sparkling, but somewhat shockingly, Verlander also led the majors with 26 home runs allowed.

He’d still held opponents to just 42 earned runs on the season — the guy is a Cy Young winner for a reason — but the eye-popping number indicative a far bigger problem.

Major League Baseball is on pace to shatter home run records set during the steroid era, and Verlander is nobody’s fool. Many pitchers have murmured that they believe the ball is juiced. The 36-year-old Verlander screamed it. 

“Major League Baseball’s turning this game into a joke,” Verlander told ESPN ahead of the All-Star Game. “They own Rawlings, and you’ve got (commissioner Rob) Manfred up here saying it might be the way they center the pill. They own the (expletive) company. If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it’s not a guess as to what happened. We all know what happened.

“Manfred the first time he came in, what’d he say? He said we want more offense. All of a sudden he comes in, the balls are juiced? It’s not coincidence. We’re not idiots.”

2. Manfred denies any knowledge

On Tuesday, the commissioner responded with something of a stock answer while addressing the Baseball Writers Association of America. 

“Baseball has done nothing, given no direction for an alteration in the baseball,” Manfred retorted. “The biggest flaw in that logic is that baseball somehow wants more home runs. If you sat in an owner’s meeting and listened to people talk about the way our game is being played, that is not the sentiment among the owners for whom I work. There is no desire on the part of ownership to increase the number of home runs in the game.”

 3. JV gets the W

You’d be hard-pressed not to side with Verlander here. 

The data is apparent, the eye test backs it up — Christian Vazquez hit more first-half homers than the rest of his career combined — and the league is obviously capable of it.

“They’ve been using juiced balls in the Home Run Derby forever,” Verlander added. “They know how to do it. It’s not coincidence. I find it really hard to believe that Major League Baseball owns Rawlings and just coincidentally the balls become juiced.”

4. Least they got the derby right?

Credit where it’s due though: The league nailed the event where baseballs are supposed to fly off the bat like superballs. 

Though he was not an All-Star — he’d only homered eight times — MLB let Vladimir Guerrero Jr. compete in the Home Run Derby, and the kid put on a show.

Ultimately another rookie, Pete Alonso of the Mets, won the event, but Guerrero is the one people will remember it for. His 40-homer, triple-overtime win over Joc Pederson was electric.

It’s a step in the right direction for a league that’s struggled mightily to market young superstars. It certainly helps to have a Hall of Fame father, but the league is doing what it can to make “Vlad Jr.” a household name. 

5. Red Sox dodge Kershaw, Buehler 

With the Dodgers in town for a World Series rematch this weekend, the Red Sox will catch a bit of a break with the Los Angeles rotation. Neither Clayton Kershaw nor Walker Buehler will pitch at Fenway Park. The Sox will still have to solve Cy Young frontrunner Hyun-Jin Ryu on Sunday Night Baseball, but the draw could have been worse. 

 6. Will L.A. snap the streak?

Boston has dominated interleague play in recent years, particularly at home.

They haven’t dropped a series to a National League team at Fenway Park since the Cubs swept them back in 2014. 

It’ll be interesting to see whether that trend continues against a stacked Dodgers team, especially given their home woes this season. At the All-Star break, the Sox sit 20-22 at Fenway. 

7. Joe Kelly returns

Dave Dombrowski certainly isn’t getting off the hook for not adding to the bullpen this offseason, but letting Joe Kelly walk in free agency is looking like a wise move. 

The Jekyll-and-Hyde reliever landed a three-year, $25 million deal with the Dodgers, and early returns have been all Hyde. Kelly has a 5.28 ERA and 1.565 WHIP in Los Angeles, and opponents boast a .940 OPS against him in late-and-close situations.

8. Best wishes to Big Papi

David Ortiz needed to undergo a third surgery earlier this week, as more complications from his gunshot wound have arisen. It was a successful procedure. The Red Sox legend was ambushed at a bar in the Dominican Republic in June, and has now been at Mass General Hospital a month. 

 9. He’s ‘recovering well’

Mercifully, Ortiz is bouncing back nicely from the latest operation. “David is recovering well and is in good spirits,” Ortiz’s wife, Tiffany, said in a statement. “We continue to be incredibly appreciative of the kindness and compassion shown to David and to our entire family during this difficult time.”