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The National League needs the DH, but could do it differently than the AL does

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Adding offense while ensuring there’s still variety in style of play between the leagues.

Miami Marlins Garrett Cooper (26) celebrates his walk-off home run with teammate Miguel Rojas (19) against the New York Mets during the ninth inning at loanDepot Park Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

With tonight’s visit to Fenway Park, the Miami Marlins will be allowed a designated hitter for the first time in 2021. It’s a refreshing opportunity for a roster that was assembled with the universal DH in mind, only to receive word shortly before Opening Day that Major League Baseball and the players’ union were unable to reach a compromise on the matter.

Just yesterday, the Marlins were adversely impacted by MLB’s “different leagues, different rules” approach.

Phillies lefty José Alvarado brought his lights-out stuff in trying preserve a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning. He looked something like this against the toolsy Jorge Alfaro, his first batter faced, as illustrated by MLB Gameday.

MLB Gameday. 5/27/21 Mia Vs. Phi

Alvarado’s nearly unhittable sinker that went for a groundout in the way you would expect with the heat and downward movement. Any swing under over the pitch would be a groundout and any swing under the ball would be a foul. It was a pitch that a Marlins hitter would need to square up and command to earn a hit. They’d have to barrel it.

As a lineup of mostly athletic players who are thin with the bat, patience was the best option.

MLB Gameday. 5/27/21 Mia Vs. Phi

Thanks to his shaky control, the Marlins started to threaten. Rather than ride with Corey Dickerson, Donnie Baseball elected to bring in Garrett Cooper who he presumably figured had a better chance of squaring one up. That tracks analytically—the 1.7% Barrel Rate for Corey Dickerson this season is far below the 7.3% for Cooper, according to FanGraphs. By pinch-hitting, Mattingly had found an impact spot in the late innings to leverage Cooper’s bat while mitigating his outfield liability.

That was, until the next half-inning with the game tied and 0 outs. Cooper had stayed in the game after a flurry of defensive moves around the injured Miguel Rojas. Then a flyball to Garrett Cooper in right went for a triple when it could quite easily gone for an out.

Misplays like that make Garrett Cooper make him a liability in right field. That fact hasn’t changed from the start of the season, while his bat has started to heat up including his now-11 game hitting streak. As a 30-year-old player, Cooper is unlikely to improve much in that facet of the game moving forward as the defensive side of baseball demands outstanding athleticism to be great.

Cooper doesn’t have that.

To his credit, Cooper has owned up to it. He—just like the rest of us—wishes there was a way for him to contribute at the plate without negating so much of his field with the glove.

The conversation for the DH, as it relates to the fan, is that it makes the game better because pitchers don’t have to burden themselves by doing something that they don’t want to do and that no one wants to watch.

As a National League fan, I like the style of play in the National League. It feels more natural and fluid as substitutions beckon the entire bench and endow every spot on a 26-man roster with difference-making importance. The mental game that a manager must play to properly put their team in the best position to win is captivating, perhaps because of how much exhaustive effort goes into it.

Ultimately, the DH in the National League feels like an inevitability. Garrett Cooper would welcome it. The Marlins would seemingly welcome it as they planned for it in 2021. While fans would also be in favor.

Part of the resistance is that the National League would lose the unique style of baseball it has always had.

Who said that the Senior Circuit would need to use the DH exactly like the American League does? How about if the NL DH was only allowed in the 9-spot in the lineup?

For the strategically-engaged fan, it would offer extra plate appearances for capable offensive players. Teams might find more reason to bat their best hitters 1-2 in the lineup rather than towards the middle as a solid ninth hitter might provide more RBI opportunities for leadoff men. And teams would be encouraged to value bat-to-ball skills in position players as the 7-8 spots in the lineup could become home to hitters who get on base and help the lineup move along.

Does this eliminate the bunt? Or does it encourage small-ball skills in 7-8 hitters? Is the NL DH a way to help build unrelenting lineups, challenge pitchers and improve scoring?

Who really knows how it could play out. At least it would offer some variety in play between the AL and NL.