The reasons to watch the St. Louis Cardinals limp to the finish line are few and far between. The team has won just 13 of 38 games since August 14 — only a few days removed from the “big” sweep of the Cincinnati Reds. Losing at the rate is never pretty and it’s never fun to watch, especially considering the expectations for this club. Yet, Cardinals fans and baseball fans in general are still watching.
In his tenth season in the majors, Pujols has already carved out a place in baseball’s rich history. He is already worthy of mention alongside the Ruths and Aarons and Mays’ of the game. He’s that great and with time, his achievements will only be greater. One day, he will be the standard. He’ll be the name mentioned by every fan and player as baseball’s Zeus.
Pujols hit two home runs — No. 40 and 41 of the season — to lead St. Louis to a refreshing 9-2 win over Pittsburgh Thursday. The win kept their magic number for elimination from playoff contention at three.
The homers gave Pujols his sixth 40-home run campaign in ten years. He is the tenth player to accomplish the feat six times, matching Jim Thome and Mark McGwire. He trails Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, and Babe Ruth who tops the list with 40-homer seasons.
Pujols could move up that list and challenge Ruth for the record. He is also likely to make a run at the home run record, which could belong* to Alex Rodriguez by the time he retires. Barry Bonds currently owns* the record. But Hank Aaron is still the home run king.
The historical greatness of Pujols is enough to get people to pay attention in St. Louis and around the country even with the team struggling. He gives the season purpose and excitement no matter how low the team sinks. In baseball, individual success isn’t the goal but it’s always noticed. Andre Dawson won the MVP in 1987 for a last-place team. The season put him on the path to Cooperstown and made him a folk hero in Chicago. Pujols has already reached that status in St. Louis, but he adds to it every year.
He is the player of the generation. He is a player that only comes around once in a lifetime. There was only one Ruth. He still is still a mystical figure honored by fans today who never saw him play. But he’s the Babe. Everyone knows he’s the best. There was only one Aaron. He has become the icon of baseball’s past with his dignified personality. He carries himself the way all Hall of Famers should and he’s the home run king — everyone knows that.
And now, there’s Pujols. He never fails to deliver. It may even be getting harder to appreciate his accomplishments. It’s not so much greatness as it is expected. It’s easy to lose perspective in the present, but don’t take this guy for granted. One day, he will be the Babe. And you’ll have gotten to actually watch him at work.
Descalso impresses, the youth movement begins
If Albert Pujols is the reason to watch the Cardinals finish the season, there is really only one more: the future. The Cardinals are done as far as team accomplishments in 2010. They came up short, it’s time to join the Cubs in the wait for next year.
The pain of an October without the Cards can only be eased in the comfort of knowing the future is brighter. And the future has some pretty big clouds of uncertainty building around Albert Pujols. That only makes the worries greater.
The organization and fans need to see something in these final weeks. They need to see players step up that can actually contribute consistently next season. The Cards supporting cast has been a lackluster group to say the least. They are the main reason for the underachievement of this team. As great as Pujols and the rotation and even the bullpen has been, the rest of the team — outside of Matt Holliday who drove in his 100th run of the season Thursday — has been pathetic.
Brendan Ryan took a giant step back. Tyler Greene (he’s been around long enough) has failed to take a step forward. Joe Mather, Nick Stavinoha, and Allen Craig all failed to get the job done consistently. Skip Schumaker never got rolling. David Freese was rolling until injuries ended his season prematurely. Club Flip was shutdown early. That’s the entire infield and a good portion of the bench. It’s tough to win without getting something out of those guys. They don’t get headlines, but they do make the difference between a good team and a bad one.
The Cardinals turned out to be a bad team. And it’s largely because the little guys didn’t produce.
With that said, a change is in order. This team and organization is in dire need of some fresh faces and energy.
Daniel Descalso looks like he could be a part of the revamp. In his major league debut Wednesday, the rookie got his first career hit and played a solid game at the hot corner. He followed that up with a four-hit day Thursday, giving the Cards a spark to go with Pujols’ power. He played most of the year at second base in Memphis and could be a factor in the infield next year.
Matt Carpenter is another interesting option at third. He will likely start next year in Triple-A Memphis, but a strong performance could land him in St. Louis fast. The TCU product has hit well at every level and batted .309 in 109 games mostly in Double-A Springfield this year. He led the entire Redbirds farm system with a .418 on-base percentage too. The 25-year-old is a good ballplayer who fits into the Cardinals philosophy. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed they didn’t give him a shot in the bigs this year. Some worry about his power numbers, but if he can hit he can hit. I’ll take .300 and 15 homers over .250 and 30 any day.
And Tom Smith of Rum Bunter is touting Cardinals prospect Matt Adams as the next big thing. Tom shares the hometown of Philipsburg, Pa., with Adams and kept tabs on him during his college career at Division II Slippery Rock. Understandably, Tom wanted his Pirates to take a flyer on the hometown kid who could flat out rake. Pittsburgh and many other teams passed until the Cardinals grabbed him with the 699th pick in the 2009 amateur draft. Since then, he has been a top hitter in every level of the Cards system. This season, he mashed 22 home runs for Quad Cities. He will get a shot to make an impact in spring training likely at an outfield position. With every hit, Tom will be shaking his head and wondering — among countless other things as a tortured Pirates fan — what could have been. The Cards are hoping the Pirates loss is their gain.
If these young guys can stick better than the latest Cards projects, the team will be moving in the right direction. And while the budget will be tight after the Holliday and likely Pujols deals, signing a hard working and respected veteran to come off the bench or platoon could go a long way. A player like Mark DeRosa or David Eckstein would do wonders for the stale clubhouse atmosphere.