It was my intention this week to take my son to Houston to see former Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols play one more time when the Astros played the Los Angeles Angels.
While my son cried when Pujols defected from the Redbirds for greener (as in the color of money) pastures in Southern California, he’s only 11 years old. I doubt he remembers all the times he witnessed the greatest St. Louis ballplayer since Stan Musial play in person.
Unfortunately, I think I waited too long.
Pujols had knee surgery a few days ago, and he is lost for the season. While he still has three years on his Angels contract, I seriously wonder if we’ve seen the last of him. Albert has had another terrible season with the Angels, and not just by his lofty standards. He’s now a below-average player who can’t run, can’t field and who shows only a small fraction of the power he used to possess.
He’s regressed to be a .245 hitter with a .289 on-base percentage and a .411 slugging mark. That compares to a .328 career hitter with a .420 on-base percentage and a .617 slugging percentage when he was with the Cardinals.
Since he headed west, Pujols has been a .260 hitter. It’s interesting that he’s dwindled to a .302 career mark and, if he had 150 more at bats this season, it’s not beyond reason that he could have fallen below the .300.
Did Pujols opt to have a cleanup surgery on his knee to end his season on purpose if his goal is really to help his ballclub? Or is this part of an exit strategy?
Stop the bleeding before he falls below .300 — then claim in the spring his knee didn’t get better and work out a settlement of the $87 million left on his contract. It would be in the best interests of both sides.
Pujols doesn’t want to embarrass himself for three more years — and the Angels don’t want to pay a guy who will be a part-time player for the next three years. Sure the Halos are out of the race. But if Pujols needed a knee cleanup, he could have had it in November and still been ready for spring training.
It would have been nice to see Pujols play one more time. But maybe it’s for the best to instead remember him how he was.
Cardinals keep winning
The Cardinals got back to business after a clunker in the middle game against Pittsburgh, beating up the Pirates on Thursday to win their 10th series in a row.
I was a bit worried with the way the Birds played Wednesday that they’d lost their mojo. Suddenly they were back to stranding runners on base, seemingly swinging for the fences and instead coming up with nothing but air. Had the injuries finally taken their toll? Fortunately, it was just one bad night. I don’t care if the Cardinals lose one game of every series 50-2 if they win the other two by any score.
Mostly, I was worried about leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter, who vomited his way out of the game Wednesday. The reason given for his exit during the broadcast was “exhaustion.” That was worrisome for St. Louis fans who saw Carpenter struggle with unexplained “chronic fatigue” a couple of years ago. I, for one, was relieved to see the first baseman apparently only had a 24-hour bug.
There’s still plenty of hope that the Redbirds can win the National League Central Division. But if St. Louis should end up in the wild-card game, they might have a great advantage thanks to their exceptionally deep pitching.
The dilemma of the wild-card game is who do you pitch because, if you use your ace to win the play-in game, who would you start in the first game of the National League Division series? The usual answer is that you don’t have a choice, so why worry about it until you actually win the wild-card game. But the Cardinals don’t have to burn their ace. They could make the bold move of throwing several starting pitchers at the opposition.
What if manager Mike Shildt put in John Gant to pitch the first two innings then pinch hit for him in his first at-bat and for the next two innings went to Austin Gomber or Michael Wacha if he’s healthy and effective? After that, Carlos Martinez could come in and pitch a couple of innings before Jordan Hicks and Bud Norris came in to finish the game. Then you could start Miles Mikolas in the opener of the NLDS and still have plenty of fresh relievers to lean on.