Last night in the sixth inning, a Pete Kozma throw drifted away from first base. After catching it and tagging the runner, Albert Pujols collapsed in pain.
My first reaction at the time was that it reminded me of the type of hit my favorite player, Scott Rolen, took a couple times. He wasn’t the same player for years. Thankfully, it’s not the same injury.
The verdict? Pujols will miss approximately six weeks with a broken bone just above his left wrist.
So where does this leave the Cardinals as they now have to consider a month and a half without the man who has been the best player in baseball over the last decade?
For many fans, their eyes are on the basement as they contemplate a life without the best player in baseball. How can the Cardinals even come close to contending without the team’s game changer? Teams and pitchers alter their approach to the Cardinals lineup because of Pujols’ appearance in it. Now they don’t have to worry about it and as a result, the lineup becomes easier to get through.
While I won’t deny that the Cardinals lineup is easier without Pujols sitting in the #3 spot, the season is far from over.
During Albert Pujols’ career he has had two other DL stints. Ironically, both took place in June. But during those times, the Cardinals teams of 2006 and 2008 each carried on. The 2006 team going 8-7 and the 2008 team going 6-7. That’s a combined 14-14 and hardly something that would kill the chances of either team.
From April 10th to May 29th, the Cardinals posted a 30-16 record in 46 games while Pujols hit .272 with a .338 OBP, 7 HR and 24 RBI. In the 19 games since, the Cardinals are 8-11 while Pujols has hit .343 with a .439 OBP, 9 HR, and 17 RBI. I may catch some flack for this statement, but Albert Pujols isn’t the reason the Cardinals win games.
What’s the common thread? Matt Holliday. That first 46 game span began when Holliday returned from his first DL stint and it ends right before he goes for his second (I didn’t even realize that when I pulled the numbers out for the previous paragraph). Holliday hit .336 with 4 HR and 29 RBI over that 46 game span. Since he returned to the lineup after his second DL stint, the Cardinals have gone 2-2 and Holliday is hitting .417 with already a pair of homers (one of which was a game winner) and 4 RBI.
It’s easy to sit there and pack it in and declare the season over with this news. But the season is far from over. This team has some resilience and has held off injuries before. Fox Sports Midwest had a graphic during a recent game that showed the Cardinals played roughly .750 baseball with one of Pujols, Holliday, or Berkman out of the lineup but were just .500 with all three of them. Of course, Albert’s played every game so far this season.
The Cardinals success over the next six weeks will depend on the bit players stepping it up a little bit and coming through with key hits. It will also depend on the pitching staff keeping us in games. If they can, we have enough offense, even without Pujols to win ballgames.
The injury has relatively good timing. He will hopefully be back in the first week of August and will be manning his first base position in time for the stretch run. He also has a history of coming off the disabled list strong, hitting .372 in 2006 and .378 in 2008 in the 10 games after coming off the DL.
Additionally, the Cardinals aren’t playing a very tough schedule of teams. While we haven’t faced Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa, and the New York Mets yet, the rest of the schedule through the end of July we are 18-10 (.643) against so far this season. Those other teams also have a combined winning percentage of .487, so the Cardinals really only need to be about league average to walk out of this stretch to walk away above .500.
They also play 20 of the next 35 games at home, which can be beneficial.
We also have David Freese and Nick Punto close to coming back off the disabled list. Punto’s rehab assignment began last night with Double-A Springfield and Freese begins his tonight with Triple-A Memphis. Having Freese’s bat back in the lineup and having Punto’s excellent glove back as an option should help this team immensely.
So while having Pujols on the DL and not in the lineup will hurt the team for obvious reasons, it is far from time to call the season over. The next month and a half will tell the story, but I think the Cardinals can and will absorb the loss and still be in contention when he returns.
And a side note, many are also wondering whether this is going to impact Albert Pujols’ contract negotations. The answer is probably not. It depends on what Albert does after he returns to the club. If he’s the same old Albert Pujols, then it won’t. If he struggles like several other high profile players who have come back from wrist injuries, then it might take a little off. He’s still the big name and he still catches people’s eyes. But a slow finish to the season (combined with what has been a fairly slow start) might discourage some teams from opening the wallet as far as they had before.
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