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Pujols drama near top of Olney's story list

The drama over whether Albert Pujols will sign an extension with the Cardinals ranks third on ESPN writer Buster Olney's list of top baseball stories for 2011.

Number one and number two on the list are game-wide issues -- the possibility that the playoff pool will be expanded and the possibility that instant replay could be broadened to include more game situations.

According to Olney, the Cardinals and Pujols need each other too much for the big guy to walk away. He compared the team-player relationship to that between Cal Ripken and the Orioles when the Baltimore star was chasing Lou Gehrig's durability record.

While Cardinals fans know that Pujols has set the standard for hot career starts with 10 consecutive seasons of a .300-plus average, 30 or more homers and 100 or more RBIs, his assault on the career records list doesn't get as much publicity.

With 408 homers, Pujols is 45th on the all-time list and ranks eighth amongst active players. He averages about 41 homers a season, so an average year would tie Albert at 33rd on the list with Jeff Bagwell at 31 years old.

Olney said it is the feeling of baseball executives that Pujols will stay with the Cardinals -- but only after what he calls a high stakes game of chicken.