Off Topic: No. 5 is No. 1
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on September 27, 2006
With the Seattle Mariners out of contention, baseball can be somewhat boring at times. It can get a little bit tedious riding out the schedule until the postseason begins, but there are still some things to watch during the final week.
The race in the NL West is a good one. The Dodgers and Padres are both playing like worthy playoff combatants and giving their division a better name. Both teams are wildcard contenders as well, with the Philadelphia Phillies the main competition with four days remaining.
The NL Central is not over, however, and this is where No. 5 comes into play.
Albert Pujols is the greatest hitter I have ever seen, and honestly, it’s not close. I remember laughing after Edgar Martinez base hits back in the mid-90s. Gar was sensational, stroking liner after liner into the gaps, frustrating pitchers and prompting Dave Niehaus to spew four affectionate words back in 1992, the year Edgar won his first of two batting titles.
“I love that man,” shouted Niehaus, as Martinez roped his 50th double of the year.
Pujols has everything Martinez ever had, and then some. He’s 26 years old and getting better every season. The former 12th rounder possesses blue-chip plate discipline reminiscent of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. His batting eye is as good as there is in the game, reminding Yankees great Phil Rizzuto of the stories he heard as a child about how unbelievably great Joe Jackson’s batting eye was.
Pujols’ manager Tony LaRussa summed up his first baseman last spring with this:
“There isn’t any combination of words,” said LaRussa.
No, Tony, you are wrong. The six words you just muttered, will do just fine, thank you.
There really isn’t a way to describe what Pujols has done in six years as a big leaguer. He’s breaking records left and right, hits anything and everything, lefies, righties, fastballs, curves, sliders, change-ups, screwballs, knuckleballs, whatever, and is the absolute master of making adjustments between at-bats.
Case in point, Wednesday night versus San Diego.
Pujols faced Cla Meredith on Monday, fanning in a key situation to lead San Diego to a big win. Meredith, a hard-throwing submariner started off Pujols with a fastball away for strike one, came inside for ball one, then got Pujols chasing for strike two and whiffed him on a fastball in.
But remember, Pujols put that in his memory bank, and opened the safe tonight in game three of their series with the Pads.
San Diego led 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth, two were out and two were on for the Cards. Bruce Bochy went and got Meredith to face Pujols – and only to face Pujols.
To reset the scenario, note that St. Louis has lost seven straight and their lead in the Central has dwindled down to two games in the loss column and Houston is as hot as any team in baseball.
Pujols strolls to the plate and Meredith confidently buzzes a fastball on the outer half for strike one… and I swear you could see Pujols winking at himself as he re-established his stance in the box. He knew.
Meredith’s 0-1 pitch was a submarine fastball middle-in and Pujols turned the cowhide into mincemeat. Busch Stadium’s Big Mac Land got another souvenir and the Cards took a 4-2 lead.
The man has no holes, no weaknesses, not at the plate. You have a 100 mph fastball? Pujols can hit it, and hit it hard. 95 mph heater with a great 80 mph change? So what. Phat Albert will look change and drive the fastball out 430 feet to right field.
There isn’t a pitch in the strike zone he can’t hit, no matter the velocity, the pitch sequence or the location – in, out, up, down.
He doesn’t swing at bad pitches, covers the entire plate like Butterbean at a free Thanksgiving dinner giveaway, and his incredible raw power and bat speed give him the tools to hit baseballs 500+ feet at 140 miles per hour.
For Mariners fans, we’ve never seen anything like this, and while that sounds, well, wrong to say because we’ve had Edgar, Junior and AROD, but Pujols is a better hitter today than any of those three ever were.
Pujols is a combination of Teddy Ballgame, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. You can make the argument, and win it, that he’s almost certain to be the greatest right-handed hitter of all time, once he hangs up the spikes.
He’s four years from 30 and has four straight 40+ homer years and has never slugged under .561. Think about that for a minute. He’s six years into his career and his worst single-season slugging percentage is .561.
His career OPS is 1.046 and his career natural OPS through games of last Sunday is 277 points higher than the league average during the six-year span. He’s never struck out more than 93 times in a season. Only once, his rookie season of 2001, has he fanned more times than he walked. He’s drawn 90 walks this season against just 49 strikeouts.
Yeah, he has 47 bombs and 49 whiffs. Amazing.
I’m not going to dive any deeper into sabermetric stats that back up how great Albert Pujols is with a bat in his hand, but I have to share this quote from one Mariners fan in response to my statement that Pujols was the best hitter the game has seen in 50 years.
“I love Edgar,” he said. “But Pujols makes him look like Alvaro Espinoza.”
What’s truly incredible about that comment is, it’s damned near true.
So while you are out there looking for something to keep your baseball jones going this upcoming month, pull for the Minnesota Twins, whoever is playing the A’s and Yankees (unless they play each other, in which case you root for ties) and for good baseball… but keep both eyes on Albert Pujols. He’s the best hitter this game has seen since Mr. Coffee met Marylin Monroe, and he might just do something to amaze you.
In fact, chances are, he will.
Don’t miss it.