Ness Notes: Early Look at 2022

by Larry Ness

The 2022 MLB season enters its fourth week on Thursday (Opening Day was Thursday, April 7th) and here's a few "random thoughts." Few, if any, still consider baseball "America's Pastime'' but there is something about MLB and its history that can still gain national attention. That was the case last weekend when Miguel Cabrera joined the 3,000-hit club on Saturday, becoming the 33rd member of that exclusive club. What's more, he became just the SEVENTH member of the 3,000-hit, 500-HR club, joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Eddie Murray. Most impressively, Cabrera is just the THIRD player to reach 3,000 hits, top 500 HRs AND own a lifetime BA of over .300. He joins Hank Aaron (.305, 3,771 hits and 755 HRs) and Willie Mays (.302, 3,283 and 660). Through games played Wednesday, Cabrera's 'triple crown' line sits at .310, 3,002 and 502).

Albert Puljos is the only other active player in the 3,000-hit, 500-HR club and at 42, is playing the final season of his career. His rookie season with the Cardinals was 2001 and he hit over .300 in each of his first 10 years (low of .312 and a high of .359), while also driving in 100-plus runs in all 10 (average of 123 per season). He also hit 403 HRs in that time frame. The Cards won the World Series in 2006 and then again in 2011, when Pujols failed to hit .300 for the first time (.299 with 42 HRs and 118 RBI). He became a free agent for the first time in his career after 2011 and decided to not take the Cards' offer (reportedly a 10-year, $210 million deal with $30 million deferred. He instead signed a 10-year deal with the Angels worth around $254 million. I think all know how that worked out. After averaging 40 HRs/year through his first 11 seasons, Puljos only reached the 40-HR mark ONCE while with the Angels (hit 40 HRs in 2015) and after batting .285 in his first season with them (2012), he never came close to hitting .300. He hit .256 as an Angel from 2012-2021 with 222 HRs. Pujols signed a one-year contract to return to the St Louis Cardinals back on March 28, 2022, announcing that 2022 would be his final season. We'll see how the season plays out but the saying "You can never go home again," comes to mind. Through the season's first three weeks, Pujols has played in nine games, batting .259 with two HRs and four RBI.

That said, we should take a moment to appreciate both Cabrera and Pujols. Cabrera is 39 and will likely play beyond this season but as noted, Pujols is 'walking away' after the 2022 season. At the moment, his 681 HRs rank 5th all-time, his 2,135 RBI rank third and his 3,308 hits rank 12th. Cabrera joined the 3,000-hit club last Saturday but It's going to be a while until we see another player join the 3,000-hit club. There are only FIVE active players with 2,000 hits, INCLUDING Pujols and Cabrera. Robinson Cano (2,631 hits) is 39, Yadier Molina (2,117) is retiring this fall and Joey Votto (2,035) is 38.
 The Mariners and Dodgers opened the 2022 season as MLB's biggest 'streakers.' Seattle finished second in the American League West in 2021 with a 90-72 record, just two games out of a wild-card berth. That extended Seattle's postseason drought (the longest active one in MLB) to 20 years, as the Mariners last made the playoffs back in 2001. Ironically, that team won 116 games, tying a MLB record for most wins in a single season (one COULDN'T make that up!). Seattle also finished as MLB's best moneyline team in 2021 (+$3,670 at $100/game), barely edging out the 107-win Giants ($3,626). It may come as a surprise that the 76-85 Tigers were the third-best moneyline team (+$2,303), dwarfing the 106-win Dodgers, who finished -$73 at $100/game. The Dodgers saw their streak of EIGHT consecutive NL West titles end in 2021 but they entered the 2022 season having made the postseason NINE straight seasons, the longest-active streak in MLB.

Let me check in on some other active streaks, both good and bad. I'll start with the bad. The Phillies have missed the postseason for 10 straight years, while the Angels and Tigers have failed to make the playoffs in each of the last SEVEN. The Angels won the franchise's only World Series title back in 2002 but I'm sure it seems like even more than two decades ago to Angel fans, as the team has missed the postseason 11 times in the last 12 years (got swept 3-0 in a 2014 ALDS in its lone appearance in that span). Note the Angels own two of the biggest and brightest stars in the game in Ohtani (2021 MVP in the AL) and Mike Trout. Ohtani hit 46 HRs with 100 RBI and 26 SBs in 2091, while going 14-9 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 Ks in 130.1 IP. All Trout has accomplished is finishing among the top-5 in the MVP voting in each of his first NINE seasons, winning in 2014, 2016 and 2019. Trout played in just 36 games last season and didn't play at all after May 17! The Pirates and Royals have each sat out the postseason for the last SIX years. KC deserves a mention in that the Royals played in back-to-back World Series in 2014 (lost to the Giants 4-3) and in 2015 (beat the Mets 4-1) but six playoff-less seasons have followed. The 2016 team went 81-81 and the 2017 went 81-81. However, the last four seasons have seen KC go 217-329 (.397). KC fans may be sensing some "deja vu," as after the 1985 team won the franchise's first World Series crown, the Royals didn't make the playoffs again until 2014 (that's a span of 28 years!).

As noted, the Dodgers own the longest-active postseason run at NINE but playoff success had been lacking for this legendary franchise, as the team's 2020 World Series win came in a season in which  MLB played a 60-game schedule due to COVID. It still counts but the Dodgers hadn't won a World Series since 1988 ('crickets' from 1989 thru 2019!). The Astros and Yankees have the second-longest active streaks at five in a row. The Astros remain the team everyone 'loves to hate' because of the team's "sign-stealing" scandal. However, Houston has made the World Series in THREE of the last five years. Houston won the 2017 World Series (over the Dodgers), lost the 2019 World Series (to the Nats) and then lost it again last season to the Braves. The Yankees are MLB's most famous and successful franchise (27 World Series titles) but since winning FOUR World Series titles in a five-year span (1996-2000), the Yankees lone World Series win came back in 2009. It HAS to 'kill' Yankee fans that in the past 21 seasons, the-hated Red Sox have won four World Series (2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018) and the Giants have won three (2012, 2014 and 2016).

MLB 2022 (Three Weeks In).

Despite no Jacob deGrom, the Mets own MLB's best record at 14-6 (first team to play 20 games) and have captured all of the SIX series they've played. For every Yin, there has to be a Yang, and that would be the Cincinnati Reds. Cincy lost 11 straight from April 12-23, scoring a total of 20 runs in that span (note: The Reds scored two or less runs in the final eight losses of that streak). The Reds check in at 3-15 and also own MLB's worst moneyline mark (-$1,041). Arizona pulled off that unwanted 'daily double' in 2021, going 52-110 and -$3.941. The D'backs aren't 'lighting it up' in the early going but are off to an 8-11 (.421) start, after playing .321 baseball last season. Watch out Cincy fane, the Reds' winning percentage (if you radon the pun) is .167.

Where do things stand after just three weeks around the two leagues? The 12-6 Yankees lead the AL East over the 12-7 Blue Jays and 10-8 Rays (Tampa Bay has won this division each of the last two seasons). The Twins went just 73-89 in 2021 (20 games behind the division-winning White Sox), after winning the AL Central in 2019 and 2020. Minnesota is back atop the division after three weeks, at 10-8. The White Sox ended an 11-year postseason drought in 2020 with a wild card appearance. They then ran away with the American League Central title last season with a 93-69 record, winning the division by 13 games. Chicago expected even more in 2022 but just ended an eight-game losing streak Wednesday night and check in at 8-10. The Angels have missed the postseason for SEVEN straight years (2014) but lead the AL West at 12-7. Seattle is hoping to end its 20-year postseason drought and is 11-7. Meanwhile, the Astros (winners of the division in FOUR of the last five seasons) are just 9-9.

Over in the NL, the 14-6 Mets lead the East and the defending World Champion Braves are just 8-11 (Braves have won the East the last four seasons). As noted earlier, the Phillies have missed 10 consecutive postseason and are off to a 9-10 start. The Brewers lead the Central at 12-7, with the Cards checking in at 10-7. The Giants ended the Dodgers run of EIGHT consecutive NL West titles last season (Giants had 107 wins to the Dodgers 106) and many thought that was a fluke. However, the Giants are 13-6 and the Dodgers 12-6. The Giants played .660 baseball in winning 107 games in 2021 and right now are playing .684. Let me close with a note on the Dodgers. LA won its first five home games of the 2022 season, before losing 3-1 to the Braves on April 19. That ended a streak of 20 consecutive regular season home wins by LA, going back to a home loss in August of 2021 (August 29th, to be exact). Which team beat LA in that game? Naturally, the Braves.

I'll check back on the current MLB season come Memorial Day.

Good luck...Larry

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