Welcome back to The Rotation! Here are five topics in the world of Major League Baseball worth bantering about this week.
1. Next to join the 600 club?
As of 2001, only three guys had hit 600 home runs: Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. In the relatively short time since, six more guys have joined the club: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, Jim Thome and now Albert Pujols, who reached the mark in grand fashion on Saturday night.
It's understandable why the average fan would feel this mark is a bit watered-down, but if you do a little bit of math, you get the sense it could be a while before we see again what we saw this weekend.
Here are a few obvious candidates.
Miguel Cabrera: Sitting at 451 currently, Miggy is the only guy over 30 who seems to have a realistic shot at 600. Cabrera has 6 2/3 guaranteed seasons left on his extension with the Tigers. This would take him into his age-40 season. Over the past four seasons, Cabrera has hit a home run in 4.2 percent of his plate appearances. So he would need to both maintain that rate and log an average of at least 530 plate appearances through the age of 40 to reach 600. If Miggy, who is 34, has a bunch of 650 plate appearance seasons ahead of him, it's no problem. The issue would be if he has a proliferation of years like last year, when he was limited by injury to 511.
Mike Trout: As tends to be the case, Trout, who is 416 away from 600, is the safest bet to do something historic. But it's no gimme. To this point, Trout has averaged a home run in 4.9 percent of his plate appearances. If he were to maintain that pace, return from thumb ligament surgery to log around 200 plate appearances this year and keep up an average of 685 plate appearances from 2018 on, he would reach 600 during his age-37 season. Trout has yet to even enter his supposed statistical peak, and his homer rate had jumped from 4.3% to 7.8% before he got hurt this year. But the thumb injury is a reminder of how quickly even the game's greatest player can be thrown off course.
Bryce Harper: In his NL MVP Award-winning year in 2015 and what looks like possibly another MVP year in 2017, Harper has hit a home run in 6.6 percent of his plate appearances. If he can maintain that rate and average 650 plate appearances going forward, he would reach 600 somewhere in his age-34 season, leaving Harper plenty of time to legitimately challenge Barry Bonds' record of 762 if he can play to age 40. The problem here is that Harper has only averaged 496 plate appearances and a 4.6-percent home run rate in his career. If those rates were to hold true, he wouldn't hit No. 600 until his age-40 season.
Aaron Judge: All the current Major League home run leader has to do is maintain his current career rate of homers in 7.1 percent of his plate appearances for another dozen healthy years, by which point he'll be 37. No sweat!
2. Brawl or nothing
Something that got way more attention that Pujols' 600th was last week's Harper-Hunter Strickland brawl. Plenty of talking heads discussed whether such fights are actually good for MLB, in that the game had a front-and-center storyline even as the NBA Finals were getting started.
The answer here is no. Fans don't buy their tickets with the expectation that a brawl will break out. Young kids don't pick up a baseball for the first time out of hope they might one day get to charge the mound. And fundamentally, if Harper, one of the great young players in the game, significantly injures a shoulder or a knee or something else in that fight, that is demonstrably bad for the game.
So MLB should still be trying to do something to limit such situations, and Indians manager Terry Francona made a worthwhile argument for making discipline more consistent. When Chris Sale pretty clearly threw at Manny Machado or Julio Teheran plainly plunked Jose Bautista on purpose earlier this season, they weren't suspended. But Strickland wound up with a six-game suspension only because his plunking of Harper led to a brawl.
"I guess where I have a problem," said Francona, "is the league, every spring, they come to you and tell you, 'Hey, things are going to happen during the season. Talk to your guys, because we don't need anyone charging the mound.' So you talk to your guys, they get drilled, they don't charge and then nothing happens. But the pitch was the same [as Strickland's]. If Harper didn't charge the mound, the pitcher gets a fine [not a suspension]. But because he charged, now all of a sudden they have to do something. I think you'd see less guys charge the mound if [the penalty] was the same."
3. Senior Circuit stalwarts
This week brings us matchup of two of the NL's best teams, with Harper's Nationals headed to L.A. to face the Dodgers in a three-game set that begins Monday night. The Nats have the NL's best record, and they've all but locked up the NL East already. But the Dodgers are the more balanced team.
Here's where these two clubs ranked in the NL entering the week:
Run differential: Dodgers first (plus-87), Nats second (plus-69)
Weighted runs created: Nats first (115), Dodgers second (107)
Starting pitching FanGraphs WAR: Dodgers first (6.2), Nats third (5.7)
Relief pitching WAR: Dodgers first (4.1), Nats 15th (minus-0.6)
Stop me if you've heard this before, but that Nats bullpen needs shoring up between now and October. For whatever it's worth, the Dodgers' system is more strongly supplied with trade options than is the Nats, but that won't stop Washington GM Mike Rizzo from being aggressive.
Unlike the Nats, the Dodgers have a real dogfight on their hands in their division. Both the Rockies and D-backs have legitimate staying power (the pending return of Jon Gray will make the Rockies even deeper). But thanks in no small measure to their out-of-nowhere OPS leader Chris Taylor and the late-April promotion of Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers have found their footing and spent four of the last six days atop the NL West.
4. Rivalry renewed?
The Red Sox are chasing the Yankees, a sentence that runs counter to expectations but adds a little juice to a long-slumbering rivalry as the two clubs face each other in the Bronx this week, with a three-game set beginning Tuesday night.
Boston, a supposed superpower, simply hasn't had health on its side this season. Just when David Price finally rejoined the rotation, Dustin Pedroia went down with a wrist injury and now Eduardo Rodriguez has hit the DL with a knee problem. But Price, who will pitch opposite de facto Yankees ace Michael Pineda in the series finale Thursday, looked fantastic in his second start against the O's over the weekend, so the rotation is beginning to emerge as the strength it was purported to be. And though it won't apply to this specific series, Carson Smith's pending rehab assignment means a bullpen in which Craig Kimbrel has rediscovered his dominance is potentially on the verge of becoming sturdier in the setup situation.
The Yankees' biggest concern is Masahiro Tanaka, who opposes the suddenly sterling Drew Pomeranz in the series opener. Had you been told in March that Tanaka would have a 6.34 ERA in early June, you'd have a hard time believing the Yankees were even remotely in the race, because he appeared to be their only reliable starter. But others have risen to the occasion, while Tanaka has battled mechanical inconsistency and flat stuff, en route to a .302/.352/.556 opponents' slash.
5. Only the good die young
How long can MLB's oldest dudes hang on? Entering the week, 43-year-old Ichiro Suzuki -- the game's oldest position player -- had a .174/.219/.246 slash line in a part-time role for the Marlins. His .466 OPS ranked fifth-worst among those with at least 70 plate appearances.
Through 11 starts (entering Monday's outing vs. the Phillies), 44-year-old Bartolo Colon -- the game's oldest player, period -- has a 6.99 ERA, 1.66 WHIP and 62 ERA+. His ERA is the highest among qualifiers.
And the oldest active manager, 68-year-old Terry Collins, has had a trying year, to say the least, with reports abound that he's on the hot seat and at least one fan showing up to Citi Field with a "Fire Terry Collins" shirt.
These ain't the good old days.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.