Daily Dose: Pujols helps Wainwright to 18

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Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright led the Cardinals to their NL-leading 84th victory Wednesday, with Pujols smacking a pair of homers and Wainwright shutting out the Brewers for seven innings. St. Louis is now 7-2 this month, 27-8 since August 1, and 34-15 since the All-Star break, and suddenly looks like the clear team to beat in the National League after sitting at just 41-38 after three months.
Pujols is six homers ahead of Mark Reynolds for the MLB lead with 47, is one behind Prince Fielder for the league lead in RBIs with 124, and trails just Hanley Ramirez for the batting title. However, the odds of a Triple Crown are very slim, because getting his .331 batting average past Ramirez and his .357 mark would be extremely difficult in just four weeks. The bum will probably have to settle for his second straight MVP.
Wainwright may also be headed for some hardware after becoming the season’s first 18-game winner. Along with the shiny win total that voters love Wainwright leads the NL with 205 innings and ranks fourth in ERA at 2.59. Rotation-mate Chris Carpenter has the league’s best ERA at 2.16, but has thrown 38 fewer innings than Wainwright. Tim Lincecum has a 2.34 ERA in nearly as many innings, but is “only” 13-5.
While the Cardinals emerge as the league’s best team and the Cy Young race goes down to the wire, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Ryan Madson replaced Brad Lidge in the midst of a save situation Tuesday and got the call from the outset Wednesday, closing out a 6-5 victory with a scoreless frame. Charlie Manuel hasn’t officially announced a change yet, but after five months of bad pitching Lidge may have finally forced his manager’s hand. Keep a close eye on how the bullpen shakes out over the next couple games, but Madson is a must pickup.
* Texas knocked Fausto Carmona out of the game in the first inning Wednesday and then Scott Feldman cruised to his 16th victory with seven shutout innings. Nothing in Feldman’s track record or secondary numbers suggest that he’s anywhere near this good, but he’s shown zero signs of slowing down and is now 16-4 with a 3.46 ERA in 164 innings. He’ll likely be on my “busts” list for 2010, but it’s been quite a ride.
* Los Angeles’ rotation depth is coming in handy now that Randy Wolf was scratched from his scheduled Friday start with elbow soreness. Joe Torre said that Wolf might be able to rejoin the rotation after missing just one turn, but meanwhile Hiroki Kuroda will start in his place against the Giants. Wolf has a long history of injuries and is just one out away from his most innings since 2003, so there’s cause for concern.
AL Quick Hits: Brian Roberts doubled Wednesday to become just the fourth player of all time with 50-plus doubles in three seasons … Joba Chamberlain was lifted after just three innings and 56 pitches Wednesday as the Yankees continued to suppress his workload … Roy Halladay took a complete-game loss Wednesday, finishing his MLB-high seventh start … Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder) made his final rehab start Wednesday at Single-A, allowing one run in 6.2 innings … Adam Jones’ (ankle) year is officially over after he was moved to the 60-day disabled list Wednesday … Jeff Niemann got stuck with another no-decision Wednesday despite allowing one run in seven innings … Brandon Morrow will come up from Triple-A to start Friday, but can’t be trusted yet … Francisco Liriano will work out of the bullpen after coming off the shelf Wednesday … B.J. Upton left Wednesday’s game with discomfort in the ankle that he injured a collision last week.
NL Quick Hits: Jose Reyes (hamstring) said Wednesday that he’s still trying to return this year, but don’t count on it … Wandy Rodriguez hurled another gem Wednesday and has allowed zero or one earned run in 11 of 13 starts … Tommy Hanson tossed eight shutout innings Wednesday before Rafael Soriano blew what would have been his 10th win … Ubaldo Jimenez (hamstring) will throw a bullpen session Thursday in preparation for his start this weekend … Tim Lincecum (back) said Wednesday that he hopes to avoid a second missed start … Kevin Kouzmanoff is expected to miss at least a few games after injuring his calf Tuesday … Dexter Fowler returned from the disabled list Wednesday, but wasn’t in the starting lineup … Huston Street (biceps) is now considered unlikely to pitch before next week … Matt Holliday left Wednesday’s game with a bruised knee … Cliff Lee won Wednesday, but struggled while allowing five runs over seven innings … Jose Valverde has been found to be 15 months older than his listed birth date, making him 32 years old.

Alex Rodriguez credits Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein with Cubs’ turnaround

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 13:  Tom Ricketts, owner of the Chicago Cubs, celebrates after the Chicago Cubs defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in game four of the National League Division Series to win the NLDS 3-1 at Wrigley Field on October 13, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago Cubs defeat the St. Louis Cardinals with a score of 6 to 4.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Getty Images

It isn’t difficult to see the fingerprints left by Cubs’ president Tom Ricketts and general manager Theo Epstein on the club’s remarkable 2016 season. In a piece for FOXSports.com, former Yankee Alex Rodriguez highlighted the duo’s effectiveness in liberating the Cubs from a five-year losing streak and six-year postseason drought, citing both the unrelenting work ethic and passion that Ricketts and Epstein brought to the club as major factors in their success.

Rodriguez’s first brush with sabermetric savant and all-around baseball wizard Theo Epstein came in 2003, when the then- 27-year-old All-Star was eyeing a deal with the Red Sox. The Major League Baseball Players Association eventually nixed the trade, and the Rangers’ young shortstop was sent to the Yankees shortly thereafter, but not before Rodriguez glimpsed the inner workings of Epstein’s mind.

What I remember best about that time was watching Theo furiously scribbling out the Red Sox lineup for the upcoming season on a room-service napkin. That’s when I saw Theo’s baseball mind at work. I saw he had a passion for the game, a depth of knowledge, and a thirst to be great. Theo’s passion was contagious. We were three 20-somethings convinced we were about to turn baseball upside down together. Though I never got a chance to work with Theo, I knew then that he was going to be a force.

A-Rod also referenced Ricketts’ thorough approach to rebuilding the organization. Ricketts, who purchased the franchise for $875 million in 2009, first made it his mission to transform Wrigley Field into a comfortable and enticing playing environment, then targeted top-tier management to run the show behind the scenes. With Ricketts fully backing Epstein’s transformative approaches — including an overhaul of the Cubs’ farm system, investments in international player development, and a comprehensive understanding and practical application of sabermetric advances — the Cubs’ path to a 97-win season in 2015 seemed a natural consequence of the pair’s hard work.

This year, the attention has been even more intensely focused on the Cubs’ elusive third World Series title. Rodriguez, however, believes that winning a championship is secondary to the strides Ricketts and Epstein have taken with the club.

Together, Ricketts and Epstein have built one of the greatest franchises in baseball and transformed 1060 W. Addison St. It’s a task that no one could quite get right for a hundred years. While four more wins would put a giant exclamation point on five years of focused work and determination, I won’t worry if this team doesn’t win the World Series in the next nine days.

Mets expected to pick up 2017 option for Jose Reyes

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22:  Jose Reyes #7 of the New York Mets celebrates after hitting a game tying two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies Citi Field on September 22, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News reports that the Mets are expected to pick up the 2017 option for Reyes, but they haven’t done it yet. The option will be worth the major league minimum salary ($507,500), as the Rockies will continue to pay down the remainder of Reyes’ $41 million remaining on his contract.

The Mets signed Reyes after the Rockies released him in June. He had a .659 OPS in Colorado but improved to a .769 OPS in 279 plate appearances with the Mets, mostly playing third base in place of the injured David Wright. Bringing Reyes back next season will provide them more insurance at the hot corner.

Reyes, 33, served a 51-game suspension due to an offseason domestic violence incident while on vacation in Hawaii with his wife. As a result, he didn’t make his season debut until July 5, having spent some additional time in the minor leagues to get into game shape.