Albert Pujols plays the “you never played the game!” card

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Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times has a piece about Albert Pujols. One which acknowledges the obvious — Pujols now is not what he used to be — but that he still has his value and his moments and how he’s still producing just fine for the first place Angels.

Pretty standard story for when a former all-world star ages and loses a step. And Pujols has a pretty standard retort to anyone who has the temerity to note that, no, it’s not 2008 anymore, unfortunately:

Age and mileage on his legs have, inevitably, dimmed Pujols’ brilliance. But he’s far from washed up, and said he learned to ignore critics who snipe from afar without all the facts.

“Those genius think that, why they don’t come and try and hit a ball? They’re sitting behind a desk or punching numbers in a computer or writing in the paper. That’s what their job is, to try and be negative towards the players,” he said. “But they don’t know that this game is tough. This game is not easy. You can be 100% and it’s not easy — imagine when you have injuries. At the end of my career, I will know what I have accomplished in this game. At the end of my career, then we can look back. If I can play the seven years I have left on my contract we’ll see where we’re at.”

Yeah, if only there was some objective standards — some metrics — by which one could see the decline in a baseball player’s performance and which would justify them making the innocuous and factual statement that he’s not quite as good as he once was. Sadly, no such thing exists and we’re all forced to shut up unless we actually go and face major league pitching.

This stance bugs the hell out of me. Mostly because when athletes say such things they’re railing against non-existent critics. No one with any sense or reason says that Pujols is a bad person because he can’t hit like he did when he was 27. No one thinks he’s particularly unusual in terms of his career arc and (relative) decline. To the extent his contract is criticized it’s not a personal thing — who wouldn’t take that money? — and criticism of it is leveled at the Angels for offering it, not for Pujols accepting it. Show me the “critics who snipe from afar” who say such things. Because I’m not sure who he’s talking about here.

[ RELATED: Is Pujols’ contract still worth it to the Angels? ]

More generally: we don’t live in a world in which only those who do a thing are capable of talking about that thing. No one who writes about music thinks they can play the guitar like a rock star, but they are certainly capable of talking about how a band isn’t as good as it once was. No one (well, no one with self-awareness) who writes about politics thinks they could lead a nation, but they are certainly capable of talking about a politician failing to fulfill his or her promises. And no one who writes about baseball thinks they can hit a major league fastball, but we’re certainly capable to noting when a hitter is in decline. And Albert Pujols is in decline.

If Pujols needs to compare himself to his critics in this fashion to motivate him, well, whatever works. But if he hopes to change any minds with such an approach voiced publicly, good luck.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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We’re getting closer to having no games that matter. As it stands after yesterday’s action:

  • The Cubs’ magic number to clinch the NL Central is 1;
  • The Twins’ magic number to clinch the Wild Card is 2;
  • The Red Sox’ magic number to clinch the AL East is 3;
  • The Rockies’ magic number to clinch the Wild Card is 5;
  • The Dodgers’ magic number to clinch the top seed in the NL is 2; and
  • The Indians magic number to clinch the top seed in the AL is 5.

What I’m saying is, feel free to make plans next Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Anyway: Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 11, Royals 3: All Rise. Aaron Judge hit his 49th and 50th homers of the season, tying and then breaking Mark McGwire’s single season rookie home run record. Which, now that I write that out I realize is redundant because anything a rookie does is, by definition, a single season event. Anyway: even if the games don’t matter a ton in the next few days, we can get a head start on what will likely be a very exhaustion “Judge vs. Altuve” MVP debate. And yes, let’s keep it to those parameters, because it really pisses off the Jose Ramirez and Mike Trout fans and they’re adorable.

Braves 9, Mets 2; Mets 3, Braves 2: A late September game between the Mets and the Braves is already an exercise in existential dread. A doubleheader between them seems like cruel and unusual punishment. The game story should be written by Franz Kafka with illustrations by Junji Ito. As it was, in the first game Braves starter Lucas Sims had a nice outing, pitching into the seventh and allowing only two runs. There’s some hope for 2018. In the nightcap, Seth Lugo pitched two-hit ball over six innings and Travis d'Arnaud hit the Mets’ 219th homer of the season, setting a club record. Sadly, the Big Apple in the outfield couldn’t get it up for the occasion. Look, no one was excited about this series, but you have a job to do Apple.

Nationals 3, Phillies 1Michael Taylor hit a two-run homer and Jayson Werth knocked in the other Nats run on a fielder’s choice. Starter A.J. Cole allowed one run while pitching into the sixth inning. The Nats only question for the next week is when Bryce Harper will be activated.

Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 4: Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three, snapping the Sox’ six-game winning streak. The loss is OK — Boston is gonna win the division — but some bad news came in the form of Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts each living with injuries. Nunez aggravated his right knee injury that has caused him to miss time and Betts had pain in his left wrist. Neither seem super serious but there will be updates today.

Astros 11, Rangers 2: This is that series that the Rangers didn’t want to move to Houston in exchange for playing last month’s series against the Astros in Arlington in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Paid attendance was over 30,000 but there were nowhere near as many butts in the seats. Oh well. Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBI. Joey Gallo hit a homer. The next batter up was Carlos Gomez, who was brushed back by a Colin McHugh pitch which McHugh said wasn’t intentional but probably was. Benches cleared but nothing came of it. Later Jose Altuve was hit and came out of the game but he seems to have nothing more than a bruised forearm.

White Sox 4, Angels 2: James Shields allowed two runs over seven innings. Nicky Delmonico drove in two. Those were his first RBI in over a week, so you might say Delmonico was in . . . rare form.

Cubs 10, Cardinals 2: Addison Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning. He also dived into the stands at one point and spilled a Cardinals fan’s nachos. He came out a couple of innings later and delivered a fresh plate of nachos to the guy. That’s pretty dang cool. Jon Lester allowed five hits and one run over six innings. Yadi Molina came out of the game after taking a ball off the mask and he’s in concussion protocol. St. Louis was eliminated from the NL Central and made up no ground on the Rockies for the Wild Card. Things are just about over for the Cardinals.

Marlins 5, Rockies 4: The Rockies really don’t seem eager to win that second Wild Card. They probably will, but dudes, you gotta beat a bad Marlins team, especially on a night one of your rivals for the spot loses. Miguel Rojas had a career-high four RBI for Miami. The Marlins had a 4-0 and a 5-1 lead and the Rockies clawed back, threatening in the ninth as well, but couldn’t close the deal.

Giants 9, Diamondbacks 2: Nick Hundley hit a three-run homer and drove in four overall while Johnny Cueto allowed two runs over six innings. Arizona was probably hung over after Sunday’s clinching celebration, so whatever.

Mariners 7, Athletics 1Mitch Haniger homered twice and drove in three, Mike Zunino hit a three-run homer and Yonder Alonso went deep as well. Felix Hernandez won his first game in months, allowing one run over six innings. The A’s seven-game winning streak comes to an end.

Dodgers 9, Padres 3: The Dodgers win their 100th game of the year. It’s the first time they won 100 since 1974. They won the pennant that year with 102 wins but lost the World Series to a 90-win Oakland A’s team. Stuff happens. Here Yu Darvish happened, allowing one run on two hits over seven innings and striking out nine. Logan Forsythe hit a three-run double, homered and drove in four overall. Austin Barnes hit a three-run blast.

The Cubs will try to clinch the NL Central on Tuesday

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The Cubs soundly defeated the Cardinals on Monday night, 10-2, sending their magic number down to one. They will try to clinch the NL Central on Tuesday with another win against the Cardinals. Alternatively, if they lose, they can still clinch if the Brewers also lose on Tuesday.

The Cubs, of course, won the Central last year en route to winning their first World Series since 1908. It wasn’t nearly as easy this year as the club was below .500 entering June and was exactly at .500 entering July. A 16-8 July, 17-12 August, and 15-8 September have helped put the Cubs back in position to return to the postseason.

Not to be forgotten, the Cardinals were eliminated from NL Central contention with Monday’s loss. Now they have their sights set on the second NL Wild Card slot and currently trail the Rockies in that race.

The matchups for Tuesday’s action: