The real batting champions of 2021

Shohei OhtaniBryce HarperTrea Turner finishing the 2021 season with a .328 “batting average” is the National League champion. Right? And Yuli Gurriel finishing with a .319 “batting average” is the American League champion. Right? Only if you continue accepting the fraudulence of the traditional batting average.

Yes, I wrote “fraudulence.” There’s a reason for it. The “batting champion” is determined by dividing hits by official at-bats, but it also treats all hits as equal. The champion is also determined based on having had a minimum number of plate appearances—and yet those PAs that don’t end in base hits don’t count otherwise. No matter what he did in them.

Can you really determine a batting champion without giving him due credit for bases on balls, too? For sacrifice flies? For being hit by pitches? “Official at-bats” make those types of plate appearances vanish. Thin air. Why on earth are we not allowing the whole picture of a man at the plate to factor into his “batting championship?”

Is it truly fair to anoint a “batting champion” when mere hits divided by mere official at-bats treats his singles equal to his doubles, his triples, his home runs? When that quotient treats his doubles like his triples and home runs? His triples equal to his home runs? When it says his home runs are worth nothing more than his singles, his doubles, his triples? When it says his triples are worth nothing more than his singles and doubles? When it says his doubles are worth nothing more than his singles?

Do you really watch a baseball game and believe every hit a player gets is equal? Well, they’d be equal if he goes 4-for-4 with four singles, or four doubles, or four triples, or four home runs. If he hits for the cycle, that’s a remarkable achievement. But you know bloody well that each hit in the cycle was not equal.

Here, we’re going to determine the real batting champions by—you guessed it—my concept of a Real Batting Average. For those ten of you who’ve read my prior writings about it, bear with me for the sake of those new to it.

Real Batting Average (RBA) adds total bases, walks, intentional walks, sacrifice flies, and hit-by-pitches, and divides that total by total plate appearances. We begin with total bases because that number most accurately credits a batter’s hits they way they deserve to be credited—unequally.

Why intentional walks, especially when the other pitcher doesn’t have to throw four wide ones deliberately to make it stick anymore? Very simple: why shouldn’t that batter get credit when the other guys would rather he take his base than their pitcher’s head off?

Why sacrifice flies, since the batter’s making an out? Well, a runner on third scores on the fly, right? That batter didn’t check in at the plate planning to make an out for any reason. So yes, he gets the credit for the only really, truly productive offensive out in any baseball game.

Why are you leaving sacrifice bunts out of the formula?!? Why, I reply, do you insist on a batter getting credit for a pre-meditated out? I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again—outs to work with are the most. precious. commodity. a lineup has to work with when it’s their turn to bat in an inning. Handing the other guys a free defensive out relieves them of one full third of the responsibility of trying to get your lineup out of an inning without damage.

Sacrifice bunts don’t just waste precious offensive outs. In four out of six known sac bunt situations, a team is generally worse off, not better off, after that bunt, in terms of how likely it is for a run to score as a result of that bunt. In only one such situation (men on first and second and nobody out) is a team mostly better off after that bunt; in one more such situation (man on second, nobody out) is a team no better or worse off after that bunt.

I’m going to say it again: the only times any batter should even think about dropping a bunt are a) when he’s being overshifted defensively and has the gift of all that succulent free territory to work with (even and especially if the other guys are stupid enough to give it to him while protecting their pitcher’s no- or one-hitter); or, b) when he sees an infield full of stone hands he can exploit accordingly.

But I digress. If you’re unfamiliar with RBA, you want to know why I’m counting hit by pitches in the equation. Very simple—they want to plunk you, you ought to get extra credit for taking one for the team. They put you on base with malice aforethought, you take your RBA credit with cheerful afterthought. Hopefully, without taking a concurrent hole in the head the way Bryce Harper damn near did in April.

Now that you know (or remember) the thinking behind RBA, here’s the formula once again: TB + BB + IBB + SF + HBP / PA.

So, how about we get to the good part—determining each league’s real batting champions according to RBA. Since Trea Turner’s .328 hitting average led the entire Show among qualifiers, who needed 501 PA or more to qualify, let’s begin with the National League—where Turner comes out number fifteen:

2021 NL Qualifiers PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Bryce Harper 599 300 100 14 4 5 .706
Juan Soto 654 268 145 23 5 2 .677
Fernando Tatis, Jr. 546 292 62 6 4 2 .670
Joey Votto 533 252 77 6 4 4 .644
Nick Castellanos 585 306 41 5 6 7 .624
Max Muncy 592 262 83 5 1 11 .611
Tyler O’Neill 537 270 38 0 4 13 .605
Bryan Reynolds 646 292 75 9 4 8 .601
C.J. Cron 547 249 60 3 4 13 .601
Freddie Freeman 695 302 85 15 2 8 .593
Will Smith 501 205 58 4 11 18 .591
Brandon Crawford 549 252 56 6 5 5 .590
Pete Alonso 637 291 60 6 4 12 .586
Austin Riley 662 313 52 2 8 12 .585
Trea Turner 646 319 41 2 4 6 .576
Paul Goldschmidt 679 310 67 2 5 4 .571
Mookie Betts 550 227 68 2 5 11 .569
Manny Machado 640 276 63 10 11 2 .566
Trevor Story 595 262 53 2 5 11 .560
Nolen Arenado 653 293 50 8 7 3 .553
Kris Bryant 586 247 62 4 2 9 .553
Avisail Garcia 515 226 38 5 5 11 .553
Jonathan India 631 244 71 1 4 23 .544
Josh Bell 568 237 65 2 3 2 .544
Justin Turner 612 251 61 0 6 12 .539
Andrew McCutchen 574 214 81 2 7 4 .537
Javier Baez 547 248 28 2 3 13 .537
Adam Duvall 555 252 35 1 3 4 .532
Mike Yastrzemski 532 214 51 4 3 9 .528
Ozzie Albies 686 307 47 2 7 3 .523
Jesus Aguilar 510 206 46 4 7 3 .522
Jake Cronenworth 643 261 55 6 3 10 .521
Luis Urias 570 218 63 3 3 10 .521
Eduardo Escobar 599 259 48 1 1 1 .518
Ryan McMahon 596 237 59 2 5 4 .515
Chris Taylor 582 222 63 2 3 8 .512
J.T. Realmuto 537 209 48 5 2 11 .512
Dylan Carlson 619 237 57 2 8 11 .509
Dansby Swanson 653 264 52 4 7 5 .508
Ian Happ 535 202 62 0 1 5 .505
Eugenio Suarez 574 216 56 0 5 8 .497
Francisco Lindor 524 186 58 4 3 5 .489
Trent Grisham 527 191 54 2 4 6 .488
Tommy Pham 561 182 78 3 4 4 .483
Charlie Blackmon 582 211 54 1 3 11 .481
Josh Rojas 550 199 58 1 3 0 .475
Jonathan Villar 505 189 46 2 0 3 .475
Jazz Chisholm 507 197 34 0 3 4 .469
Kyle Farmer 529 201 22 1 5 18 .467
Adam Frazier 639 237 48 2 1 10 .466
David Peralta 538 196 46 3 2 3 .465
Eric Hosmer 565 201 48 2 2 5 .457
Pavin Smith 545 201 42 1 1 4 .457
Miguel Rojas 539 194 37 0 1 5 .440
Jean Segura 567 224 39 3 4 9 .439
Tommy Edman 691 248 38 1 4 6 .430
Raimel Tapia 533 181 40 2 4 1 .428
Kevin Newman 554 160 27 3 3 1 .350

So, considering Yuli Gurriel’s .319 hitting average, how do the American League title qualifiers stack according to RBA? Fair warning: Gurriel isn’t in the top twenty.

2021 AL Qualifiers PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Shohei Ohtani 639 318 96 20 2 4 .689
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. 698 363 86 7 2 6 .665
Matt Olson 673 305 88 12 11 9 .632
Jose Ramirez 636 297 72 10 5 7 .615
Kyle Tucker 567 282 53 5 5 1 .610
Aaron Judge 633 299 75 2 5 3 .607
Rafael Devers 664 318 62 7 4 7 .599
Brandon Lowe 615 280 68 4 3 9 .592
Marcus Semien 724 351 66 0 3 3 .584
Yordan Alvarez 598 285 50 3 3 8 .584
Salvador Perez 665 337 28 4 4 13 .580
Giancarlo Stanton 579 263 63 1 3 3 .575
J.D. Martinez 634 295 55 6 5 3 .574
Cedric Mullins 675 312 59 3 4 8 .572
Joey Gallo 616 228 111 5 1 6 .570
Nelson Cruz 584 255 51 10 9 7 .568
Jared Walsh 585 270 48 6 3 4 .566
Josh Donaldson 543 217 74 2 8 4 .562
Teoscar Hernandez 595 288 36 1 2 7 .561
Xander Bogaerts 603 261 62 2 7 5 .559
Jose Abreu 659 272 61 3 10 22 .558
Carlos Correa 640 269 75 2 6 4 .556
Jose Altuve 678 294 66 3 6 4 .550
Jorge Polanco 644 296 45 0 6 5 .547
Hunter Renfroe 572 261 44 0 6 1 .545
Mitch Haniger 691 301 54 2 8 9 .541
Ryan Mountcastle 586 260 41 2 7 4 .536
Randy Arozarena 604 243 56 4 5 14 .533
Yuli Gurriel 605 245 59 2 12 4 .532
Miguel Sano 532 219 59 2 1 2 .532
Austin Meadows 591 237 59 3 8 6 .530
Bo Bichette 690 310 40 0 4 6 .522
Enrique Hernandez 585 228 61 0 7 9 .521
Robbie Grossman 671 231 98 3 6 8 .516
Ty France 650 254 46 1 6 27 .514
Jeimer Candelario 626 247 65 1 0 4 .506
Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. 541 233 32 1 6 2 .506
Yoan Moncada 616 214 84 1 2 10 .505
Kyle Seager 670 264 59 2 4 4 .497
Austin Hays 529 225 28 0 1 9 .497
Nathaniel Lowe 642 231 80 2 3 2 .495
Trey Mancini 616 240 51 4 1 8 .494
Tim Anderson 551 247 22 1 1 1 .494
Alex Verdugo 604 232 51 6 5 4 .493
Matt Chapman 622 213 80 0 9 4 .492
Mark Canha 625 201 77 0 2 27 .491
Adolis Garcia 622 264 32 0 4 5 .490
Andrew Benintendi 538 218 36 0 6 2 .487
Michael Brantley 508 205 33 1 1 5 .482
Yandy Diaz 541 180 69 4 4 3 .481
Jonathan Schoop 674 271 37 0 8 6 .478
Joey Wendle 501 194 28 4 3 10 .477
Jed Lowrie 512 182 49 1 4 2 .465
Randal Grichuk 545 216 27 0 4 3 .459
Hunter Dozier 543 192 43 0 6 7 .457
Cesar Hernandez 637 220 59 2 3 5 .454
Miguel Cabrera 526 182 40 0 9 5 .449
Amed Rosario 588 225 31 0 4 3 .447
Whit Merrifield 720 262 40 1 12 4 .443
D.J. LeMahieu 679 216 73 2 5 4 .442
Carlos Santana 659 193 86 3 5 3 .440
J.P. Crawford 687 233 58 1 4 5 .438
Gleyber Torres 516 168 50 1 4 1 .434
Nicky Lopez 565 188 49 0 3 4 .432
Jose Iglesias 511 189 21 0 1 6 .425
Nick Solak 511 166 34 0 2 15 .425
Myles Straw 638 196 67 0 4 2 .422
Michael A. Taylor 528 172 33 0 5 5 .407
David Fletcher 665 203 60 1 1 1 .400
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 677 227 28 2 2 11 .399
Elvis Andrus 541 159 31 2 4 6 .373

You knew Ohtani was having a season so far off the charts for its unicorn nature—a pitcher who could hit well enough to be a designated hitter on the days he didn’t pitch? a hitter who could pitch well enough to lead his team’s starting pitchers in both earned run average (3.18) and fielding-independent pitching (3.52), not to mention strikeouts per nine (10.8)? You knew he could and did hit for breathtaking power enough to finish third in the American League home run race with his 46.

But did you realise Ohtani really was that good at the plate all year? Would you have expected him to beat Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. out among qualifying American League batters and finish second in Show among them with a .689 RBA? Now do you get why Ohtani wasn’t just the most must-see-television among the otherwise hapless (and still pitching-challenged) Angels in the too-long injury-compelled absence of Mike Trout?

What about Harper? Isn’t it time for his critics to shut the hell up once and for all? The guy who led the entire Show in on-base plus slugging (OPS) with his 1.044 this year also led the entire Show with his .706 RBA. Not to mention all but dragging his Phillies back to where they got thatclose to sneaking off with the National League East title—until they met the Braves last week, and ran out of gas or whatever, letting the Braves pin them to the mats and out of the runnings.

Harper opened the season with a lifetime .610 RBA. He closed it pushing his career RBA to (wait for it!) .620. That was despite that pitch off his nose and onto his batting-side wrist taking something off his swing for almost a month.

(It’s also to lament that that torn calf killed Trout’s 2021 after just 36 games played in April and May. When he went down for keeps, his RBA was .733. I’m pretty sure that allowed a full season he would have kept pace and finished with an RBA in the .700+ range. It wouldn’t have done the Angels any good so long as they still couldn’t build a viable full pitching staff, but think about a full season Trout and Ohtani combining for a .650+ RBA.)

So meet your real 2021 batting champions—Bryce Harper and Shohei Ohtani. Everything else considered, it may not be unrealistic to say that you’ve just met your 2021 Most Valuable Players as well.

The Phillies look a gift Brave in the mouth

Will Smith, Travis d'Arnaud

Will Smith and Travis d’Arnaud, after the Phillies somehow declined the gift Smith tried to give in the ninth Tuesday.

Until the top of the ninth Tuesday night the Phillies hadn’t scored a single run in their previous twenty innings. Then the Braves all but gifted the Phillies a run in that ninth. They’d even gifted the Phillies the potential go-ahead run and then the bases loaded with one out.

The problem was the Phillies picking the wrong way to say thank you. All that got them was elimination from the National League’s wild card race with a 2-1 loss. It’s win the NL East or wait till next year for them now.

But the ninth-inning high-wire routines of lefthanded relief pitcher Will Smith—with a rather remarkable ability to get himself into hot water—got a little too high on the wire Tuesday night.

It wasn’t so much that he and the Braves escaped as that the Phillies sent a helicopter overhead to lift him to safety when they should have left him and the Braves wiring mad. The Braves won’t always find the opposition that willing to bail them out.

Thanks in large part to their grand old man Charlie Morton’s seven-inning, ten-strikeout, shutout-ball gem, while managing to pry only two runs out of Phillies starter Zack Wheeler in seven otherwise-strong innings, the Braves may have been lucky to take a 2-0 lead into that ninth.

But with Smith having the opening advantage against lefthanded Bryce Harper, the major leagues’ OPS leader, Smith found himself in a wrestling match that ended with Harper wringing himself aboard with a leadoff walk. Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto now represented the potential game-tying run at the plate.

Realmuto hit one on a high line to right center that ninth-inning center field insertion Guillermo Heredia had to run down long to catch on a high backhand. That spot of Braves fortune lasted just long enough for Phillies pinch-hitter Matt Vierling to hit a high liner to left, where Braves left fielder Eddie Rosario ran over, extended his glove, and watched the ball carom off its fingertips, setting up second and third for the Phillies.

Now the Phillies had veteran Andrew McCutchen—a long way from his days as a center field gazelle and a 2015 NL Most Valuable Player for a better array of Pirates—coming to the plate. McCutchen isn’t the danger he was once seen to be anymore, but he’s a veteran who still knows what he’s doing at the plate, and the Braves had no intention of letting his righthanded bat lay them to waste.

So the Braves ordered McCutchen walked intentionally, putting the potential second go-ahead run aboard, even while it looked as though Smith fooled nobody at the plate. The problem was that putting McCutchen aboard also put the Phillies’ fate into two bats described best as balky.

Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius continued playing through a bothersome elbow and a shrunken ability to handle pitching from the same side as which he swings, lefthanded. Third baseman Freddy Galvis, lately pressed into everyday service, simply keeps proving why the Phillies unloaded him in the first place four years ago—he’s not truly an everyday player, and though he switch-hits he’s not exactly a game-breaker at the plate.

The Braves now had only to pray that Smith could survive. The Phillies had only to pray that Gregorius and Galvis had a few more unexpected surprises in their bats. Every Braves fan in Atlanta’s Truist Park had to pray that Smith could put his own fire out with a real retardant, not with gasoline.

He served Gregorius a 1-1 offering, and Gregorius hit a high liner that looked for a few seconds as though it would find a way off the right field wall—but Braves right fielder Adam Duvall ambled back in front of the track to haul it in for the critical second out even as Harper was able to tag and score from third.

Now Smith went to work against Galvis. Two balls in the dirt, ball three high, a grounded foul for strike one, a called strike right down the pipe, and a hard line foul down the left field side out of play. Then, Smith threw Galvis a meatball so fat it could have been hit with a cardboard paper towel tube.

Galvis swung right through it. Strike three and the game.

The Cardinals won their seventeenth straight behind the aging arm of their own grand old man Adam Wainwright and a trio of home runs in a 6-2 win over the Brewers Tuesday night. The Phillies’ postseason hopes shrank to a hair in their none-too-formidable division.

“We have to win out,” said Phillies first baseman Brad Miller postgame. Easier said than done. They have to beat the Braves tonight and tomorrow and hope the Mess (er, Mets) beat the Braves over the coming weekend.

That’s what happens when you open a game the way the Phillies did, with back-to-back singles in the top of the first, but you can’t cash them in after a force out, a swinging strikeout, and an infield ground out—two days after the Phillies were shut out by the NL Central bottom-feeding Pirates, of all people.

That’s what happens when Morton—the last man standing on the mound when the Astros won their now-tainted 2017 World Series title—all but toyed with them the rest of the way, the 37-year-old righthander making the Phillies’ lefthanded lineup stack look silly in going 2-for-15 with a walk before his evening ended.

“The moment doesn’t get too big for him, I know that,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker about Old Man Morton, who kept the Phillies off-balance on a deftly blended diet of curve balls, changeups, and fastballs. “I think he does a really good job of just staying with the next pitch and doesn’t get caught up in the big picture. And it’s just about making the next pitch, which is really, really good. That was, gosh, seven really good innings.”

That’s what happens when Wheeler, the National League’s strikeout leader among pitchers entering Tuesday, could manhandle the more formidable portion of the Braves’ lineup but couldn’t quite contain their lower-leverage bottom of the order in the bottom of the third—a leadoff double (Travis d’Arnaud, hitting seventh), an immediate first-pitch single (Dansby Swanson, hitting eighth) put Braves on the corners with nobody out.

Morton then bunted a high chop off the plate that pushed Swanson to second on the out, but Jorge Soler, the Braves’ leadoff hitter in the lineup, ripped a hard single down the left field line to send both runners home easily enough, before Wheeler retired Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies on grounders to second baseman Jean Segura.

That was the game until that too-close ninth. But the game put the Phillies’ core flaws into stark light, too. Even before the Phillies and the Braves squared off, The Athletic‘s Matt Gelb isolated the point: “[T]hey have too many holes right now.”

Didi Gregorius is tough to play against lefties. Andrew McCutchen is tough to play against righties. They love what Brad Miller has done, but he won’t start against lefties. Matt Vierling has provided a surprise boost for the Phillies in September, but he hasn’t gained the full trust of [manager] Joe Girardi.

The Phillies also lack the one thing that’s enabled the Braves to hang in and stand now on the threshold of wrapping an NL East that wasn’t exactly a division of baseball terrorists in the first place. Sure, the Mets spent 103 days leading the division—deceptively, as things turned out—but nobody in the NL East looked that much like a powerhouse.

What the Phillies lack that the Braves proved to have in abundance is depth. Their Harpers, Realmutos, and Wheelers all but willed them to stay in the race in the first place, but it may not have been enough. They just weren’t deep enough to hang in without major effort. A coming off-season overhaul may not shock anyone.

The Braves were deep enough in system and in the thought process of general manager Alex Anthopoulos that they withstood the full-season loss of their best young pitcher (Mike Soroka) and the rest-of-season loss of franchise center fielder Ronald Acuna, Jr. to serious injuries.

But they still have to find ways to neutralise that ninth-inning high-wire act.

Don’t let the 36 saves fool you. Smith’s 3.55 ERA and 4.28 fielding-independent pitching (FIP) should tell you the real story. So should 28 walks against 84 strikeouts in 66 innings’ work so far, not to mention 3.8 walks per nine innings. He seems too much to play with matches.

Snitker has two far-superior pen men to send forth when the game gets late and dicey, Luke Jackson (1.90 ERA) and Tyler Matzek (2.66 ERA). Between them, Jackson and Matzek pack a 3.34 FIP, a lot more comfortable than Smith’s. They should be considered more than in passing as viable ninth-inning options.

If these Braves want to get past postseason round one, they may want to consider how much less Jackson and Matzek like to tempt fate or challenge for baseball Darwin Awards. The last thing the Braves need now is to be the cobra with its own ninth-inning mongoose.

Manny Machado teaches a hard-learned lesson

Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Machado gestures emphatically while putting Tatis in his place in the fifth Saturday night.

More often than I care to admit, I miss the real fun stuff. That’s when I have to play catch-up as best I can with what I have.

On Saturday night, I watched my Mess (er, Mets) lose to the Phillies, 5-3, because the game was available to me on Fox Sports via Hulu.

But out in St. Louis, there were Padres veteran Manny Machado and boy wonder Fernando Tatis, Jr. having it out as the sides began changing in the middle of the fifth in St. Louis.

There, moreover, was Machado actually behaving like a team leader in the bargain. Go ahead and say it, until now you thought putting Machado and “team leader” in the same sentence was the equivalent of mining a diamond with a dental pick. But hear me out.

In both games, both sides spent enough time chirping over, shall we say, floating strike zones—the Mets and the Phillies about plate umpire C.B. Bucknor’s, the Padres and the Cardinals about their plate umpire Phil Cuzzi’s. That isn’t exactly new business when it comes to that pair of arbiters.

But the worst out of either the Mets or the Phillies  about Bucknor in Citi Field was chirping. In Busch Stadium, Tatis didn’t just take it when Cuzzi rang him up on a called, full-count, third strike from Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright leading off the top of the fifth.

The Padres led 2-0 at the time, in a game they absolutely had to win to stay alive in the National League wild-card race. First, Tatis gave an obviously frustrated sigh. Then, he bent his head over his left shoulder and made a few body-language movements plus some utterances . . . but he did it facing away from Cuzzi.

The bad news is that replays showed Cuzzi actually called the pitch right. It hit just under the strike zone ceiling. The worse news for the moment was Padres manager Jayce Tingler hustling out of the dugout to argue the call, trying to protect his player, but getting himself tossed post haste.

As Tingler got the ho-heave, Tatis returned to the dugout and banged the bench a few times in his frustration. Then, apparently, he continued grumbling about that third strike as the inning went forward, with Jake Cronenworth stranded on second following a one-out double. Machado is known to have befriended Tatis personally, but he’d also had more than enough of whatever bellyaching Tatis continued during the inning.

The next thing anyone knew, Machado could be heard hollering clearly enough at Tatis, Go play baseball! You play baseball. You can’t worry about that sh@t! You go play baseball! [Fornicate] that sh@t! Tatis must have tried to interject something about the disputed strike right there, because Machado then hollered, No, it’s not. It’s not about you! It’s not [fornicating] about you! Go [fornicating] play baseball.

Then the Padres’ veteran third baseman and their youthful superstar shortstop went back to the field to continue [fornicating] playing baseball.

The Padres lead held until the bottom of the eighth, when Cardinals third baseman Tommy Edman lofted a one-out sacrifice fly, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt wrung Padres reliever Emilio Pagan for a walk, and left fielder Tyler O’Neill hit a 2-2 cutter into the left field bullpen.

Perhaps ironically, two innings before that blast, O’Neill was no more thrilled with Cuzzi’s strike zone than any Padre on the night. He simply didn’t let mere frustration turn into a fuming that might require a Cardinal veteran or two dressing him down on the spot before the ump might throw him out.

“That was a great job by him not getting too animated there,” said Wainwright, who’d surrendered only a pair of RBI singles to Victor Caratini and Tommy Pham in the top of the fourth. “If we lose him right there, we probably lose the game . . . That was a lot of maturity by him to not get thrown out right there on some tough calls.”

O’Neill’s blast overthrew the lead Padres starter Yu Darvish handed the Padres bullpen after seven shutout innings during which he’d allowed a mere three hits while striking nine Cardinals out. The Padres had no answer in return against Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos in the top of the ninth, with their own veteran first baseman Eric Hosmer striking out swinging on a slightly high fastball to end it.

Machado and Tatis had to be separated by Padres coach Ryan Flaherty before they returned to the field. Post-game, Tingler said only that the dustup wasn’t viewed “negatively” around the team that’s now lost 23 of their last 33 games after entering the season practically crowned the World Series winners-to-be by an awful lot of people now dining on roast crow.

“I’m sure people on the outside think it’s whatever they think, but we’re family,” Tingler told the press. “We’re not going to discuss the details, but we care. There’s passion, there’s frustration. Those are all emotions that are natural and those things happen. But it comes down to a group of men caring.”

The details were captured on more than one video that went slightly viral within moments of the dustup ending, as things turned out. Then the real focus became Machado, who once had a reputation for just the kind of petulance over which he’d now dressed Tatis down so dramatically and, shall we say, colourfully.

Those trying to score the dressing-down as just another example of Machado still being a self-centered pain in the rump roast might be shocked to discover a former Padre, Will Middlebrooks, tweeting very much otherwise in the immediate wake:

I know people will take the angle of “Machado is a bad teammate”…but you couldn’t be more wrong here. This was a leadership move. Let’s not forget FTJ is still 22. A phenomenal player, but still a lot to learn. Tatis can’t get tossed in the 5th inning of a game they need to win.

During an exchange featuring more than a few dissenting tweeters, Middlebrooks added, “History tells me that Machado had the experiences to know better. He’s grown up a lot and learned from his past.

The Padres didn’t make either Machado or Tatis available to the press after the game. But a week earlier, Machado spoke to Athletic writer Britt Ghrioli, during a weekend on which the Padres lost twice to the Dodgers. Machado only began by saying he’d learned some things at last.

There’s a time and place for everything. In Baltimore, I was young. I was just there to play. There were other guys that were leaders—Adam (Jones), J.J. (Hardy), (Matt) Wieters . . . Now, obviously, it’s different. Guys are looking up to me.

I think what’s happening now in this game is we are losing track of the older guys, the respect of the veterans, guys who have been here and done it a long time. You got to earn that respect; you got to earn that role. It’s not just given. A lot of players now are just expected to be the guy [when they reach the majors]. But I’m old-school baseball; I want to teach it how I was taught.

When you are young you make a lot of mistakes. You make mistakes as you grow and hopefully you learn from them, you gain experience. You [fornicate] up again, give your thoughts and learn from it again. That’s what it’s about. I messed up a lot at a young age, like a lot of people, but you take that and you try to learn from it. I’m at the point now where — I’ll be 30 [next year], I want to win. I just want to win.  And I think we can do that here.

“I would say Manny’s done a good job with all his leadership throughout the year,” Tingler said, though he refused again to speak of the deets involving the dugout dustup. “But I would say Manny being able to share his experience and share his past experiences of coming up in the league is a good thing.”

It hasn’t turned Machado into a grump refusing to let the kids play. He still has clear fun playing the game. It’s simply made him one of the adults in the room who knows from bitter experience when the kids can’t afford to get sent to bed without their supper and tries to stop it as best he can with what he has.

While all that happened, I was watching Phillies second baseman Jean Segura hit a pair of solo homers in the first and third off Mets starter Carlos Carrasco. I watched Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo hit a one-out triple off the top of the right field wall and score on an infield ground out in the sixth to cut the deficit in half.

But I also watched Bryce Harper hit a two-run double in the seventh off Mets relief retread Brad Hand to put the game just out of the Mets’ reach. The other guys have now hit .357 off Hand since the Mets lifted him from the waiver wire at the beginning of this month.

And, after Mets reliever Miguel Castro sank into but escaped a bases-loaded jam with no further Phillies scoring in the top of the eighth, I saw Nimmo hit one over the right field fence to lead their half off but no further Met scoring the rest of the way.

It put the Phillies a mere game behind the Braves in the NL East, with the Braves losing to the Giants, 2-0, in San Francisco. It also kept the Mets five and a half out of first in the East but pushed them to seven games back in the wild card race. The Phillies knock on the door of improbability; the Mets—now losers of five straight—are only a step or three from going through the floor.

Catching up to the Padres and their once-unexpected adult in the room in St. Louis proved just as intriguing.

“It’s been a show for quite awhile”

Bryce Harper

Philadelphia’s king of swing launches one into the second deck Thursday night.

When April was just about over, Bryce Harper resembled dead meat. He’d just been nose-coned by an errant Genesis Cabrera fastball, and it turned out worse for him. No, his schnozz wasn’t smashed, but the pitch ricocheted onto his left wrist.

After an April that finished with him showing a 1.063 OPS Harper’s May was abbreviated to fifteen games and a .634 OPS to show for them. Clearly enough the lefthanded launcher struggled through the injury, making far less than his normal hard contact, and probably should have been tied down to rest and let it heal properly.

Finally, after an 0-for-5 game on 22 May, Harper was indeed put on the injured list. Phillies manager Joe Girardi got caught lying through his teeth about the depth of Harper’s wrist injury. Some believed the Phillies would rather “engage in subterfuge to trick the opposing manager than play with an actual full roster.”

One way or the other, for all the tricks and lack of treats, Harper clawed his way back. All the way back to awakening this morning with the major league leadership in OPS (1.055) and OPS+ (183). All the way back to the rare standing of a .300+/.400+/.600+ slash line. (Harper’s: .314/.428/.627.)

All the way back into the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award conversation. All the way back from that balky wrist to entering a weekend set against the Mets as Philadelphia’s king of swing.

All the way back to helping as big as Harper can help in yanking the Phillies back to three games behind the Braves in the National League East and 2.5 games away from the second National League wild card.

If you wonder how big that can be at the most extreme, you should have watched the Phillies resurrect themselves against the Cubs, 17-8 Thursday night—with Harper doing the critical damage, especially a mammoth home run in the seventh.

So the Cubs battered seven runs out of the Phillies in the top of the third? The Phillies tore seven out of the Cubs in the bottom of the fourth. The Cubs who thought they had it made after the third didn’t know yet that they’d all but had it for the night.

Harper had already walked twice in the game when he squared off against Cub reliever Manuel Rodrigez in the bottom of the sixth with first and second and one out. On 1-2 he hit a long double sending Odubel Herrera home with the tiebreaking run. One out later, Didi Gregorius—who’d been drilled by a Cabrera pitch immediately after Harper took one off his beak in that late April game—singled Juan Segura and Harper home to make it 10-7, Phillies.

The next inning, after Willson Contreras got one back for the Cubs with a homer in the top of the frame, Harper got even more frisky. After Herrera doubled a pair home with one out, Harper faced yet another Cub reliever, Rex Brothers, and showed anything but brotherly love with first and third—he hit a three-run homer.

Segura merely added insult to injury with a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth. The Cubs, who’ve been dying since their trade deadline fire sale, gave up the ghost several innings earlier.

They must have wondered whether they’d been a little too greedy over apparent Phillies generosity in that seven-run third. Phillies starter Matt Moore walked the bases loaded and then hit Ian Happ with a pitch to start the Cub fun. Contreras then lined Rafael Ortega home, Patrick Wisdom sent a two-run double to the back of left center, and—one strikeout later—Matt Duffy hit one over the left center field fence.

The Phillies must have said to themselves, “Greed shall be its own downfall” in the fourth. Andrew McCutchen started that party with a two-run double down the right field line. A base hit and a hit batsman later, Matt Joyce wrung Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks for a bases-loaded walk. Herrera drove Brad Miller home with a base hit, and Freddy Galvis scored on a ground out, before Harper drew his second walk and J.T. Realmuto singled Joyce and Herrera home.

The full fifth and the top of the sixth passed cleaner than hounds’ teeth before Matt Vierling opened the bottom with a base hit up the pipe. After Herrera reached on an error at first base and Segura forced Vierling at third, Harper hit one the other way down the left field line to break the seven-all tie, before coming home with Segura when Grigorius shot one through the hole at shortstop into left.

Those were just warmups for what proved the main attraction in the seventh, with Herrera on third, Segura on first, and Harper hitting Brothers’s first pitch into the second deck behind right field.

“It feels good,” Harper said post-game, “but we’ve got a while to go. I want to keep playing well and have good at-bats, have good games and just be where we need to be down the stretch.”

“We’re all involved in this, right? And the game is always, to me, about our team,” Girardi said. “But he’s a big reason why we’ve hung around, just because of the season that he’s had and the last two-and-a-half months, whatever he’s done. It’s been incredible to watch. It’s been a show for quite awhile.”

“The challenge,” writes The Athletic‘s Matt Gelb, “has always been squeezing enough from the roster around Harper. It is flawed and will continue to be flawed even if the Phillies sneak into the postseason. It will not dampen the doubts about the organization’s long-term plan. But Harper has given the Phillies everything he promised, and the rest of the franchise has seventeen days to make it count for something.”

Neither Girardi nor the Phillies want the show to end. It might or might not be just a sliver outside possibility’s realm. But in theory, at least, they could even reach the postseason by a nose.

There’s plenty unfair about veiling player injuries

Bryce Harper

Bad enough: Bryce Harper—here about to be nose-coned by a Genesis Cabrera fastball—suffered a wrist injury on this pitch that sapped him at the plate in May. Worse: his manager Joe Girardi still thinks it’s fine to lie about player injuries.

Phillies manager Joe Girardi says sharing injury information with the press is “somewhat unfair to us.” It’s not exactly fair to a lot of people, especially the injured player(s). Especially with this season’s injuries seeming to come in multiples, which too many observers feared possible, if not likely, after last year’s pan-damn-ically inspired short, irregular season.

Last Tuesday, Bryce Harper was finally put on the injured list with a wrist injury. His manager was forced to admit he’d lied previously about Harper’s actual condition, saying he gave Harper last Sunday off, maybe to help the right fielder start shaking a slump away.

Never mind for the moment that the Phillies have real player depth problems. The Athletic‘s Matt Gelb isolates a more severe problem: “There might be a larger issue when it reaches this point: The Phillies would rather engage in subterfuge to trick the opposing manager than play with an actual full roster.”

You might recall Harper taking a hard and fast Genesis Cabrera pitch off his nose onto his left wrist leading off the sixth in St. Louis near April’s end. At that moment, between Harper getting dropped and followup Phillies batter Didi Grigorius taking the next pitch off his ribs, the outrage was over both Phillies being injured with those pitches and the abject stupidity of the three-batter minimum rule for relief pitchers.

The rule denied Cardinals manager Mike Schildt the option of getting Cabrera the hell out of there on a night he clearly lacked control of his bullets. The umpires’ refusal to eject Cabrera after Grigorius got drilled outraged the normally mild-mannered Girardi enough to get himself the ho-heave after making a pantomime of ejecting Cabrera himself following the umpire warnings.

But something was clearly wrong with Harper in the month to follow. His April finished with a 1.063 OPS (.448 on-base percentage; .615 slugging percentage). Now his May finishes with a 179-point OPS drop, to .884. His on-base percentage dropped 53 points; his slugging percentage, 126 points. He went from 48 total bases the season’s first month to 13 in May.

The Phillies may have had depth problems most of the season so far, but someone in that organisation should have seen something wrong with Harper. The lefthanded-swinging right fielder was clearly unable since the Cabrera drill to hit hard when making contact, and enemy pitchers figured it out early enough to keep pounding him with fastballs. He should have been send to the injured list far sooner than now.

But no. And Girardi thinks just keeping his mouth shut about who’s hurt where and how badly is going to help? If the other guys’ pitchers figured Harper’s swing was weakened and exploited him accordingly, does Girardi really think he’s doing Harper or anyone else on his team any favours by not talking up?

“There is a distinct advantage to the other manager if I tell you a guy’s wrist is hurt,” Girardi said last Tuesday, after the Phillies finally had to surrender and send Harper to the injured list.

And the idea here is to win games . . . I understand you want to know. But there are distinct advantages that I can give another club if they know everything that’s going on over here. So I’m sorry that I had to do that. But we’re trying to win games, and he’s just not ready to go. I thought he’d be ready on Monday or Tuesday. He’s not.

News flash: The other guys already know who doesn’t look right. Especially if he has an injury history the way Harper does.

Marlins manager Don Mattingly, whose team hadn’t faced the Phillies in April but did so twice this month, figured it out immediately last Sunday, when he saw Harper on the Phillies bench last Sunday wearing a red pullover shirt but not his Phillies uniform top. Mattingly and his Marlins knew Harper wasn’t going to play before Girardi finally had to quit lying his way around the issue.

Harper still has his career-long critics, of course, but even they acknowledge (however begrudgingly) that he hates to sit a game out unless he absolutely must. Baseball men “know to never read too much into Girardi’s words because he was notorious for less-than-truthful injury updates when he managed in New York,” Gelb observed.

Then Harper told Girardi last Sunday morning the wrist still wasn’t right. Come Monday, Girardi fed the press a line about merely deciding Sunday night he’d give Harper an extra day off.

Sure, Joe. Let Joe and Jane Fan think all he needs is an extra day’s rest. Let them think they haven’t seen what their own eyes tell them. Let them think the man’s just slumping. Let them think he’s just struggling as he’s done at times in the past.

Anything except letting the other guys think what they already know because they’ve been in the game long enough to know better. The hell with your guy’s reputation or health. Even if he should have been sent to the injured list and the real doctors long before he finally was. It’s going to do your team how much good now?

It’s not that Joe and Jane Fan always know when a player struggles because his health compels the struggle. They see such a player—whether a replacement-level player or a $300 million dollar gigastar—and assume without knowledge that the man is either having a slump or exposing himself as the overrated bum they always knew him to be.

It gets even better when Joe and Jane start rhapsodising about the Good Old Days of the Grand Old Game. When ballplayers were invariably warriors, real men who played through broken limbs or even tuberculosis. Joe and Jane don’t like to be reminded that in the Good Old Days of the Grand Old Game players had so few choices about things in general and baseball medicine, such as it was, in particular, that baseball medicine could have been hauled before the boards to answer for downright malpractise.

Red Schoendienst

Everyone in the league knew something was wrong with Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst in 1958—then he was diagnosed as having played the year with tuberculosis. Fat lot of good that did him or his Braves.

Even today, you can find a player who finds as much reason to trust his team medical staff about as far as he could throw a subway train, then goes to a more reliable doctor—and gets himself into hot water with the team. It’s hell if you do and hell if you don’t.

Did I say tuberculosis? Joe and Jane love reading about the “guts” it took 35-year-old Hall of Fame second baseman Red Schoendienst to play 106 games in 1958—including stretching a double into a triple on the basepaths during the World Series—despite everyone in the National League including his own team knowing something was badly wrong with the ten-time All-Star, who knew what?

Yankee Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle remembered Schoendienst being exhausted beyond normality after pulling up at third on that hit. Diagnosis after the season: tuberculosis. Missed practically the entire 1959 season. His Braves lost that Series to the Yankees, then lost the 1959 pennant in a playoff against the Dodgers.

Mantle spoke of Schoendienst in his 1964 book (with Babe Ruth/Casey Stengel biographer Robert W. Creamer) The Quality of Courage. Exactly what good did it do his team or himself that Schoendienst “courageously” played through a disease that could have killed him, infected others, and then missed most of the following year?

A player who earned his living as much with his second base defense as his bat, Schoendienst was never the same player again. He hung around for portions of four more seasons before becoming a successful manager, and even his second base abilities drained away before he called it a playing career.

It’s not that Joe and Jane Fan share a particularly acute or enduring memory today, either. They spent more time bemoaning the Jacoby Ellsbury contract with the Yankees for his protracted absences than they did bemoaning the fact that Ellsbury spent so much time in drydock because of assorted injuries he’d actually incurred, you know, playing the game. (Did I mention the manager when Ellsbury first joined the Yankees was Joe Girardi?)

They also tended to forget that teams carry particularised insurance covering those big contracts in the event of injuries. They’d rather carp about such players “stealing” money from their teams as if they went out with premeditation and malice aforethought to get injured during games.

The biggest idiots among the fans still think Albert Pujols “stole” millions from the Angels, rather than stopping to think the reason Pujols dropped so far off the table in the first place was his lower body health, only starting with a frightening recurrence of plantar fasciitis after his first Angels season.

It doesn’t take much to leave a player anything but the player he was until that one particular injury, either. Especially when he’s still only 28 years old. Playing through a wrist injury did Harper no favours at all. In April: he swung and missed 26 percent of the pitches he saw in the strike zone and still posted that 1.063 OPS for the month. After the Cabrera drilling: he swung and missed at 37 percent of what he saw in the zone—and his OPS cratered.

“Beyond the simple fact that no Girardi updates for the remainder of his time as Phillies manager can be taken at face value,” Gelb writes, “there have to be real questions about Harper. Is there more than a sore wrist at play here?”

If there isn’t, it shouldn’t be a shock, either. A single injury can and too often does send a player from the Hall of Fame track to the wrong side of the track. It’s bad enough Joe and Jane Fan couldn’t care less. It’s worse when his own manager thinks the solution includes lying through his teeth about it.