MLB Notebook: Sept. 2012

I’m taking a little time today to write a bit more about the MLB season that’s quickly drawing to a close. It’s been quite a season so far: we have an league-leading batter suspended for PEDs; a potential Cy Young winner on the best team in the majors who is about to be shut down when the games count the most; a long dormant franchise reasserting themselves as a big-spending, win now contender…and that’s only in National League! The American League story lines have been equally compelling: the epic fail of Bobby Valentine and the Boston Red Sox; the improbable resurgence of the small market A’s and O’s; and the wunderkind dominance of Mike Trout, your 20-year-old AL MVP.

Trout’s main competition for the hardware this fall will likely come from either Josh Hamilton or Miguel Cabrera. Start with Cabrera; just look at the numbers this guy continues to put up. Although he gets far less pub, you’re looking at numbers that are quite comparable to one Albert Pujols. Any fear that the shift to 3B would hurt his numbers has been completely put to bed: his .330 AVG is tied with Trout for the AL lead; with 116 RBI, he shares the league lead with Hamilton; he is 4th in both HR and runs scored; and his .991 OPS is tied with Ryan Braun for the best in the big leagues. The Tigers, one game back of the White Sox in the AL Central, are poised to make a September run, which also aids Cabrera’s chances.

The same could be said for Hamilton, the Rangers’ offensive catalyst. When he’s on, there’s no one better. The Rangers enjoy a nice cushion over both the A’s and Angels in the AL West, so Hamilton won’t need a late season push to make it to the postseason. But where would this club be without him? That’s a question that Rangers ownership may have to answer sooner rather than later; Hamilton stands as the prime free agent fish in a mighty small pond this winter. Another MVP trophy could go a long way to securing him the kind of financial payout he’ll no doubt be looking for on the open market.

But in all likelihood, the exploits of these veterans will take a back seat to Trout. Late last year, when they inked Pujols to his lucrative deal, the Angels probably assumed they had just acquired the 2012 AL MVP. Little did they know that such a player was already in their farm system. Trout’s numbers are absolutely gaudy: tied with Cabrera for the league batting crown; leading the league in steals and runs scored; belting home runs with ease and playing award-caliber defense in the field. His numbers are even more impressive when you consider he spent the first three weeks of the season in the minors. Trout can simply do it all, which everyone expected. What’s been surprising is that he’s doing it so soon. Buckle up, folks; we’ll be enjoying this ride for a long, long time.

The NL story du jour is the Washington Nationals or, better said, the first place Washington Nationals. Or even more precisely, the MLB winning-percentage-leader Washington Nationals. However you want to parse it, they’re good. Which makes the spring training decision to limit Stephen Strasburg’s innings seem so arbitrary at this point. Sure, no one can refute the data: young pitchers coming off elbow surgery need to be eased back into a heavy workload and Strasburg is already at a career high for innings pitched. But to arbitrarily set an innings limit in March seems so short-sighted now that the Nats have a legitimate shot to bring a championship to DC baseball fans for the first time since 1924. How many of Strasburg’s innings have been “low stress” innings — requiring 15 or fewer pitches? How many times has he thrown over 100 pitches in a single game? You would think these kinds of things would factor in at some point and that the Nats brain trust would have been looking for ways to preserve their ace’s arm / innings along the way. Let’s face it: by late May, we knew this team was going to be in it. Yet, GM Mike Rizzo remains intractable, refusing to allow that 2012 might be the Nationals best chance to win. Jayson Werth, Drew Storen, Ryan Zimmerman, and Adam LaRoche are all healthy for the stretch run. The Nats have built up a sizeable lead in the division. They’ll have home field advantage all the way to the World Series. Yet, all of that is being short circuited on the potential that Strasburg could be injured someday. For Rizzo’s sake, I hope the Nationals are equally competitive next season. If not, we’ll look back on 2012 and always ask, “What if…”

I’ll have more to say about the stretch run this month. I’ll be writing about the O’s, the Pirates, the A’s, the retirement of Chipper Jones, and how much I’m enjoying the train wreck that is the 2012 Boston Red Sox. Until then…

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