Reading tea leaves, seeking answers in Tarot cards, and checking your horoscope provide no greater insight into the future than a Magic 8 Ball. Even that fortune cookie you crack open on occasion carries no more weight than a roll of the dice. Regardless, there are still times when life requires you to weigh perceived risk versus reward, and you still have to basically roll those same dice anyway. It’s part of what makes life interesting on our little rock in space.
With the fragility of human life comes few relative certainties and even fewer absolutes, yet some bets just seem safer than others. When I wrote “Tao of Pu” back in May of this year, I staked a sliver of the reputable credibility accumulated with our 3 loyal readers on a very simple prediction regarding Albert Pujols.
Ignore the average, the lack of home runs, and the way he appears a little lost at the plate while swinging at pitches outside of his normal hitting zone. Forget the base running errors and growing surliness during interviews. Albert Pujols will hit.
At that time, Albert Pujols was hitting .197/.235/.275/.510 with 1 HR and 12 RBI in 149 plate appearances. From the following day through yesterday, Pujols has hit .320/.381/.627/1.008 with 29 HR and 84 RBI. Granted, the mang has a long history of reaching 30 HR and 100 RBI with the regularity of Floridians hitting Denny’s for the Early Bird Special. He’s the baseball equivalent of a metronome, and he might be the very definition of “sustained excellence” in baseball’s modern era.
Despite his unimaginably high standard of excellence, Pujols has been adequately replaced in St. Louis. Sure, the more recent actors undertaking the role once owned by Prince Albert lack the reputation of the human hitting machine, but they also come at a relatively significant discounted price as well. The Angels handed Albert a contract worth the princely sum of $240M over 10 years, but the team ONLY owes Pujols a measly $12M for 2012.
Guys like Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter have combined for a line of .290/.352/.490/.843 with 19 HR and 93 RBI at 1B for the Cardinals. Compare those numbers against the .299/.366/.541/.906 with 37 HR and 99 RBI that Pujols gave the team last year, and one might begin to wonder just how much the team really misses AP. If Pujols had stayed in St. Louis, maybe the Cardinals wouldn’t have the money for the 29 HR and 87 RBI Carlos Beltran has already given the team while playing RF.
Losing a likely future Hall of Famer like Pujols almost has to leave an indelible mark on a franchise, but the Cardinals managed to reload on the fly without missing a beat. Instead of a lineup built around one of the sports premier #3 hitters, the Cardinals have one structured around an entire heart of the order. At anything close to their current pace, the team will have 5 players reach the 20 HR plateau this season, and 2 of those could hit 30+. That same lineup frequently features 6 or 7 position players hitting above .300 with a collective OBP in the .350 range. Pujols simply cannot be replaced, and he certainly won’t be forgotten. However, losing the mang was not the end of days in St. Louis.
In fact, it might have marked the beginning of a new era in the Gateway City.