Adrian Beltre may not wind up the National League’s Most Valuable Player. But he is having a most valuable season — at least for his wallet.
Beltre’s competition for the MVP is San Francisco’s Barry Bonds (who does more to affect the way a game is played than any other position player) and St. Louis’ Scott Rolen (who has a combination of defense and professionalism that gives him an edge over teammates Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds).
The Los Angeles Dodgers, though, have benefitted from Beltre finally living up to his potential. He was always a good third baseman, but last year Beltre batted just .240 (with a dismal .290 on-base percentage).
Now at 25, he has become a complete player. Beltre went into the weekend batting .335 with 95 RBIs, and by hitting 11 home runs in a 17-game stretch, he took the major league lead in that category with 41.
Beltre credited new hitting coach Tim Wallach for helping him improve on his previous career highs of 23 homers and 85 RBIs.
"He has been big," Beltre said. "He has been there for me since spring training, and he has helped me a lot on my mental approach. He emphasizes having an idea before you go to the plate, knowing the pitcher, what the pitcher might do, what he has done before, and just having a plan as to how you want to approach the at-bat."
And it just so happens this breakout season comes with Beltre eligible for free agency after the season.
"I want to be very careful with each of our guys," Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta said. "I don’t want any of this stuff to become a distraction. But I think (Beltre and agent Scott Boras) know that signing Adrian is our top priority going into the winter."
Beltre may be the premier hitter on a market that could include Richie Sexson, Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, Edgar Renteria, Jason Varitek, J.D. Drew and Moises Alou.
AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
Mike Morgan, who set a major league record by playing for 12 teams (including the Diamondbacks in 2000-02), did not pitch for his eighth team until age 35, when the Chicago Cubs traded him to St. Louis in June 1995.
When Baltimore called up Bruce Chen to pitch Wednesday, it gave Chen eight different uniforms. And he just turned 27 in June.
Lucky for Morgan’s place in the record books, Chen pitched well for the Orioles, taking a no-hitter into the six inning at Oakland.
"I have no idea who (Chen) was," opposing pitcher Rich Harden told the San Francisco Chronicle, "and I still don’t. I just know he can pitch."
BLACK HOLE CONFLICTS
The Oakland Raiders may have to adjust their schedule if the Athletics (for once) go deep in the postseason.
Oct. 17 would be the date of Game 5 of the AL Championship Series and a Broncos-Raiders game. That contest could be moved to Monday night or to Denver, since the teams play twice.
The next Sunday is Game 2 of the World Series and Saints at Raiders. That game would be moved to Monday night — if the A’s can figure out how to get past the first round.
• Detroit’s Rondell White has seven games this year against Tampa Bay, the only team not to surrender a homer to him. White can join Bret Boone, Ellis Burks, Eric Davis, Jose Guillen, Glenallen Hill, Rafael Palmeiro, Richie Sexson and Gary Sheffield as the only players with a home run against all 30 teams.
• If Barry Bonds can tie Hank Aaron’s record of 755 career home runs, he will also tie Carlton Fisk’s record of 72 homers after a 40th birthday.
• Florida third baseman Mike Lowell can become a free agent Nov. 1 if the Marlins have not finalized plans for a new ballpark; the team is $30 million short of the necessary $325 million in financing.
• Minnesota lefty Johan Santana is the first Twins pitcher with 200 strikeouts since Bert Blyleven in 1986.
• Boston: Red Sox making New York Yankees a little nervous about stretch run.
• Josh Towers: Toronto right-hander is 6-2 since the All-Star break (and 13-5 in 21 starts since moving into the rotation last September).
• Ozzie Guillen, manager of the Chicago White Sox, who have fallen mightily since late July: "Some people pay to watch this team, but I get paid to watch them. It’s frustrating."
• Minnesota center fielder Torii Hunter, who sat out only one game after a violent collision into the outfield wall Aug. 19: "Come on, this isn’t football. It’s baseball. You can play with a headache."
• Los Angeles manager Jim Tracy, asked about the recent struggles of closer Eric Gagne: "What are you comparing it to? Invincibility?"
• Montreal’s Jose Vidro, on playing in Olympic Stadium: "We’ve been playing great the last two or three homestands, and we’re still getting 8,000 (fans). It’s not our fault. . . . It’s just a big disappointment. We want to be out there playing with a lot of fans out there. It’s more disappointed than being mad."
• Baltimore: Orioles have had a losing streak of nine games or longer every year since 1998.
• Joe Nathan: Minnesota closer allowed more earned runs (six) in four games than he had in his first 53 appearances.