Pujols’ Injury Affects Team, Too

June 20, 2011

Albert Pujols’ fractured left forearm, which will keep him on the DL for 4-6 weeks, could make teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals, very reluctant to offer him the 10-year contract that he has asked for after his current deal expires at the end of the season. His injury could cause him to lose some of the power that has made him the most feared hitter and arguably most productive player at the plate over the last decade. Albert Pujols could return from his injury a completely different player, leaving a sour “what if?” question for baseball fans everywhere to ponder.

All of these things could happen. Maybe it’s more important to examine what will happen. Without Albert Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinals will be a different baseball team, and that is a fact that fans of the club should dread most.

There is a reason that Pujols may be the most valuable player on any team in baseball, regardless of how many MVP awards he has won. In the two previous visits to the DL (in 2006 and 2008), St. Louis has gone 14-14 during his absence. He is the reason that Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman see as many good pitches to hit as they do. Without Pujols in the lineup, you can expect pitchers to have more opportunities to pitch around guys like Berkman, who currently leads the team with 51 RBIs. In other words, it wouldn’t be surprising to watch a team that has been winning thanks to their offense as much as anything to struggle without Pujols in the three spot to drive up the number of good pitches that the other St. Louis batters see.

This is considered a down year for Pujols, but he has been extremely important to the Cardinals’ offense nonetheless. Although he is averaging a career low (.279 BA), he is still hitting .328 with runners in scoring position, and is batting .364 with runners in scoring position and two outs. Down year statistically or not, Pujols is a major contributor on the offensive end, and is at least partially responsible for the great year that Berkman is having as well.

Most importantly, if the Cardinals play anything like their mediocre record with Pujols on the DL in the past, they could find themselves in a precarious position as far as the NL Central race is concerned. The Milwaukee Brewers, currently tied with St. Louis at the top of the standings, seemed to have found their offensive stride in June. Don’t be fooled; four to six weeks is enough time for a team like Milwaukee to pull away if St. Louis struggles without Pujols.

Suddenly, contract negotiations have taken a backseat to a more pressing issue: winning. Without Albert Pujols in the lineup, they may appear to be equally daunting tasks to St. Louis.

– K. Becks

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