pujols getty

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


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.

There’s no one to blame in Yankees’ loss

Joe Girardi

You’re going to boo All-Star Brett Gardner for striking out against a Cy Young contender?

You’re going to bash Alex Rodriguez for going hitless in another postseason game, three years after his last one?

Maybe you’d prefer to put it all on Masahiro Tanaka for giving up two solo homers to a lineup full of 20-homer guys?

The truth is that the Yankees were supposed to lose tonight. They were facing an outstanding left-hander with their forever-lefty-heavy lineup, and they simply didn’t have anyone pitching like an ace to set themselves up nicely for a one-game, winner-take-all showdown. The 3-0 result… well, that’s how this was supposed to go down.

It didn’t necessarily mean it would; what fun would it be if the better team always won? And the Astros might not even be a better team than the Yankees. However, the Astros with Dallas Keuchel on the mound were certainly a better team than the Yankees with whoever they picked to throw.

I just don’t see where it’s worth putting any blame tonight. Joe Girardi? He could have started John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann against the tough lefty, but he wasn’t willing to risk Tanaka losing his comfort zone by using a backup catcher.

The front office could have added more talent, perhaps outbidding the Blue Jays for David Price or the Royals for Johnny Cueto, and set themselves up better for the postseason. However, that would have cost them Luis Severino and/or Greg Bird, both of whom went on to play key roles as the Yankees secured the wild card. Would it really have been worth it? I don’t think so.

Tanaka gave the Yankees what they should have expected. Had Keuchel’s stuff been a little off on short rest, Tanaka’s performance would have kept the Yankees in the game.

Keuchel, though, was on his game from the first pitch. The Astros bullpen might have been a bit more vulnerable, and late at-bats from Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Rodriguez and McCann definitely left something to be desired. Still, on the whole, the lack of offense was quite a team effort.

The Yankees got beat by a better team tonight.  I’m not sure the Astros would have been better in Games 2-7 in a longer series, but they had everything in their favor in this one.

Keuchel, Astros cruise past Yankees in AL Wild Card Game

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Dallas Keuchel faced the Yankees two times during the regular season and was fantastic in each outing, striking out 12 in a complete-game shutout on June 25 and whiffing nine batters over seven scoreless frames on August 25.

The 2015 Cy  Young Award candidate continued that trend in Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card Game, limiting the Yankees to three hits and one walk over six innings of scoreless ball as the Astros earned a 3-0 win and advanced to a best-of-five ALDS with the top-seeded Royals.

Keuchel was working on three days of rest but didn’t show very many signs of fatigue, whiffing seven and needing only 87 pitches to get through six. He sure looked like he could have gone an inning longer, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided to turn the game over to his bullpen and they added three more big zeroes to the scoreboard at a very loud then very boo-heavy Yankee Stadium. Tony Sipp worked around some early jitters to throw a scoreless seventh, Will Harris kept the Yankees off the bases entirely in a scoreless eighth, and closer Luke Gregerson went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

Impending free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus provided the first burst of offense for the Astros in the top of the second inning with a leadoff homer against Masahiro Tanaka. And then deadline acquisition Carlos Gomez, who missed a bunch of time down the stretch with an intercostal strain, got to Tanaka for another solo shot in the top of the fourth. Houston scored its third run on a Jose Altuve RBI single in the top of the seventh.

This is a young, talented Astros team with an ace at the head of its rotation.

Kansas City could have a problem.