The Big Read: From Elijah Dukes to Bryce Harper: How the Nats made it to the top

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Yesterday I called the Nationals the best team in baseball. Today Joe Posnanski explains how they got there. But first he reminds us of how truly wretched they were just a few short years ago:

Their right fielder, Elijah Dukes, had been involved in so many off-field incidents, the team hired a former police officer to watch him at all times (though not too well since Dukes would talk later of smoking pot before Nationals games) … Their best player, Adam Dunn, was so bad defensively in left field and at first base that despite hitting 38 homers and posting a .398 on-base percentage, the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) statistic still rated him worse than a replacement player (his minus-43 fielding runs is the worst fielding performance in baseball history).

The starting pitching was such an irreparable mess that, in desperation, they signed 34-year-old Livan Hernandez, who had pitched for five teams the previous four years. And one of those teams was the Washington Nationals.

When it gets this bad, what do you do? Where do you even begin? And how does it then become baseball’s best team in three years?

Joe walks us through how. And, as always, The Big Read is a good read.

Pujols hits 701st career home run, connects for Cardinals

albert pujols
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ST. LOUIS — Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols hit his 701st home run, connecting Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Pujols launched a slider from former teammate Johan Oviedo over the Big Mac Land sign in left field at Busch Stadium. The solo drive in the fourth inning made it 1-all.

Pujols faced Oviedo for the first time and made the 24-year-old righty the 456th different pitcher he’s homered against.

The St. Louis star hadn’t homered in a week since hitting No. 699 and 700 at Dodger Stadium last Friday. Pujols had gone 10 at-bats without a home run after two starts and one pinch-hit appearance.

The Busch Stadium crowd gave the 42-year-old Pujols a long standing ovation before he came out of the Cardinals dugout to tip his cap for a curtain call.

Pujols hit his 22nd home run this season for the NL Central champion Cardinals.

Pujols is fourth on the career home run list behind Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714).