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.

How long can the Shotime really go on?

Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani hitting his 32nd home run of the season. How long before his two-way life compromises him one or both ways?

Baseball’s flavour of the month, if not the season, is a 27-year-old fellow from Japan about whom The Sporting News once cited unnamed major league scouts saying he’d never be able to hit American big-league pitching. Some say that now compares to the British Decca Records executive who dismissed the Beatles’ manager with, “Groups of guitars are on the way out.”

That fellow is now half way on the way to hitting more home runs in a single season than Babe Ruth and Roger Maris ever hit. (Number 32.) He even has an outside but not unrealistic shot at hitting more home runs than the tainted Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds ever hit in a single season. (McGwire: 70, in 1998; Bonds: 73, in 2001.)

Shohei Ohtani awoke this morning leading the Show with his 32 home runs and his .700 slugging percentage, not to mention leading the American League with four triples. He also performs reasonably at his baseball hobby, pitching: he has a 3.49 earned run average and a 3.58 fielding-independent pitching rate.

That makes him the ace of an Angels pitching staff that hasn’t seen a genuine ace since the first Obama Administration, when Jered Weaver laid claim to the title. That was a decade ago; this is now: The Angels’ starting rotation has a 5.41 ERA; the entire pitching staff, 4.97. With Ohtani in the equation. Without him, the rotation would be 5.90.

So many baseball people, employees, fans, writers alike, rush to anoint Ohtani the 21st Century’s Babe Ruth. But Ruth’s career began on the mound and went from merely impressive to out of this galaxy when he exchanged the mound for right field full-time.

In five more or less full-time seasons as a pitcher, Ruth showed a 2.16 ERA and a 2.74 fielding-independent pitching rate—a period in which the American League’s ERA was 2.88 and its FIP, 2.91. Ruth’s ERA was .72 below the league average and his FIP was .20 below the league. Except for 1916, when his ERA was better than 1.00 below league average (and his only ERA title), Ruth wasn’t exactly the best pitcher in the league—or even the best pitcher on his team. (In 1916, Dutch Leonard had a lower FIP and a better K/BB ratio.)

Really, it’s Ruth’s 1919 that stirs the blood toward comparing Ohtani to him. Well, now. On the mound Ruth posted a 2.97 ERA/3.58 FIP—while leading the American League at the plate in on-base percentage (.456), slugging percentage (.657), and OPS (1.114) in his first season playing 130 games as an outfielder.

Ohtani’s 3.49 ERA thus far is .84 below the American League through this morning; his 3.58 FIP, .66 below. Like Ruth, Ohtani is a good pitcher who can be great now and then. Unlike Ruth, Ohtani can be a strikeout machine on the mound; his 11.7 K/9 is far, far, far beyond Ruth’s 3.7 from 1915-1919. But also like Ruth, Ohtani negates both that and the league hitting a measly .195 against him this year with a 4.9 walks-per-nine rate. (The Babe in 1919: 3.9 walks per nine.)

Ruth pitched in a time when pitchers were still, generally, trained to pitch to bat contact instead of trying to miss bats. (Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson were outliers in that regard.) Of course, Ruth’s entire career took place in an arbitrarily limited game in terms of the available talent pool. A young Japanese man such as Ohtani would have been persona non grata in Ruth’s Show.

But he didn’t become The Babe until he changed jobs. He was a good pitcher with very occasional moments of greatness, but if he’d remained strictly on the mound he wouldn’t have become a Hall of Famer. He was a great (in 1919), then glandular hitter (just about the rest of his career), the absolute best of the pre-World War II/pre-integration/pre-night ball era position players.

It begs a serious Ohtani question. Co-hosting MLB Now for the MLB Network a few days ago, Brian Kenny—author of Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolutionsuggested it was time to think about restricting Ohtani to one or another role. Either make him a full-time pitcher, or make him a full-time designated hitter/periodic outfielder.

That suggestion sent apoplectic the New York Post‘s Joel Sherman, co-hosting the program with Kenny. “Why,” Sherman demanded, “would you stop him from doing one or the other?” Because, Kenny replied, “one could damage the other.”

Kenny was willing to acknowledge that it’s “great” if you can get an ERA under four and a slugging percentage beyond the tenth dimension, but he reminded Sherman audaciously enough that Ruth only really became Ruth when allowed to flourish (Kenny’s word) full-time with a bat in his hands.

“So,” Sherman shot back, “you would like one of the fifteen to twenty best starting pitchers in baseball to stop starting because you’re worried about something that could happen?” You can look it up: By his ERA and his FIP, Ohtani isn’t even one of the twenty-five best starting pitchers in this year’s Show. (ERA: 34th; FIP: tied for 30th.) What could happen, of course, is an injury determining Ohtani’s future employment one or the other way.

Stop snarling, Joe and Jane Fan. It happens. It has happened. Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher in baseball for several seasons, missed time enough this season due to a couple of injuries to his side incurred . . . swinging the bat. A few years ago, deGrom suffered a hyperextended pitching shoulder . . . from a hard swing-and-miss at the plate.

Adam Wainwright’s pitching life was compromised irrevocably by a torn Achilles tendon . . . running the bases. Before Steven Wright ran into trouble over domestic violence, his 2016 was ruined when he injured his pitching shoulder . . . diving back to second base. Chien-Ming Wang’s career was compromised irrevocably when he injured his right foot, the one with which he pushed from the pitching rubber . . . while running the bases.

Who’s to say a particularly hard swing or baserunning move won’t compromise an Ohtani body part whose health is required for even one of the top thirty starting pitchers in the game this season? Who’s to say a particularly hard or off-line throw from the mound won’t compromise the parts he needs to swing and hit balls into earth orbit?

Ohtani dodged such a bullet against the Red Sox two nights ago. He got hit on his surgically-repaired left knee (that’s on his landing leg for pitching, folks) when he fouled an Edwin Rodriguez pitch off his foot. One opposite foul later, Ohtani hit one halfway up the right field bleachers to pass Yankee legend Hideki Matsui for most single-season home runs by a Japanese-born Show player.

Lucky for him that he only had to jog around the bases. You still think the risk is just speculation? That time, it was just a foul off his foot and his knee. The next time, he could get blasted upside his head or his right shoulder (his pitching shoulder) with a pitch. Or, his brains blown out by a line drive on which he can’t get his glove.

I pondered the entire Ohtani phenomenon this morning in an essay for the International Baseball Writers Association of America’s Here’s the Pitch subscription newsletter. “I get the hungering and hankering for someone like Ohtani the so-called two-way player,” I wrote therein.

I get that baseball has done such a terrible job finding and promoting its stars that Ohtani presents a brilliant opportunity entirely on his own. That’s great for the gate and the press. “Shut up and let us enjoy the ride,” Joe and Jane Fan holler at the Brian Kennys.

But it isn’t smart baseball.

Smart baseball requires the maximum placement of a player into the maximum position to do the best he has to help his team win with the least risk possible. It requires Shohei Ohtani to spend his complete days at the serious work of play at the plate. Do you really want a roll call of outsize talents ruined because the gate and the hype were allowed to override if not steamroll the game?

A man walking four batters per nine innings on the mound is a phenomenal risk that really reduces his value from eleven to seven strikeouts per nine. The same man with a .745 real batting average in 2021 so far (total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) is a man who can out-hit your pitching staff’s liabilities.

Go right ahead and keep up the two-way hype if it makes you happy.

With the incomparable Mike Trout still out with a calf injury, Ohtani is indeed just about the only reason Angel fans have to celebrate what shapes up to be yet another season lost.

The Angels can hit tons. They’re third in the American League for team hitting average and OPS; they’re fifth for OBP and second for slugging. Trout before his injury and Ohtani still have a lot to do with that. But they have a team administration that still seems to think building a viable pitching staff is beyond its pay grade.

So the bad news is that Ohtani, their best among (shall we say) modest starting pitchers  and their best damned hitter period, must continue going both ways, regardless of the prospective detriment to his career. He may well end up the new single-season home run champion and the league’s OPS leader. He may even get to both pitch and hit in the All-Star Game.

Wowie zowie, as Frank Zappa once sang.

Ohtani is the Rosetta Stone at the plate. He’d be the number four or five starter on another staff. There’s danger in that thar two-way business. There usually is danger when you put the gate and the hype ahead of the game. There’s better gate when you field winning baseball than a single outlying Shoman. (Just ask the 2002 Angels—the only World Series winner in the franchise’s history so far.)

Enjoy Shotime while you can, ladies and gentlemen. But if danger becomes actuality, and it costs the Angels either the most viable starter on a pitching staff hitters pray to face, or their most dangerous hitter (or maybe both at once), don’t say nobody warned you.

The first five days

Stop me if you’ve heard it before: Jacob deGrom pitched like a Hall of Famer, but the new Mets bullpen puked the bed like the old one did.

The fans are back in the stands, however limited by ongoing COVID-19 safety protocols, but the Nationals have yet to play a regular-season game thanks to a few players and a staffer or two testing positive. There went that Opening Day must-see match between Max Scherzer and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom.

With their opening set with the Nats thus wiped out, deGrom had to wait until the Mets went to Philadelphia Monday. Oops. That and everything else seemed to play a support role to the horrid news out of San Diego.

The news that Fernando Tatis, Jr., the Padres’s new bazillion dollar shortstop, suffered a partial left shoulder dislocation on a hard third inning swing at the plate during a Monday loss to the Giants.

Padres manager Jayce Tingler told reporters he thinks team trainers and medical people were able to pop the shoulder back together, but the team isn’t taking chances. At this writing, MRI results aren’t available and nobody knows yet whether Tatis will spend significant time on the injured list.

If it’s more than a small shoulder dislocation, it may not be significant time. If it’s something like a labral tear, Tatis could miss six months—essentially, the rest of the season—according to one doctor who knows such shoulder troubles and spoke to the Los Angeles Times. Don’t fault the Padres if they’re saying to themselves, “Thank God for insurance.”

DeGrom could use a little extra insurance himself, alas. The good news for the Mets: deGrom was his usual self Monday night. Six shutout innings, seven punchouts, three hits, three-figure speed on his fastballs. The bad news, alas: the Mets are gonna Met, so far. At least out of the bullpen.

Their on-paper impressive offense found nothing more than two runs to support their ace. They got an inning of shutout relief from Miguel Castro relieving deGrom for the seventh, but the bullpen puked the bed in the eighth—including hitting Bryce Harper with the bases loaded. Not exactly a Rhodes Scholarship move there.

The Old Fart Contingency thundered aboard social media that Mets manager Luis Rojas blew it lifting deGrom after six strong—until they were reminded the added layoff after the Washington postponement put both deGrom and the Mets into caution mode.

“If that was [last] Thursday and I’m on normal rest,” the smooth righthander said postgame of the early hook, “I don’t think there is any chance I’m coming out of that game. We discussed it before what was the right thing to do. Long season and talking to them coming in, it felt like was the right decision.”

It was neither deGrom’s nor Rojas’s fault that, after Garcia took care of the Phillies in the seventh with just one infield hit within a fly out and two ground outs, the Phillies loaded the bases on the Mets’ new relief toy, Tyler May, in the eighth with one out, before Rojas went to another new Met bull, Aaron Loup. And Loup promptly hit Harper to push Miller home, before J.T. Realmuto singled home pinch runner Quinn, Mets late third base replacement Luis Guillorme threw home off line allowing Harper and Rhys Hoskins to score, and Didi Gregorius pushed Realmuto home with a first-pitch sacrifice fly.

The Mets had nothing to answer except a two-out ninth-inning stand that came up two dollars short against Phillies closer Alvarado. Kevin Pillar singled up the pipe, Francisco Lindor—the Mets’ own new bazillion-dollar lifetime shortstop—dumped a quail into shallow right that landed just in front of and then off the glove on oncoming, diving Harper, and Michael Conforto singled Pillar home while setting up first and third.

Pete Alonso, their 2019 Rookie of the Year bomber, hit one to the back of right field that looked as though it had a chance to ricochet off the top of the fence if not clear it. It wasn’t quite enough to stop Harper from running it down, taking a flying leap with his back against the fence, and snapping it into his glove to stop a game-tying extra-base hit and end the game with the Phillies on the plus side, 5-3.

Marry the foregoing to deGrom going 2-for-3 at the plate including an RBI single, and no wonder May himself said post-game, “Jake shouldn’t have to do everything himself. That’s not what teams are, and frankly Jake did almost everything today.”

Just don’t marry that to things such as the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani hitting 100+ mph on the mound and hitting a mammoth home run that flew out 100+ mph in the same inning last Friday night. Ohtani the two way player is an outlier among outliers; deGrom’s merely an outlier.

As of Tuesday morning— with the National League’s pitchers having to bat because Commissioner Nero simply couldn’t bring himself to keep the universal designated hitter this year at least, and Ohtani batting second in the Angel lineup the night he started on the mound, among other things—the pitchers have a .131/.157/.192 slash line and a .349 OPS.

The pitchers at the plate from Opening Day through the end of Monday night collected thirteen hits in 149 plate appearances: nine singles, three doubles, and Ohtani’s Friday night flog a third of the way up Angel Stadium’s high right field bleachers. They also walked three times and struck out 56 times. And the OFC still insists the National League just say no to its own invention.

All around the Show, too, there was one home run hit every 35 plate appearances and fourteen percent of all 928 hits the season’s first five days cleared the fences. It took five outs to create a single run, with 5.3 average runs created per game and 631 runs created while 559 scored.

It was fun to hear the fan noises even in limited capacities, too, though the limits in Angel Stadium made Ohtani’s blast sound even more explosive at the split second he hit it. If only things had been more fun for the home crowds: the many themes for the Show’s first five days could include, plausibly, the blues classic “On the Road Again.”

The home teams’ slash lines: .225/.313/.374/.687 OPS. The road teams: .245/.328/.403/.731 OPS. The road teams drove in fifteen more runs, hit thirteen more home runs, seven more doubles, and had seventy more hits overall. They also took eleven more walks, though they struck out fifty more times and grounded into fifteen more double plays. The road rats also had a +29 batting average on balls in play over the home boys and 108 more total bases while they were at it.

Maybe the shocker among the opening road rats were the Orioles. The Woe-rioles. Taking three straight from the Red Sox in Fenway Park. Out-scoring the Olde Towne Team 18-5, including and especially an 11-3 battering on Sunday afternoon. Even those paranoid about ID cards might want to insist the Orioles show theirs, even after the Orioles got a brief return to earth from the Yankees beating them 7-0 Monday in New York.

Unless it was the Reds, taking two out of three from the Cardinals to open, including and especially a 12-1 battering Sunday afternoon that proved the best revenge against abject stupidity is to slap, slash, scamper, and smash your way to a six-run seventh when you’re already up three runs—thanks to Nick Castellanos ripping Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez for a two-out, three-run homer an inning earlier.

Castellanos got drilled by Cardinals reliever Jack Woodford Saturday . . . two days after he bat-flipped a home run. Then, when he dove home to score on a wild pitch, Castellanos got bumped by Woodford sliding in to bring down the tag Castellanos beat. Castellanos sprung up, barked at Woodford, and began walking away before trouble could arrive. Oops. Trouble arrived—when Yadier Molina shoved him from behind to spark a bench-clearing brawl.

Baseball government myopically suspended Castellanos two games for “provoking” the brawl. Who’s baseball’s official optician? Who couldn’t see what everyone else with eyes saw? And how long has Molina—handed only an “undisclosed fine” along with a few others in the scrum—been so privileged a character that he can get away with the actual kickoff of a brawl that was seeded in the first place because the Cardinals are one of the game’s self-appointed Fun Police precincts?

“I was pleased,” Cardinal manager Mike Schildt told the press after that game. “Our guys came out there. We’re not going to take it. I know Yadi went immediately right at him, got sidetracked by [Cincinnati’s Mike Moustakas]. Woody, to his credit, got up and was like, ‘I’m not going to sit here and be taunted.’ Good for him.”

Taunted? All Castellanos said when he sprang up, by his own admission, was “Let’s [fornicating] go!” Anyone who thinks Woodford lacked intent didn’t see that ball sailing on a sure line up into Castellanos’s shoulder and rib region. Nor did they see Molina very clearly shoving Castellanos without Castellanos having the benefit of a rear-view mirror.

Castellanos appealed the two-game suspension. The final result wasn’t known at this writing. But the Cardinals should be getting a message of their own: Defund the Fun Police. Pronto.

How about the Astros, who went into Oakland and swept four from the Athletics before ambling on to Anaheim and losing 7-6 to the Angels Monday night? That was despite dropping a three-run first on Angel starter Jose Quintana and yanking a fourth run out of him in the top of the fourth, before the Angels finally opened their side of the scoreboard with Mike Trout (of course) hitting Luis Garcia’s 2-2 meatball about twelve or thirteen rows into the left field seats.

The Angels pushed a little further back, the Astros pushed a little further ahead, until the Angels ironed up and tore four runs out of the Astros in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single (Dexter Fowler), a run-scoring force play (David Fletcher), a throwing error (on Jared Walsh’s grounder to first), an intentional walk (to Trout, of all people), and a sacrifice fly (Anthony Rendon).

Kyle Tucker’s ninth-inning solo bomb turned out more a kind of excuse-us shot than a last stand. The game left both the Astros and the Angels at 4-1 to open the season and what could be very interesting proceedings in the American League West. Now, if only the Astros could finally get past Astrogate.

They’ve been playing and winning through numerous catcalls, howls, and even a few inflatable and actual trash can sightings in Oakland and Anaheim. Jose Altuve—who’s looked more like his old self at the plate so far—seemed mildly amused when an inflatable trash can fell to the warning from those high Angel Stadium right field bleachers.

Astrogate was and remains anything but amusing. The Astros could keep up their torrid opening and overwhelm the AL West this season, but the scandal won’t go away entirely (nor should it) until the absolute last Astrogater standing no longer wears their fatigues. Yes, you’ve heard that before. That doesn’t make it any less painful for Astro fans or less true for everyone else. The Astros, nobody else, wrote the script that made them pariahs. Bang the cans slowly, fans.

Will off-field-based illegal electronic sign stealing disappear at all? Players got same-game video access back this year. There are three security people in every team’s video room at home and on the road. League cameras have been installed in those video rooms. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to add guard dogs?

The players union agreed last year: there’ll be no more players getting away with murder even in return for spilling the deets—the commissioner can drop a lot more than a marshmallow hammer on the cheaters from now on. All by himself. He can demand answers without plea bargaining. And he doesn’t need a permission slip.

“But one of the prevailing lessons from the electronic sign-stealing era is that even if a scheme sounds far-fetched, someone might give it a whirl if they believe they can get away with it,” writes The Athletic‘s Evan Drellich, one of the two reporters (Ken Rosenthal was his partner) who helped break and burrow deep into Astrogate. “This holds true no matter what MLB does. Even a total ban on electronics, which the players would never agree to, would not be enough. In that case, a player or staffer could simply go rogue.”

In other words, boys will be still be boys, if they can-can.