Triple Play: Albert Pujols, Jose Abreu, Justin Morneau

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Triple Play. In this installment, we look at a future Hall of Famer’s resurgence, a rookie living up to the hype, an unlucky Brewer and more, including our first no-hitter of the season. Off we go:

Albert Pujols

Who’s Hot?

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels, and Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

You know, back when Pujols played for the Cardinals and Miguel Cabrera hadn’t won a Triple Crown and back-to-back MVPs, there wasn’t much debate about who was the best hitter in the game. Then Pujols left St. Louis and endured his two worst professional seasons, while Cabrera enjoyed two sensational seasons with Detroit. Pujols also was justifiably overshadowed by Mike Trout’s brilliance in Los Angeles. However, thus far in 2014, Pujols is reminding people why he was considered the best player in the game for so long. Last week, he reached the 500-home run milestone (one of 26 players to do so), with a two-homer game that was vintage Pujols. After hitting just 17 dingers in an injury-shortened 2013, he already has clubbed this season, along with 21 RBI and a .299/.358/.639 slash line. His resurgence is great for the Angels, fantasy owners and the game of baseball.

However, he isn’t the only red-hot hitter going right now. Rookie slugger Jose Abreu has been on an impressive binge of his own, five homers, 14 RBI and mashing to the tune of .310/.310/.862 in the past week. After a fairly slow start, Abreu leads the majors with 10 home runs and 31 RBI. While he is hardly the first player to enjoy a huge April (Chris Shelton, anyone?), Abreu is showing signs of being a special hitter. With a couple days left in April, Abreu – who already broke the rookie record for most home runs in April – has shattered the major-league record for RBI in April, set by……Albert Pujols (in 2001). Now, no one is suggesting Abreu is going to become the next Pujols, but I do think it’s safe to say that the White Sox have a budding star on their hands.

Who’s Not?

Josh Johnson, San Diego Padres

It seemed like a decent, low-risk gamble by San Diego in the offseason. Sign a pitcher who, when healthy, has shown Cy Young-caliber stuff (fifth in 2010), and put him in one of the best pitchers’ parks in baseball. Accordingly, Johnson was a low-cost, high-ceiling option for fantasy owners as well. After all, Johnson has had five seasons in which his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) was 3.40 or lower, and his park-adjusted ERA+ greater than 120 (100 is a replacement-level player) five times. The plan was to pair him with burgeoning ace Andrew Cashner, and the Padres would have themselves a potent top of the rotation to compete with the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West. Unfortunately, the Padres (and fantasy owners) rolled snake eyes on the move, as Johnson underwent a second Tommy John surgery last week and is lost for the season. He is eyeing a return for the 2015 season, but he will be 31 next season and the data for pitchers having a second ligament replacement surgery is far less conclusive than those who have had only one.

Playing the Name Game

Name this player: Like Albert Pujols, this first baseman is enjoying a resurgence in 2014. Ten years ago, this player was on the verge of becoming an MVP-caliber player who compiled an OPS+ of 122 or greater six times in a seven-year span. In fact, he won one MVP award and finished second two years later. He teamed up with another superstar to lead his old team to the postseason five times in that stretch. During a four-year stretch at his peak, he hit 118 home runs, drove in 470 and scored 363. While still in his prime, he suffered a concussion that prevented him from playing more than half a season in 2010 and 2011. While he did return to health in 2012, his power has waned to the point that he is a complementary piece for a team rather than a centerpiece. He was traded to a contender last year and enjoyed his first taste of the postseason for the first time in seven years. This year, he joined a new team and faced the unenviable task of replacing the face of that franchise. So far, the results have been much better than expected: he’s hitting .356/.381/.611, with five long balls and 19 RBI. The stats have to be taken with a grain (or three) of salt, considering where he plays his home games, but even if he cools off (which is virtually certain), he is on pace to provide more offense than his new team has enjoyed in a few years. If you haven’t guessed by now, we’re talking about the Rockies’ Justin Morneau (who replaced Todd Helton).

Random Thoughts 

  • On April 28, 2013, the teams in first place in their divisions were: Boston, Kansas City, Texas, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Arizona. I mention this because the Milwaukee Brewers are the current darlings of pundits, analysts and writers everywhere on the basis of one good month. Half of those teams didn’t reach the playoffs. Sorry, folks, but I’m not buying the Brewers yet. Get back to me in a month and see how they’re doing.
  • Speaking of the Brewers, how freaky was that accidental bat to the face that shortstop Jean Segura suffered Saturday night, thanks to Ryan Braun taking a practice swing WHILE IN THE DUGOUT. It’s terrifying when you see a pitcher get drilled with a batted ball (such as Aroldis Chapman in spring training), but as a player, you think you’re safe in your dugout. Well, evidently not. In what must be a medical miracle, Segura was not diagnosed with a concussion. He did, however, require a plastic surgeon to stitch up his face. Ouch. Ryan Braun, everyone!
  • In the last edition of the Triple Play, we pointed out the most Cubs’ ineptitude in getting shut out by the Yankees in both halves of a doubleheader. This time, we take a moment to recognize the Cubs’ unique way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field last week: giving up five runs in the top of the 9th inning to lose to the dreadful Diamondbacks.
  • Right fielder Justin Ruggiano injured his leg while attempting to field a foul ball in the bullpen area. Fortunately for him, he got to leave the game before the collapse was complete.
  • While media members threw conniption fits about Sammy Sosa not being invited to the 100th anniversary, what about guys like Mark Grace, Andre Dawson or Greg Maddux?
  • One last Cubs note for this week: they called up a pitcher named Brian Schlitter. He’s just an unfortunate typo from being the perfectly-named Cubs player.
  • Not only did Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright not miss a start after taking that awkward tumble in his last start while racing to first base to cover on a weak grounder, he extended his scoreless streak to 25 innings in an eight-inning shutdown of the struggling Pirates.
  • In related news that’s sure to enrage MLB Network’s Crazy Brian Kenny, Wainwright is the majors’ first five-game winner (sorry, Brian, but it matters in fantasy baseball). He’s the first Cardinals pitcher to win five games in April since Darryl Kile in 2000.
  • Best timing of the year so far: while his mother was being interviewed, Twins outfielder Chris Colabello belted a home run last Wednesday against Tampa Bay. As Tommy Lee Jones said in The Fugitive: “well done, young man.”
  • News: Washington’s Bryce Harper is planning to get a second opinion on his injured thumb. Views: if it’s serious enough to warrant surgery, this would leave Nate McLouth as the next man up to play most every day for the Nationals. This is a little like taking your Mercedes into the repair shop and getting a Dodge Neon as a loaner.
  • The Denver Post posted a piece today proclaiming that the Dexter Fowler for Jordan LylesBrandon Barnes trade has been a lopsided victory for the Rockies, but the post completely ignores the fact that Fowler has hit .333/.483/.500 over the past week, including a home run, two RBI, three stolen bases and six runs scored. Fowler may not be an All-Star, but he’s a much better player than the Post would have you believe.
  • Fowler’s replacement, Charlie Blackmon, has been a revelation this month: .397/.446/.663, five round-trippers, 17 RBI, 21 runs scored, and seven steals. He has been far more responsible for the Rockies’ success this month than Lyles or Barnes.
  • Quick, what has Braves’ backup catcher Gerald Laird done this season that Cardinals’ all-world catcher Yadier Molina not done (yet)?
  • Answer: throw out Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton trying to steal a base.
  • Baseball is a really funny game sometimes.
  • We have our first no-hitter of the season: Tampa Bay minor leaguers Mike Montgomery and Brad Boxberger combined to toss the no-no for Triple-A Durham.
  • After the game, Montgomery was quoted as saying “it was a lot of fun out there,” and Boxberger added, “It means a lot to us as a pitching staff.” Either guy sound overwhelmed by the achievement? I didn’t think so, either. Here’s what I wonder: while it obviously doesn’t compare to doing it at the major-league level, is this something that those two will cherish as a career highlight, or would they trade it in for a major-league job? Based on their quotes, I’m leaning toward the latter option.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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