Albert Pujols (STL): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 5 RBI.
Henry Aaron, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, and now Albert Pujols. After striking out in his first at-bat, he blasted number 699 on a 1-2 fastball from Andrew Heaney, sending it 434 feet over the wall in left to give the Red Birds the lead.
With two on in the fourth, Dave Roberts called on Phil Bickford to replace Andrew Heaney. Lefty, righty splits, who cares. The 42-year-old certainly didn’t last night. He watched a couple of sliders float by and then found a pitch to his liking, a hanging slider that caught too much of the plate. One more swing, one more home run, and the fourth player in history to reach 700.
The breadth of La Máquina’s career is remarkable. When he hit his first home run over two decades ago, George Bush was just a few months into his first term in office. Forget streaming services, VHS and Blockbusters were aplenty, AOL instant messaging was only a few years old, and dinosaurs walked the earth.
Three MVPs and over 3,000 hits later, the man is still going strong. Not only that but he’s thriving in the midst of a resurgence no one saw coming, his first .800 OPS season since 2012. His career is, simply put, one of the best any of us will ever see. And to think it all began as a 13th-round pick. One of the clubs that could have landed Pujols all those years ago was the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Fernando Arango, one of their area scouts in Missouri, was very keen on the 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic. Instead, they drafted Jason Pruett with the first pick of the 13th round. Arango, beside himself with grief, quit. And the rest, as they say, was history.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Friday:
Ji-hwan Bae (PIT): 1-3, BB, 2 SB.
Bae, the Pirates’ 11th-ranked prospect, made his debut last night and might be an interesting name to keep an eye on. A left-handed hitter, the South Korean native hit .289 with a .792 OPS in 108 games with Triple-A Indianapolis. He only hit 8 home runs but he did steal 30 bases with a 16.9% K rate so there are some interesting skills here. Meanwhile, Bryan Reynolds knocked out his 25th of the year and boosted his OPS to .807 in what was a narrow 6-5 loss to the Cubs.
Will Brennan (CLE): 1-3, 2 RBI, 2 SB.
The Guardians called up Brennan three days ago and he’s since started and hit seventh. In 93 games with Triple-A Columbus, the lefty outfielder hit .316 with nine home runs and 15 steals. He also struck out at just a 12.2% clip. Similar to Bae, Brennan hasn’t shown much power but he has a definite penchant for making contact and has some speed too.
Taylor Ward (LAA): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI.
One of this year’s breakouts, Ward is looking to finish on a strong note as he entered the night hitting .333 with a .864 OPS during 19 games in September. In his first at-bat, the righty clobbered a 91 MPH cutter from rookie Louie Varland for his first of the night. He got the better of Varland again in his third at-bat blasting a 3-2 fastball to straightaway center for his 21st of the year. The former first-round pick out of Fresno State is now hitting .272 with a .817 OPS.
Jack Suwinski (PIT): 1-1, HR, R, RBI, 3 BB, SB.
September has not been kind to Suwinski as he entered the night hitting .164 with a .454 OPS in the month of September. The 24-year-old rookie has shown above-average pop as this was his 17th in 332 PA, but a 31.7% K rate is the red flag. The stolen base seems more like an anomaly since he’s never swiped more than seven at any level in the minors.
Adley Rutschman (BAL): 3-3, 2B, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI, BB, SB.
The future All-Star has put together a remarkable second half of the season. Among all qualifiers, he’s tied with fellow rookie Joey Meneses for eleventh with a .391 wOBA. And how about an even 17.1% K rate and 17.1% BB rate? His 12th round-tripper came hitting lefty against José Urquidy on a 92 MPH fastball driven 407 feet just over the leaping try of Chas McCormick in center.
Lars Nootbaar (STL): 3-5, 2B, HR, R, 3 RBI.
The only real knock on Nootbaar is that he’s hitting just .227. But that might seem a little harsh considering his BABIP is just .239, so maybe there’s some bad luck there. Regardless, his .343 OBP is excellent, and it’s buoyed by a sturdy O-Swing of 24.5% and SwStr% of 9.2%. An eighth-round pick by the Cardinals out of USC in 2018, his 14th home run came in the fifth of last night’s bludgeoning of the Dodgers on a hanging slider from Phil Bickford and was absolutely crushed at 440 feet with an EV of 113.0. His OPS stands at .800 on the nose.
Jorge Mateo (BAL): 1-2, 2 SB.
He’s up to 33 stolen bases. It’s going to be a tight finish to see who comes out second to Jon Berti, who currently leads with 37; Randy Arozarena, who had a huge night with a home run and 6 RBI, is right behind Mateo at 32, followed by Tommy Edman and Cedric Mullins, both at 31. This was Mateo’s first full season and while his glove and speed are terrific, the bat is decidedly not, as he’s tied with Yuli Gurriel for eighth worst among qualifiers with a .283 wOBA. He’ll be 28 next season and entering his first year of arbitration, so it’ll interesting to see what the Orioles choose to do.
Bubba Thompson (TEX): 2-4, SB.
Stolen base number 17 in just 44 games, so the 24-year-old rookie is doing an impressive Billy Hamilton impersonation. While he’s hitting .284, it comes with a dreadful .176 xBA and .215 xwOBA. Yikes. To be fair, there are bunt attempts involved, but what we’ve seen so far makes him seem more like a fourth outfielder/defensive replacement type of player. But who cares about that! He’s a regular right now and if you’re scrambling for steals in the final week, he can certainly help.
Alec Bohm (PHI): 3-4, 3B, 2 R, RBI, BB.
The Phillies teed off on Jake Odorizzi last night; Rhys Hoskins hit his 29th home run and 30th double of the year. For Bohm, he’s now hitting .292, good for 18th among qualifiers. The over-the-fence power hasn’t been there, with just 12 home runs in 582 PA, but the 25-year-old has made do with a D.J. LeMahieu-esque type of season. The 6’5″ righty has some raw power that he’s yet to tap into if you’re inclined to consider scouting reports from when he was first drafted back in 2018. Maybe he develops more on that front next year as this was only his second season with over 400 PA. Who knows, maybe there’s another gear he can reach.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)