The St. Louis Cardinals’ cushy schedule gives Albert Pujols a chance to join the 700-home run club.
It’s been a hot topic around the league lately: Can Albert Pujols reach the magical milestone of 700 home runs? He’s at 693 with 41 games left this season, and the upcoming schedule and the St. Louis Cardinals‘ progressing escape from the chase of the Milwaukee Brewers make it feasible.
Pujols, as fans know, has been on a torrid streak: In August, he’s hit nearly .500 with seven bombs. If the Cardinals can keep winning, I can see the team putting Pujols in the lineup more often against right-handers. But lefty destruction is where Pujols thrives these days: He’s hitting .398 against lefties this year. So let’s look at how many lefties the Cardinals are likely to face for the remainder of the season.
In the current four-game series against the Chicago Cubs, Pujols has already homered once, against lefty Drew Smyly. The Cardinals are likely to see another left-hander, Justin Steele, pitch in the final game. The Atlanta Braves are up next, and Max Fried, who starts today, will probably pitch against the Cardinals. He’s a very tough lefty, but the Cardinals will likely have Pujols in there.
The Cardinals then travel to Cincinnati, and Mike Minor would pitch in the last game if there are no rotation shenanigans from the Reds. The Cardinals will likely miss Smyly and Steele in their next series against the Cubs. They then play the Washington Nationals, who have a lost season and might as well pitch Patrick Corbin, one of the worst starters in the league this year. After that, they travel to Pittsburgh, a team without a left-handed starter.
Milwaukee is next, and Aaron Ashby and/or Eric Lauer could pitch in that series. The Reds are then in town again, and Minor and Nick Lodolo might toe the rubber.
The Cardinals will head out west after that to play the Los Angeles Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw will likely be off the injured list by then, and they also have lefty starters Julio Urias, Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney. The Cardinals will go to San Diego next, who have two lefties: Sean Manaea and Blake Snell.
The Cardinals will then have two more games against the Brewers, again with Ashby and Lauer possibly making starts. They’ll end the season with six games against the Pirates, who, as said, have no left-handed starters.
The starters aren’t the only factor. The stadiums will also undoubtedly play a part given each field’s tendency to lean toward pitcher or hitter. For home games, we know Busch Stadium suppresses home runs, but Pujols’ splits have been consistent regardless of the field: .266 with six homers at Busch versus .287 with eight homers on the road.
Wrigley Field for the current series will be a hitter’s dream if the wind happens to be blowing out. Truist Park in Atlanta is ranked 20th in home runs, so it favors pitchers. The Pirates’ PNC Park is average in home runs surrendered, but Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati should be laughably easy to hit one out of given the stadium and the poor opponent. Dodger Stadium and Petco Park are around the middle of the pack in home runs allowed, and American Family Field in Milwaukee is sixth in that category.
The last item to consider: Will any teams groove pitches to Pujols near the end of the season to let him get to that mark? I hope the answer is no, and I’m sure Pujols does too; those would feel cheap and undeserved. But if it does happen, the Dodgers, who are all but ensured to have home field advantage in the first playoff round, could throw him a few meatballs, as could the Pirates at PNC Park if they want to sell a few tickets. The more home runs Pujols hits before reaching those series, the more likely I think those teams are to do it.
Pujols currently has a home run in nearly one in seven at-bats over the past month. It’s hard to imagine that he can keep up this pace, but with a decent number of southpaws on tap and likely late-inning pinch-hitting appearances, even if he slows down a bit, 700 is a very real possibility.