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Albert Pujols is returning to form

Sunday April 20, 2014

If you took Albert Pujols in the fourth or fifth round of your fantasy baseball draft, you're feeling pretty good this morning.

OK, it's Easter and there is chocolate all over the house, so of course you're pretty pumped. But The Machine is feeling pretty festive, too.

Through 17 games, the Angels' $240 million first baseman is hitting .282 with six home runs and 14 RBI. He has a .960 OPS and 11 runs scored in 71 at-bats, and his homer total is the second-best of his 14-year career through 17 contests.

On Saturday, April 19, Pujols blasted the 498th homer of his career. At his current pace, he's about a week away from becoming the 26th player to join the 500-homer club.

In his last six games, entering Sunday, Pujols was batting .360 with four homers, five runs and eight RBI in 25 at-bats.

For Pujols, that might seem like business as usual, until you remember how awful -- at least by his standards -- his 2013 was.

Last season, Pujols batted .258, 63 points below his career norm of .321, and he failed to reach 30 homers for the first time in his career. He finished with 17 homers, 64 RBI and a .767 OPS (his career norm in that category is 1.008).

I wouldn't expect Pujols, at age 34, to reach his per-season norms from his days with the Cardinals. In a remarkable 11-year run with St. Louis, Pujols batted .328 with norms of 41 homers, 121 RBI, 117 runs, eight steals and a 1.037 OPS.

But the first baseman, as long as he remains healthy, should be expected to hit 35 homers, drive in more than 100 runs and earn a good chunk of his $23 million salary.

For the Angels, Pujols' fast start is every bit as encouraging as a basket full of Cadbury Creme eggs.

The Machine's annual salaries increase $1 million per year through 2021, the last season of his 10-year contract. From 2015-21, the Angels owe him a whopping $189 million.

Pujols, who will be 41 in 2021, probably will never live up to those numbers. But it's nice to see him mashing again.

Since we're feeling nostalgic, we'll leave you with this.

Week 4 power rankings

The A's are rolling, but the National League is dominating our top eight.

Here is this week's edition of the power rankings. Before you click on that link, take a wild guess who has been Oakland's best starting pitcher.

Follow me on Twitter for baseball information and analysis. Email me at baseball@aboutguide.com.

Can Jose Reyes stay healthy?

Saturday April 19, 2014

In 2012, the first year of Jose Reyes' six-year, $106 million contract with the newly named Miami Marlins, the shortstop played in 160 games.

That season, he stole 40 bases, hit 11 homers and drove in 57 runs. He wasn't vintage Jose Reyes -- the player who was so sensational from 2006-08 -- but he was pretty darn good.

In the two years since, Reyes has played in 93 (2013) and one game (2014). Today, April 19, he will come off the disabled list for the Toronto Blue Jays -- the team that acquired him in one of the Marlins' many salary dumps (this one occurred after the 2012 season).

The Blue Jays gambled on the 30-year-old being able to stay on the field, which has always been Reyes' biggest issue.

From 2006-08, he played in an average of 157 games per year with the Mets. In that span, he batted .300, .280 and .297, with per-season norms of 16 homers, 69 RBI, 66 stolen bases and 118 runs scored.

In the five years since, he played in 36, 133, 126, 160 (his first year with a nine-figure contract) and 93 games.

The Jays are 9-8 entering Saturday's game against the Cleveland Indians, and if they are to contend in the loaded American League East, they must have Reyes in the lineup.

Adding importance to Reyes' recovery from his latest injury (a strained left hamstring) is his contract will soon get much more expensive.

In 2012, the first year of his deal with the Marlins, he was paid $10 million. His salaries in 2013 and '14 were a combined $26 million -- a reasonable three-year total of $36 million for a five-time All-Star who is dynamic when he's not slowed by some type of ailment.

Beginning next season, Reyes' contract gets much more prohibitive.

From 2015-17, he will paid annual salaries of $22 million. In 2018, the Jays have a $22 million option with a $4 million buyout.

If they don't exercise the 2018 option, they will be paying Reyes a combined $70 million for the 2015-17 seasons.

That's a hefty price for a part-time player.

Reyes needs to be much be more than that for Toronto to not be hampered by his salary.

The odds don't seem to be in his -- nor the Blue Jays' -- favor.

Are the Brewers for real?

Sunday April 13, 2014

At 10-2, the Milwaukee Brewers have baseball's best record.

The Brewers are riding a nine-game winning streak and have outscored their first 12 opponents 57-29. Their run differential of plus-28 is easily the best mark in MLB. Oakland, at plus-19, is the only other team with a run differential better than plus-13.

So are the Brewers for real?

We attempt to answer that question and more in this week's edition of the power rankings.

We have a new No. 1 this week, and only one team in the top 17 is in the same position as it was last week. (Congrats, Giants.)

The Brewers and Giants had a much better week than baseball's instant replay system.

As ESPN's Buster Olney wrote this morning, Saturday, April 12, was not a good one for MLB's new and supposedly improved system.

This weekend, we broke down how the expanded replay system works.

We hope you enjoy that much more than Nationals manager Matt Williams did the umps' confusing four-minute review of a call that should have been reversed Saturday against the Braves.

As I wrote in the replay piece, baseball has finally entered the 21st century.

Now it needs to figure out how to make the system work more efficiently.

 

Is the old Grady Sizemore back? Almost

Saturday April 12, 2014

Grady Sizemore hasn't been an All-Star in six years and, prior to this season, he hadn't played in the big leagues since 2011.

Sizemore is only nine games into the 2014 season, but the early returns are sensational -- at least if you consider what the outfielder has overcome.

Many of us didn't expect Sizemore to even make the Red Sox's roster out of spring training. Not after he had microfracture surgeries on both knees in a span of two years (on his left in 2010 and his right in 2012).

But Sizemore didn't just make the defending World Series champions' Opening Day roster, he has been one of the Red Sox's most positive developments in an otherwise slow start.

In Boston's first 12 games (through Saturday, April 12), Sizemore has played in nine contests and is batting .333 with four runs, two home runs, four RBI, a .394 on-base percentage and .994 OPS. On Friday, April 11, his three-run homer off former Indians teammate CC Sabathia was the difference in Boston's 4-2 win over the Yankees.

To understand how far Sizemore has come, you have to go back to 2009, '10 and '11, when his body started to break down.

In 2009, he played in 106 games -- 51 fewer than his total from 2008. In 2006 and '07, Sizemore played in all 162 contests each year -- a streak he took pride in and, in hindsight, one during which the Indians should have insisted on getting him some rest.

In 2010 and '11, Sizemore was limited to a combined 104 games. In that span, he batted .220 with 10 homers, 45 RBI and four steals.

The latter number shows just how banged up he was.

From 2005-08, Sizemore averaged 29 steals per year. It was then that he was among the most dynamic players in the game.

In that four-year stretch, Sizemore averaged 116 runs, 27 homers and 81 RBI per season. In 2006, he led baseball with 134 runs scored, and he tied for the MLB lead with 53 doubles.

He made three All-Star teams, won a pair of Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger in an electric four-year run. Four years later, in 2012, he was out of baseball -- at age 29.

Now, Sizemore, at 31, will probably never again be a threat to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season. The Red Sox, smartly, aren't playing him more than three games in a row.

With Shane Victorino on the disabled list all season because of a hamstring injury, Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr., the player Sizemore beat out to start in center field on Opening Day, have been Boston's best outfielders.

Bradley is batting .276 with five RBI, six runs and a .382 OBP in 11 games. Daniel Nava, who batted .303 with a .385 OBP last season, is hitting .150 with a .477 OBP and 10 strikeouts in his first 40 at-bats.

When Victorino returns, which could be as soon as Monday, April 14, it's possible Boston could go with Sizemore in left field, Bradley in center and Victorino in right.

Since Sizemore would need to sit every three or four games and Bradley wouldn't need to play every day, Nava could still get regular at-bats.

Regardless of how Red Sox manager John Farrell decides to configure his outfield, what's remarkable is Sizemore has been able to make it this far.

His All-Star days likely are over.

But his career is far from done, which is what counts.

Follow me on Twitter for baseball information and analysis. Email me at baseball@aboutguide.com.

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