Posts Tagged ‘Albert Pujols’

Espinosa Arrives, But Nats Fall

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Danny Espinosa U.S. Futures All-Star Danny Espinosa of the Washington National fails to tag out World Futures All-Star Tyson Gillies of the Seattle Mariners as he steals second base during the 2009 XM All-Star Futures Game at Busch Stadium on July 12, 2009 the in St. Louis, Missouri.

Nationals fans got a glimpse of the team’s future double play combination on Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, as Danny Espinosa got the starting nod at second base. After spending most of three years in the minors (with stints in Vermont, Potomac, Harrisburg and Syracuse), Espinosa cashed in on his early-September call up by launching his first home run (in the top of the third inning) into the right field seats at PNC Park and turning a seamless double play at a position that he will play well into the future. The Desmond-Espinosa combo is likely to be the opening day up-the-middle defense for the Nats in 2011. Espinosa’s exposure at second base was the only piece of good news for the Nats on Friday night, however, as the Pirates beat up on steady starter Livan Hernandez, touching up the right hander for eight earned runs in just 4.1 innings. Hernandez was philosophical about his outing: “It’s not happening sometimes,” he said. “When it’s not your day, it’s not your day.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We had plenty of responses from readers on our posting on Albert Pujols and Lou Gehrig, including complaints that we are “N.L.-centric” and that we purposely left out “the one guy who puts Albert to shame.” The reader went on a screed, saying that “Alex Rodriguez has better numbers, plays for a better team, has more awards and plays a more difficult position” than Pujols. “Pujols is a very, very good player,” the reader said. “But he’s no Alex Rodriguez.” So we checked the numbers. Rodriguez has 604 home runs in 17 seasons (Pujols has 401 in ten), has a career BA of .303 (Pujols is at .332), has a career OBP of .387 (Pujols is at .425) and has won three MVPs — the same number as Pujols. Albert doesn’t play for the Empire, but he’s played in two World Series, while Rodriguez has played in one. Pujols lags behind Albert in games played (of course), but all that this means is that Pujols (who’s played in 1530) has about 700 games (Rodriguez has played in 2278) to catch the pride of the Gothams in career home runs — and at this rate (of about 33 per year) he will. By our reckoning (and at the current rate), when Pujols has played in 2200 games, he will have hit just over 610 homers. The reader is right: Alex Rodriguez is a great player. In fact, he’s the second best player in baseball today.

Watching Prince Albert

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

It’s possible to pitch to Albert Pujols — but you do so at your peril. Scott Olsen knew this of course (every major league pitcher knows it), but that didn’t keep him from missing an up-and-in pitch to the St. Louis powerhouse, who promptly deposited it in the left field seats. That was home run number 35 in the slugger’s season, a plus-30 total that he has now reached in each of the last ten seasons. The Pujols’ dinger (number 401 of his career, after he hit number 400 on Thursday) was not the difference in the Cardinals’ 4-2 victory on Friday night, but on a day that saw Washington’s top pitching prospect announce that he would undergo Tommy John surgery, the appearance of Prince Albert at Nationals Park might prove reason enough for Nats fans to make the trek to Half Street.

How good is Pujols? A 2008 manager’s survey named him as the most feared hitter in baseball — and for good reason. The slugger’s numbers draw comparisons to Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Babe Ruth — and Lou Gehrig. The Gehrig comparison seems appropriate: both Pujols and Gehrig won one batting title when they were under 30, and Gehrig stroked thirty home runs and hit over .300 for nine consecutive seasons — a mark broken by Pujols last year. In truth, Prince Albert has already matched Gehrig’s greatness (a claim that is heresy in New York), for while Gehrig was an RBI machine (175 in 1927, 184 in 1931), Pujols is arguably the better slugger: Gehrig stroked over 40 home runs five times in his 17 year career, while Pujols has hit over 40 six times in ten years. If Pujols stays health, he’ll add to that record next year and quite possibly for many years after. Additionally, Pujols’ slugging numbers are breathtaking: he has led the league four times in ten seasons, Gehrig did it twice.

Stan “The Man” Musial remains the most iconic Cardinal (as Pujols readily admits), but he never had Pujols’ power (Musial stroked 475 home runs in 22 seasons, Pujols has hit 401 in ten), or his RBI potential — Musial had ten seasons of plus-100 RBIs, which Pujols has already equaled. But what Musial lacked in power he made up for in hits: he led the N.L. in hits in six seasons, Pujols has led his league once. Pujols’ power is Willie Mays’ power: Mays hit 40-plus home runs six times in 22 years, Pujols has done it five times in ten. Pujols’ strike out rate compares favorably with Henry Aaron’s and his power is similar. Aaron hit 30-plus home runs in 15 of his 22 seasons, a mark that Pujols could equal (with that important caveat — if he stays healthy) in five years. And Pujols hits for a higher average.

While feeding a comparison compulsion is a pastime for baseball fanatics, it has its rewards — it compels us to understand just how great the truly great were: Ted Williams led the majors in walks six times, Pujols has never done it once, though Pujols will undoubtedly eclipse Williams’ RBI totals. Then too, while pitchers fear Pujols, they were petrified by Williams (who led the A.L in walks eight times); that, or Williams had the better eye (or both). But Pujols (on the other hand) has a much better eye than Frank Robinson, who sported high OBPs — but absolutely hated to walk. Robinson won the MVP twice, Pujols has done it three times. Mel Ott (underrated and below-the-radar Mel Ott) was a horse, playing and playing and playing without injury year after year. Pujols will outhit Ott, but he’ll have to stay healthy to equal his total games mark. Oh, and Ott knew how to walk and (arguably) had a better eye at the plate. But just barely. And while Pujols does not have the power of Barry Bonds, he could add something (and this year) that Bonds never had — a Triple Crown.

So while Nats fans justly mourn the loss of a potentially great pitcher (and a pitcher for the Washington Nationals, no less), they might take modest solace that — at least when the St. Louis Cardinals visit D.C. — they can watch one of the very greatest players who ever played the game. Pujols is so good that he is not only drawing comparisons to Ruth and Gehrig and Musial and Williams (and maybe half-a-dozen others), he has already equaled or surpassed many of their more celebrated stats. Albert Pujols is already the Lou Gehrig of St. Louis and he already has Hall of Fame numbers — and he’s only getting started.

Adam Dunn’s “Statistics”

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Jim Riggleman & Company have a lot to think about over the next few months, not the least of which is how to improve the Nats sloppy defense — first in the majors in errors — and what to do with Adam Dunn. The two are closely related, particularly given the questions being raised about Dunn’s prowess at first base. Ben Goessling (in “The Goessling Game“), focused on Dunn’s defense in his latest blog, noting that the Nationals “have made no secret of the fact that Dunn’s defense is the main thing they’re still evaluating when deciding whether to give the 30-year-old a contract extension.” But Goesseling praises Dunn for making the successful switch to first base, implying that his defensive play has been one of the surprises of the year: “To Dunn’s credit, he’s improved markedly at first base this season, becoming a slightly below-average fielder instead of an anemic one,” Goessling writes.

Goessling isn’t the only one praising Dunn. Over at SI, Joe Sheehan provides a list of players who are among the worst defensive players in the game (Yuniesky Betancourt, Brad Hawpe, Hanley Ramirez, Andre Eithier and Ryan Braun), while noting that Dunn “has adapted well” to being moved from the outfield to first base “showing good hands if limited range.” Dunn’s successful shift is unusual, Sheehan writes: “It’s rare that a player can move to first base and increase his value, but Dunn has done so.” So if Goessling and Sheehan are impressed with Dunn — and if the big guy from Texas is ripping the cover off the ball (and he is) — what’s the problem? Well, the problem seems to be Friday night in Philadelphia, when Dunn’s lack of range hurt him in getting to a ball stroked down the right field line and where the big man’s size limited his stretch to snag a ball thrown by Ian Desmond. The Goessling-Sheehan notes on Dunn are now the subject of some attention on the web (as MLB Trade Rumors runs through the Nats’ first base options) and increased questions over the utility of “defensive stats.”

So  . . . how concerned should the Nats be with Adam Dunn’s defense? Dunn has made seven errors in 116 games playing first for the Nats, a statistic that actually reflects the common judgment that Dunn is a below average first baseman. Derrick Lee has made six errors (in 106 games), while Joey Votto has just four in 112 games. Lee and Votto ought to be considered the class of the league (Lee is tall, agile with lots of range; Votto is young and tough with great leaping ability), but the best in baseball (at least according to this single, and admittedly limited, “errors and chances” measure) might well be Friars’ first sacker Adrian Gonzalez who seems to have everything — agility, range, height and experience. Gonzalez has just five errors in 118 games, and he’s there, day-in and day-out. Which is not to mention Albert Pujols (with just three errors), who has everything that Gonzalez has (but perhaps not as much agility), or James Loney (a Gonzalez without the range, it seems to me) — with an astonishingly nearly perfect three errors in 122 games.

So the critics are right: Adam Dunn is an average to below-average first baseman: he ranks below Derrick Lee, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez and James Loney, is on a par with Atlanta’s gimpy and aging Troy Glaus, but is a ton better than either Arizona’s Adam LaRoche (10 errors in 112 games) or Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard — whose defensive gaffes are legendary (11 errors in 101 games). The problem with all of this is that defensive stats don’t really tell us a lot, which is why Sabermetricians have struggled to come up with better ways of measuring defensive prowess. But, as Tim Marchman noted recently, the statistical models are controversial, contradictory, and often fly in the face of common sense. In truth, it’s nearly impossible to compare Dunn’s defense to Pujols’ or Loney’s or anyone elses, because only Dunn offers a glove to Ian Desmond — whose lack of experience regularly (viz. Friday night in Philly), makes Dunn look like Adam LaRoche (whose own shortstop, Stephen Drew, throws baseballs as naturally as the rest of us eat chicken).

That’s not to say that fans of Adam Dunn should ignore his defensive woes, or refuse to admit them. It’s only to note that, when it comes to Dunn (and anyone else playing in the field), defensive stats will either only confirm what we already know (do we really need a raft of stats to tell us that Adam Dunn lacks range, experience and agility), or will stand as a confusing single data point in an overall picture (Colin Wyers over at Baseball Prospectus points this out, and pretty convincingly). Which leads us back to where we started — with this single question: do Adam Dunn’s offensive stats (his home run, OBP and RBI totals) compensate enough for his defensive woes to make Riggleman and Rizzo think about signing him for a few more years? The answer, as always, depends on the option — of whether Dunn’s prospective replacement will improve the Nats defense so markedly that they can live without the 40 or so home runs that the Texan will hit.

Ben Goessling says that the Nats are thinking along these lines, by considering Carlos Pena as a useful replacement for Dunn at first. Pena has the same kind of pop (39 home runs last year, 46 in 2007), and while he’s more experienced and more agile at first, it’s hard to argue that he’s actually better defensively (10 errors in 133 games in 2009). Perhaps more importantly, it’s hard to argue that Pena’s more resilent. The savvy Tampa first sacker sat out most of 2005 and nearly all of 2006 with injuries, is known to be plagued by an inexplicable June injury bug — and has been hit with broken fingers, pulled hamstrings and swollen foots. And Adam Dunn? The last time that Adam Dunn had any kind of injury at all (knock wood, right now, and knock it hard) was 2003. Over the course of the last seven seasons, Dunn has played in (count ’em) 161, 160, 160, 152, 158, 158 and 159 games. That’s the real stat, the one that matters. In comparison, in that same stretch, Carlos Pena played in 131, 142, 79, 18 (18!), 148, 139 and 135 games. Nearly a full season less. Maybe Pena is better at first. Maybe. But it’s hard to make an error when you’re sitting on the bench.

So if all of this is true, what’s all the hubbub about Adam Dunn? And why, now, are we suddenly hearing about Carlos Pena? The answer might be that the Nats really do want to get better defensively — and they think the way to do that is to replace their 40 homers a year guy with a player (like Pena) with a puzzling history of nagging injuries. Or maybe, just maybe, all of the complaints about Dunn’s fielding have nothing to do with his defense at all. After all, there seems to be a trend here, and it has more to do with the bottom line than booted balls — and should be perceptible to anyone who pays close attention: when the Washington Nationals’ front office starts talking about replacing Dunn’s below-average glove at first base, what they’re really talking about is replacing his big salary in the accountant’s book.

Billy Ripken’s Error

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

It’s bad enough that Baltimore Bird Billy Ripken had to play in the shadow of his brother (which seems to bother him not in the least) — but he has for some time been notorious as the subject of one of baseball’s great “error cards.” In 1989, Fleer’s trading card entry featured Billy Ripken standing innocently before a camera, bat in hand, in his home uniform. Nothing controversial there. But written on the knob end of his bat were two words: “F*ck F*ace” — an “error card” well worth keeping and of some, though minimal value: it now sells, in mint condition, for something close to $30. It’s still too much money, if you ask me, but such are the ways of collectors. The only question that remains is: was the card an “error?” Or did the photographer and Ripken (and Fleer, for that matter) know the words were there — and decided ‘well, what the hell,’ we’ll print the card anyway? It’s possible you know: error cards bring in big money, and there’s no question that some error printings are not “error” printings at all.

The story of the Ripken “error card” is an old story, but it’s worth repeating here: if for no other reason than to point the way to our once-in-a-while entry on baseball’s other pasttime — collecting pieces of cardboard. The inimitable “Snopes” — the website that spends its time separating fact from fiction — clears up the difficulty. According to Snopes, while Ripken initially claimed that the words on the end of the bat were scrawled there without his knowledge (and presumably by a teammate), the truth is that Ripken had put the words there himself. Ripken eventually fessed up: “I got a dozen bats in front of my locker during the 1988 season. I pulled the bats out, model R161, and noticed–because of the grain patterns–that they were too heavy. But I decided I’d use one of them, at the very least, for my batting practice bat,” Ripken remembers. “Now I had to write something on the bat. At Memorial Stadium, the bat room was not too close to the clubhouse, so I wanted to write something that I could find immediately if I looked up and it was 4:44 and I had to get out there on the field a minute later and not be late. There were five big grocery carts full of bats in there and if I wrote my number 3, it could be too confusing. So I wrote ‘F–k’ Face on it.”

Yoy.

That isn’t the end of the story, of course. When the card was printed (there might have been about 100,000 copies in all), Fleer noticed that something was amiss and used wite-out on its future printings, before simply reverting to that tried and true format: it blacked out the offending words on its future press runs (bringing down the price of the card, of course). It’s not as if no one noticed: in the months following the Fleer printing, collectors had spiked the error card’s price to some $500 (the price has now returned from orbit). Ripken continues the story: “After the season was over, in early January, I got a call from our PR guy Rick Vaughn. He said, ‘Billy, we have a problem.’ And he told me what was written on the bat and I couldn’t believe it. I went to a store and saw the card and it all came back to me. We were in Fenway Park and I had just taken my first round of BP. I threw my bat to the third base side and strolled around the bases. When I was coming back, right before I got up to hit again, I remember a guy tapping me on the shoulder asking if he could take my picture. Never once did I think about it. I posed for the shot and he took it.”

Pretty interesting, all in all. As these things go. “I can’t believe the people at Fleer couldn’t catch that,” Ripken says. “I mean, they certainly have to have enough proofreaders to see it. I think not only did they see it, they enhanced it. That writing on that bat is way too clear. I don’t write that neat. I think they knew that once they saw it, they could use the card to create an awful lot of stir.” Billy says he has no idea where the bat is today. “If I were to guess, I would say it probably got lost after someone used it in a game. Probably a guy like Brady Anderson because he choked up so he could use a heavier bat.” And he finishes the story: “Fleer sent me some of the cards out of the goodness of their heart. I autographed them and used them for my gifts to my groomsman in my wedding . . . I figured, at the time, it was better than giving them a set of cufflinks. I think I devalued the cards by signing them though.”

Those Are The Details and Now For The Headlines: The 2010 edition of Topps baseball set is out, and has been for some time. Last year’s entry was just so-so, though its Heritage cards (a reprint of the 1960 set — with current players) was a hit. The 1960 set must be the most popular — something that anyone old enough to remember will agree with. But this year’s set is a keeper — with an attractive full-color design, a killer font emblazoning the team names and a PR campaign intended to attract new fans. There’s a million card giveaway, with a promise of a mint 1952 set for the winner. Not surprisingly, Topps features its Albert Pujols card in its major promotions. And it’s a beaut . . .

Upper Deck has also released its 2010 edition (of course). Last August, the controversial company (with a history of lawsuits and internal wars) lost the right to produce MLB licensed cards. Major League Baseball gave Topps exclusive rights to use its logos as the “official” card of the MLB, which gave Topps a leg-up in their competition for the hearts of collectors. Upper Deck was undeterred: it signed an agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association — producing a 2010 set that (in the humble opinion of those who follow these things) is near-beer compared to what Topps produces. MLB hit Upper Deck with a lawsuit in February, alleging trademark infringement.

And so the “Cardboard Wars” continue.

Rockies Even Series; Trolleys Stun Redbirds

Friday, October 9th, 2009

The Colorado Rockies held off the rallying Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday to take the second game in their five game series, 5-4. The key for the Purples was an unlikely two run homer off the bat of catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who hadn’t had a four base knock since May. Torrealba’s knock was complemented by solid pitching from Rockies’ starter Aaron Cook and bullpen aces Jose Contreras, Matt Belisle, Rafael Betancourt, Franklin Morales and all-world closer Huston Street (above). The Heltons, who won during the regular season by counting on the bats of an unlikely mix of new heroes, depended on the bat of yet another unknown newcomer: in this case it was left fielder Carlos “Cargo” Gonzalez. Gonzalez — a former Showboat prospect and a throw-in in the off season Oakland-Colorado Matt Holliday-for-Huston Street trade — spent much of the last two seasons in triple-A, while Denver’s front office waited for him to pan out. Gonzalez got his chance this year, after a series of injuries made room for him in the Colorado outfield. On Thursday, the fleet Venezuelan went 3-5 to spark the otherwise sleepy Rockies’ line up.

When the Oakland A’s got Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies in the Huston Street trade back in November of 2008, they thought their search for a big bat was over: the Stillwater, Oklahoma native was a three time all star and three time silver slugger and he’d been named the 2007 World Series MVP. But Holliday didn’t seem to fit in in Oakland (he hit an otherwise anemic .286 with 11 home runs in 93 games), and on July 24, 2009 Oakland A’s guru Billy Beane swapped him to St. Louis for three top prospects: Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson. In St. Louis, Holliday tore the cover off the ball — hitting .353 with 13 home runs in just 63 games, and propelling the Redbirds into the post season. He was just what Tony La Russa ordered.

Holliday’s post season experience gave St. Louis the confidence they needed against L.A. With Albert Pujols and Holliday in the middle of their order and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright their big guns as starters, St. Louis was set to head into L.A. to face Joe Torre’s big bats. L.A. took the first game, with a surprisingly shaky outing by Carpenter. But St. Louis came back to dominate the second game: and it looked like the Redbirds were set to even the series at one game apiece. But with two outs in the ninth ining and St. Louis leading, the otherwise sure-handed Holliday dropped a sinking liner off the bat of first sacker James Loney to give the Dodgers new life. Casey Blake then walked and former Nats Ronnie Belliard singled home the tying run, before Mark Loretta’s short centerfield single provided the 3-2 walk off win. “It’s tough to swallow,” Holliday said after the game. “Obviously, I feel terrible. But I just missed the ball. It hit my stomach. I think I can catch a ball hit right at me.” The Trolleys now lead the series, 2-0.

The Case for Adam Dunn

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Garrett Mock couldn’t hold the Phillies — giving up five runs in the first two innings — and Phillies ace Cliff Lee pitched a shutout as Philadelphia blanked the Nats 5-0 in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Mock appeared to lose some of his shakiness over the next four innings, pitching six innings in all while giving up seven hits. But the story of the night was Lee, who was masterful: six hits over nine innings with nine strikeouts. Lee threw 124 pitches, 84 of them for strikes. Philadelphia’s scoring included a litter of doubles: given up to Rollins, Ibanez and Ruiz. Phuzzie right fielder Jason Werth once again proved to be a Nats’ killer, honing in on Nats’ pitching with a 3 for 4 night.

Down On Half Street: Josh Willingham continues to struggle at the plate. His last solid game was on August 25, when he went 4 for 4 against the Cubs in Chicago. Willingham is 6 for September: well below the Mendoza line. Willingham’s OBP is still at .389, but that’s thirty points below the .420 peak he reached in mid-August . . . Ryan Zimmerman has also cooled off, hitting just .200 in his last ten games. Maybe it’s the long season: with under twenty games remaining and the pressures of playing on the road, it’s going to be difficult for the Nats to come up with enough runs to beat the likes of Cliff Lee . . . with all the troubles Nats’ pitching has had this year, fans may be taking the hitting for granted. But Willingham and Zimmerman are not the only ones suffering through an insufferable September. Cristian Guzman (who has been up and down all year) is 7 for 35 in September — an autumnal .200 . . .  

The mini-slump in the middle of the Nats’ order seems to have had no impact on Adam Dunn, who is batting a nifty .333 over the last ten games (13 for 39). Dunn continues to hit the long ball — he hit his 37th in Florida and is line to hit his 40th before this thing is over. Dunn might well be the Nats biggest surprise this season, with a .282 batting average and an OBP of .410. Those numbers are not only pretty good, they’re better than Ryan Howard’s numbers in Philadelphia. Who would have guessed that? Howard has hit one more homer than Dunn, but his batting average stands at .272 and his OBP is .350 — well below Dunn’s marks. Dunn hasn’t nearly equalled the best of Howard’s best years (Howard was the NL MVP in 2006, with 58 homers and and 149 RBIs), but Howard’s numbers have fallen off this year. Then too, you can whine all you want about Dunn’s strike outs, but Howard is worse: Dunn has 162 strike outs to Howard’s 168. Dunn has actually cut down on his strike outs, while Howard is about the same. Dunn also has the better eye: he has walked 104 times to Howard’s 65. So who’s the better hitter: Dunn or Howard?

Howard is on the front end of a three year contract that is paying him $54 million. He will make $15 million this year, $19 million next year and $20 million in 2011. Dunn is in his first year of a two year contract that will pay him $8 million this year and $12 next year. Dunn is hitting better than Howard, and at half the price. Compared to Howard, Dunn is a bargain. In fact, Dunn is a bargain when compared to a lot of the league’s first basemen. Chicago’s Derrick Lee has a better average than Dunn and fewer strike outs (100 in 127 games), but he also has fewer homers — though not by much: 37 for Dunn, 33 for Lee. And Lee is four years older. Lee has the better glove, of course (and it’s much better) — but it’s not a stretch to say that Dunn is a comparable hitter to the Cubbie’s first baseman and, in some areas, his numbers are actually better. Lee is getting $13 million this year in the fourth year of a five year deal that pays him the same amount every year. That’s $5 million more than Dunn. Want some more?

If you compare Dunn’s numbers with Chokes first baseman Carlos Delgado (a hell of a hitter in his prime) over the last three years, Dunn is better. And after 17 seasons, Delgado is starting the break down: he’s played all of 26 games this year and he’s 37 years old — all for about $12 million (four million more than Dunn). There’s no guarantee, of course, that Dunn will hit the ball next year like he did this year. But he’s only 29 with (arguably) his best years yet to come. So here’s what this means: it’s time for the Nats to start thinking about giving Dunn a contract extension that, even if it doesn’t put him on a par with the league’s best first basemen (like Albert Pujols), reflects the reality of major league baseball: that it’s hard to find hitters that pump forty homers into the seats and more than 100 RBIs across the plate — and it’s even harder to keep them.

Albert’s Walk Off… and “Buck’s Plan”

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

albert-pujols

John Lannan’s stellar eight inning performance on Friday night — which should have led to a Nats’ win — was reversed with one swing of Albert Pujols’ bat in the ninth inning, as our Anacostia Nine lost to the St Louis Cardinals 3-2. But after the game, it wasn’t Pujols’ walk-off home run, given up by Jason Bergman, that Lannan regretted, but his own eighth inning pitch that pinch hitter Khalil Greene muscled out of Busch Stadium that tied the game at two. Greene, who has struggled all season (and is hitting near the Mendoza line) came to the plate with Lannan clearly in control, but lifted a Lannan pitch that was up in the zone into the Busch Stadium bleachers. The homer shocked Lannan as much as it energized the St. Louis crowd. Without that homer, Lannan speculated, he might have made it into the ninth: and the Nats’ loss might easily have counted as a win.

Lannan was nearly spectacular: reversing a series of indifferent outings. He threw only 91 pitches, more than two-thirds of them for strikes. “That was more like what we saw earlier in the year,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said of Lannan’s performance. “He was outstanding against a good hitting ballclub. He got a lot of ground balls. He pitched a great ballgame. He got behind on Khalil Greene, and Khalil has a little power. And he had to put one in there, and Khalil took advantage of it. That was the big blow.” In fact, the big blow came one inning later, against Jason Bergman, who served up a classic in-the-wheelhouse pitch to Pujols, who rarely misses. Bergman’s third pitch of the night was his last, as Pujols’ jacked just one under the second deck in left field.

Down On Half Street: Last Monday, “Baseball Tonight’s” Buck Showalter presented his plan to realign major league baseball, arguing that the “integrity of the MLB schedule could use an overhaul.” The way to do that, Showalter argued, is to get rid of two weak teams (the Ray and Marlins), do something about the DH (either keep it or get rid of it) and realign the league into four divisions of seven teams each. The divisions would be renamed for Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson. Each team would play every other team exactly six times: three home and three away and because the teams are geographically aligned, the economic savings would be obvious. Not bad. It’s a compelling idea and shouldn’t dismissed. So watch the video, it’s entertaining. The former Rangers’ skipper is right about baseball’s current problems: the schedule is badly unbalanced, attendance is weak in at least four markets and it makes no sense for (say) the Red Sox and Yankees to play each other eighteen times.

There’s been a lot of comment about Showalter’s plan, most of it negative. Umpbump points out that Showalter’s plan worsens the problem it’s intended to solve: “None of the alleged benefits of these new divisions that Buck and [Steve] Berthiaume spend so much time praising will come to pass at all if each team plays every other team exactly 6 times. Teams will have to fly farther, more often, fans will have even more games outside their time zone they’ll have to stay up late for, and regional rivalries will be much reduced because the fans will only see that rival team three times a year.” Bleacher Report, meanwhile, rightly reports the obvious: “Some of the teams who don’t win now would go out of the frying pan and into the fire. The Nationals would not only still have to compete with the Mets and Phils, but they would pick up the Yanks and Red Sox as division rivals.” The Fair Ball notes that convincing the owners in Tampa and Miami that they should cash it in for the good of baseball is probably not going to work. (Truth is, if I had my way, I’d get rid of the Toronto Blue Jays, but only because I can’t stand them.)

Buck

Realignment in baseball is worth doing, but radical realignment isn’ possible — and it isn’t necessary. It’s time to kick the Brewers back into the American League (to help resolve the problems caused by the unbalanced schedule), get rid of the D.H. (add an extra player to each team’s roster in five years, to satisfy the players’ union), work with weak franchises to ensure the building of new stadiums (like Tampa), negotiate an increase in the luxury tax on high salary teams (and require recipients of the tax to spend it on player development) and allow teams to trade draft picks in the first year player draft. These are fairly modest proposals and they’ve been heard before: their chief elegance is that they’re actually doable.  

Still, there’s something about the Showalter proposal that is oddly compelling. It keeps you awake at night, thinking about the possibilities. Is it true that putting the Nats in “The Babe Ruth Division” consigns them to interminable mediocrity, with little hope of ever seeing the postseason? I wondered this last night, eyes staring at the ceiling, as I heard St. Louis fans cheer as Albert Pujols circled the bases. And I began to think about what the Nats might do in “The Babe Ruth Division,” say, next year. And it occurred to me. It might not be so bad. So instead of grouping the teams alphabetically (as Showalter had done in his presentation), I ranked them in order of predicted finish for the 2010 season.

So. Whaddayathink?

The Babe Ruth Division: 2010 Season

1. New York Yankees
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. New York Mets
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Washington Nationals

6. Baltimore Orioles
7. Boston Red Sox

Pretty good prediction, eh?