What’s the Indians’ secret, what’s wrong with Pujols and other questions

Approaching the first holiday milestone of the season. It used to be said that the team in first place on Memorial Day would win the pennant. Of course, that was before divisions and wild cards. Still, bad news if you’re chasing the Indians (stats through Wednesday’s game):

What’s the Indians’ secret?

Legend says Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil to play the guitar like he did. Evidence says Orlando Cabrera must have made a similar deal. How else to explain that Cabrera has played for four straight division winners for four different teams (Reds, Twins, White Sox and Angels)?  Or five division winners in six years? Or perhaps the most Faustian-aided team ever, the 2004 Red Sox?

It’s ceratinly not because of Cabrera, who in all that time never slugged .400 or on-based more than .345, and whose on-base percentages in the last four seasons, including this one, are .288, .303, .316 and .334. His .627 OPS in 2011 is the lowest of his 15-year career. It could be argued that the Indians are winning in spite of Cabrera, not because of him.

If there’s a Cabrera responsible for the Indians’ success, it’s Asdrubal (apart from Orlando, it’s been a good year for Cabreras with Miguel at .311 and Melky slugging .460). Asdrubal has already slugged a career-high 10 homers and is on career-high paces of a .306 average, .363 on-base and .539 slugging.

Though he has hinted at it before — a .308, 42-double 2009, 14 extra-base hits and 17 walks in just 145 at-bats as a 22-year-old in 2007 — he’s having an Zoilo Versalles-like MVP emergence. (And for the record, in shortstop Versalles’ 1965 MVP season for the Twins, he had a .781 OPS — 121 points less than Cabrera now — 45 doubles, 12 triples and 19 homers, but 122 strikeouts and 41 walks.)

Say this for the Indians: Asdrubal is well protected. With two Cabreras and a Carrera (Ezequiel) on the roster, it’s hard to tell who’s who.

What’s wrong with Albert Pujols?

Two things. The season is young, and he’s not.

It remains to be seen which is more prevalent. Pujols dropped nearly 100 points of OPS from 2009 to 2010, but this year he’s at a middle infielder-like .737 — the lowest of his career on this date by more than 100 points. In fact, 2007 is the only other year Pujols’ OPS has been below .900 on this date.

It would be a spectacular fall if it was September, but it’s not and it isn’t. Not yet.

Still, Pujols is 31 — not retirement age, for sure, but past his peak years almost as surely, and at the age when decline takes hold. Even he’s not immune.

Worse, it won’t be long before we start hearing about his contract and whether it’s affecting him and how much money it’s costing him. Pujols looked like a $30 million a year player before this year. And perhaps he still does — if Carl Crawford is a $20 million a year player for the Red Sox.

How do you beat the Yankees?

Move the fences back. The Yankees have scored 250 runs this year, tied with the Reds and Cardinals (who don’t have a DH) for the most in baseball. But the Yankees have hit a major-league high 75 home runs — 19 more than the Reds, who are second — and have scored exactly half their runs by home run.

The Yankees are on a pace to hit 253 home runs — more than last year’s 201 (the Red Sox, despite their injuries, led baseball with 211) and more than the 244 they hit in the world championship season of 2009.

Maybe, though, the answer isn’t to move the fences back, but to move them in where everybody can reach them (when raising the baskets was suggested to negate the big man’s advantage in basketball, coach Al McGuire said not to raise them but lower them. If everyone could dunk, it wouldn’t be so much of an advantage).

Is it too late to reshoot the Sports Illustrated cover of the Phillies aces?

Maybe there’s room for Wilson Valdez. The Phillies finally found something the utility infielder can do early Thursday morning — pitch.

Valdez tossed a scoreless 19th inning as the Phillies beat the Reds 5-4, the game ending past 1 in the morning. It’s hard to tell what Phillies’ fans were happier about: that Valdez retired Joey Votto and Jay Bruce on fly outs, or that he hit ex-Phillie Scott Rolen in the leg with a pitch.

Elias says Valdez is the first non-pitcher to win a game since Babe Ruth in 1921, and he has as many wins this year as Phillies Danys Baez — who pitched five scoreless innings to a no-decision Wednesday — and injured starter Joe Blanton. He also one more win than J.C. Romero, Jose Contreras, Michael Stutes and David Herndon combined.

Which seems only fair. He’s pitched better.

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