The NL home run race heats up

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With Mike Stanton going deep again last night, there’s now a three-way tie atop the NL home run leaderboard:

1. Matt Kemp (Dodgers): 31
1. Albert Pujols (Cardinals): 31
1. Mike Stanton (Marlins): 31
4. Lance Berkman (Cardinals): 30
4. Dan Uggla (Braves): 30
6. Prince Fielder (Brewers): 29
6. Ryan Howard (PhIllies): 29
8. Jay Bruce (Reds): 28
8. Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies): 28

Stanton, playing this season at 21, could become the youngest player ever to lead the National League in homers, overtaking Eddie Mathews, who was a slightly older 21 when he first did it.  Tony Conigliaro was just 20 when he led the AL in homers in 1965.

Stanton would also be the first Marlin to ever lead the NL in homers.

Pujols, on the other hand, is trying for his third straight crown, a feat unaccomplished in the NL since Mike Schmidt won three straight from 1974-76.  Pujols never led the league in homers during his first eight years with the Cards, but he was tops in 2009 (47) and 2010 (42).

Kemp would be just the second Los Angeles Dodger to lead the league in homers, joining 2004 champ Adrian Beltre.

Uggla would be the first second baseman to win the crown since the Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg in 1990.

Mike Rizzo and Shawn Kelley almost got into a physical confrontation

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A few weeks back the Washington Nationals designated reliever Shawn Kelley for assignment the morning after he threw his glove into the ground and glared at the Nats dugout in frustration after giving up a homer in a blowout win against the Mets. He was later traded to the Athletics. Nats GM Mike Rizzo said at that time that he thought Kelley was trying to show up his manager and that there was no room for that sort of thing on the team, offering an “either you’re with us or you’re working against us” sentiment in the process.

Today the Washington Post talks about all of the Nationals’ bullpen woes of late, and touches on the departure of Kelley as being part of the problem. In so doing, we learn that, on the night of Kelley’s mound tantrum, he and Rizzo almost got into a physical confrontation:

Rizzo headed down to the clubhouse and confronted Kelley, according to people familiar with the situation. The argument became heated, including raised voices, and eventually it almost became physical, according to people familiar with the exchange. Adam Eaton got between the two of them and separated them before things could advance further . . .

Might I point out that, the fact of this emerging now helps to vindicate Brandon Kintzler who, the day before, was traded away, some say, for being the source for negative reports from inside the Nats’ clubhouse?

That aside, the article does not make anyone look good, really. Rizzo had the backing of his team with the Kelley incident, but the overall story — how did the Nats’ bullpen, which was once a strength — get so bad? — does no favors for Rizzo. Mostly because he seems to have thought that they had so much extra bullpen depth that they could afford to deal away Kintzler, which he says was a financial move, not a punitive trade for being a media source.

Question: when was the last time you heard a baseball man say he had too much relief pitching? Especially today, in which the bullpen has assumed such a prominent role? Seems rather unreasonable to cut relievers when you’re trying mightily to come back from a sizable deficit in the standings, yes?