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.

Astros clinch postseason berth with 11-3 win over Angels

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No surprise here: The Astros are headed back to the postseason to defend their title following a landslide 11-3 win over the Angels on Friday. This figures to be their third playoff run since 2015, though they have yet to wrap up the AL West with a division title.

First baseman Yuli Gurriel led the charge on Friday, smashing a grand slam in the first inning and tacking on a two-run homer in the second and RBI single in the fifth to help the Astros to a seven-run lead. The Angels eventually returned fire, first with Mike Trout‘s 418-foot homer in the sixth, then with an RBI hit from Francisco Arcia in the seventh, but they couldn’t close the gap in time to overtake the Astros.

On the mound, right-hander Gerrit Cole clinched his 15th win of the year after holding the Angels to seven innings of three-run, 12-strikeout ball. His sixth strikeout of the night — delivered on an 83.1-MPH knuckle curveball to Kaleb Cowart — also marked the 1,000th strikeout of his career to date. He was backed by flawless performances by lefty reliever Tony Sipp and rookie right-hander Dean Deetz, both of whom turned in scoreless innings as the offense barreled toward an 11-3 finish with Jake Marisnick‘s sac bunt and George Springer‘s three-run shot in the eighth.

Despite having qualified for the playoffs, the Astros still carry a magic number of 6 as they look to clinch a third straight division title. They’re currently up against the Athletics, who entered Friday’s contest against the Twins just four games back of first place in the AL West.