Been an interesting year for Albert

Albert Pujols has hugged Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, struggled through a slump, played some third base and has now landed on the DL with a fractured left forearm.

It’s been an adventurous season, to say the least.

Before Sunday’s injury, Pujols had played in every game, hitting .279 with 17 home runs, 45 RBIs and 52 runs -- totals that put him on pace for 38 homers, 100 RBIs and 115 runs. Great numbers for mere mortals, but hardly what we expect from The Machine. His average is 52 points below his career average entering the 2011 season, his .355 on-base percentage is 71 points below and his .500 slugging percentage 124 points below. He’s grounded into a National League-leading 17 double plays.

Pujols joins David Freese and Allen Craig (plus pitcher Adam Wainwright) on the DL. Matt Holliday has missed 25 games. Despite those injuries, the Cardinals still rank second in the NL in runs scored, just four behind the Reds. Considering the park effects involved, the Cardinals have had the best offense in the NL (indeed, they have a better OBP and slugging percentage than the Reds, as is).

Two questions here: (1) If Pujols does go to the DL, what is the damage to the Cards? (2) Assuming more repercussions from the injury, should Pujols be expected to play better the rest of the season?

Question No. 1 is fairly easy to answer. The Cardinals’ depth has been a key to their first-place tie with the Brewers in the NL Central. If Pujols misses time, they’ll just slide Lance Berkman over to first base and Jon Jay to right field. In part-time duty this year, Jay has hit .313/.364/.436. Tony La Russa still views him as a platoon player, not giving him many opportunities against lefties, so you may see Adrian Brown in a platoon. Colby Rasmus is also due for a hot streak; his .755 OPS is 104 points less than last year. And Freese is supposed to start a rehab assignment from his broken hand on Tuesday, so he’ll be back soon.

It all means the Cards should be able to sustain a short-term injury to Pujols. We also like to point out that baseball teams rely less on superstars than other sports; this is true over the course of a season, making a single stint on the DL less damaging than you may think. When the Cardinals do get everyone back, La Russa will more depth and flexibility than any manager in the NL

Question No. 2 is more difficult to answer. The easy answer is that Pujols has been hitting in bad luck, with a .247 batting average on balls in play, far below his .297 mark of 2010 (let alone his career mark of .312). But there are reasons for that: his ground ball rate is way up, his line-drive rate is down a bit. Oddly, contact hasn’t been an issue: He’s actually striking out (and walking) less than he normally does. His strikeout rate is down nearly 4 percent from last year and his walk rate is down 4.5 percent. (The walk rate is down primarily due to a big drop in intentional walks: 38 in 2010, just four in 2011. Thank you, Lance Berkman.)

Bottom line: The Cards have been resilient all season. They’re tied for first place. I view this as just another small hurdle they can overcome.


Philadelphia at St. Louis, Tuesday through Thursday

Tuesday: Roy Halladay (9-3, 2.56) vs. Kyle McClellan (6-3, 3.96)

Wednesday: Cliff Lee (7-5, 3.12) vs. Kyle Lohse (7-3, 2.88)

Thursday: Roy Oswalt (4-5, 3.38) vs. Chris Carpenter (1-7, 4.47)

In a week of interleague play, it’s a National League series that stands out. A disturbing trend for the Cardinals: the starters went 16-11, 3.28 ERA in April; 17-12, 3.91 in May; and are 6-10, 5.11 in June. The rotation’s strikeout/walk ratio is actually better than either April or May, but the batting average allowed is up and the home runs allowed are way up -- 22 in 658 PAs after allowing just 38 in over 2,100 PAs in April and May. While everybody continues to ask what’s wrong with Carpenter -- he was 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA last season -- his ratio numbers are actually similar to last year: 7.1 K/9 in 2011 versus 6.9; 2.2 BB/9 versus 2.4; and 0.9 HR/9 versus 0.8. The big difference? A .327 batting average allowed on balls in play (BABIP) compared to .278 in 2010. That should come down and his wins should start going up.


David Price (7-6, 3.61) vs. Shaun Marcum (7-2, 2.85), Rays at Brewers, Tuesday

Price has actually taken a big step forward from last year, although that improvement has been masked by a higher ERA: his SO/BB ratio is 4.7 compared to 2.4 last season, as his walks are down from 3.4 per nine innings to 1.8. His batting average allowed with runners in scoring position is .301, compared to his overall average allowed of .235. Don’t let that ERA fool you: He’s still one of the best pitchers in baseball.


1. What a free-fall by the Marlins. They’re now 1-18 in June, putting them on track for one of the worst months ever. Let’s take a quick look at those worst months.

1988 Orioles (1-22 in April): This is the team that famously started 0-21 before finally winning. They didn’t win two in a row until May 21-22 and finished 54-107. Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken were around and a September call-up named Curt Schilling started four times and lasted just 14 2/3 innings, going 0-3.

1916 Philadelphia A’s (2-28 in July): One of the worst teams of all time, Connie Mack had sold off all his stars that won four AL pennants in five years from 1910-1914, leaving a decimated franchise that would go 36-117 in 1916. Elmer Myers and Bullet Joe Bush went 29-47, meaning the rest of the staff went 9-70. (Jack Nabors was 1-20, Tom Sheehan 1-16.)

1982 Twins (3-26 in May): The first year in the Metrodome wasn’t a success as the Twins lost 102 games, but Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, Tim Laudner and Frank Viola were all rookie starters and later stars on the ’87 World Series champions.

1943 Philadelphia A’s (3-26 in August): A war-era team, although just another losing team in Philly during this period: The A’s were under .500 every season from 1934 to 1946 (losing 90 or more in 11 of those season) and the Phillies were under .500 every from 1933 to 1948 (losing 100 games seven times).

1972 Rangers (3-23 in September): The club’s first year in the Metroplex, under manager Ted Williams, was a disastrous 54-100 season, in which the club hit .217 with 56 home runs. By September, it seems the players had given up.

2. A rough weekend for injuries, as Tommy Hanson (shoulder tendinitis), Carl Crawford (hamstring) and Clay Buchholz (back strain) all landed on the DL. The Red Sox are in the midst of a pretty easy slate of games until the All-Star break: Other than the anticipated trip to Philly at the end of June , they play the Padres, Pirates, Astros, Blue Jays and Orioles. It will be interesting to check out Andrew Miller’s 2011 debut on Monday. The one-time No. 1 pick of the Tigers -- dealt to the Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera -- has been trying to restart his career in Triple-A. He was 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA there, with 61 strikeouts and just 42 hits allowed in 65 2/3 innings. However, he also had 35 walks.

3. With the Mariners now just a half-game behind the Rangers in the AL West, it will put a lot of pressure on them to push rookie Michael Pineda. He’s on pace for 201 innings over 32 starts, much higher than the 160 or so they had in mind for him at the start of the season. In the end, I have trouble envisioning a team that is hitting Brendan Ryan second, Miguel Olivo cleanup and Chone Figgins anywhere as a contender (the Mariners are hitting .229 and have scored the fewest runs in the AL). Likewise, it will be interesting to see how Alexi Ogando performs as the season progresses. The outfielder-turned-reliever-turned-starter has already exceeded his 2010 innings total. With him, the Rangers aren’t so concerned about his long-term future like the Mariners are with Pineda (Ogando is already 27), but will have to monitor his arm strength and command as the innings build up.


The National League was hanging in there in interleague play -- until Sunday. The AL cleaned up with an 11-3 record, with the Indians, Rays, Twins and A’s (over the Giants) complete sweeps. The Mariners took the series from the Phillies, the Red Sox took two of three from the Brewers and the Rangers took two of three from the Braves. In other words, to anyone who thinks the NL has matched the AL … think again. And that’s why the two best teams in baseball are the Red Sox and Yankees … and not the Phillies.