THE REDBIRD REVIEW
Albert Pujols is a record-setter. He is relentless. He is ridiculous. And he is, in a competitive way, absolutely ruthless … yeah, ruthless … as in having moved Babe Ruth out of the way to take over the all-time No. 2 spot for most career RBI by a major-league player.
Pujols is special. And he can make any baseball setting special, even on an otherwise mundane Monday night in Pittsburgh in a ballpark that has a multitudinous amount of empty seats.
On this particular Monday, even the empty seats gave Pujols a standing ovation when he power-pulled career home run No. 703 into the seats beyond the left-field wall. The two-run shot rearranged the all-time RBI leaderboard, giving Pujols 2,216 runs batted in for his career – two two ahead of Babe Ruth and 81 short of all-time leader Henry Aaron.
Without Pujols it was just another game, with nothing on the line as the Cardinals played the first of three games at Pittsburgh to close the regular season. But this wasn’t a backfield “B” game in spring training. The final series counts, and the numbers are still adding up, and we were treated to another Pujols homer, another upward move in baseball history by No. 5, and another round of “Did You See That!” or “Do You Believe This?” text-message exultations among ecstatic Cardinals fans.
The Pirates were impressed by Pujols’ latest big hit but had other reasons to be happy after exploiting an out-of-control STL bullpen that walked the Pirates off to a 3-2 victory.
“Everybody here knows how hard the game is, and for somebody to be that good for that long, have that longevity and do the things he’s doing even still now, it’s crazy,” said the injured Pirates All-Star closer David Bednar, in comments made to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s probably more of a postseason type thing, but anytime you get to compete against those guys, it’s definitely a cool thing to reflect back on. I’ve personally come [to PNC Park] and watched him plenty of times, and he’s still doing it. That part of it is just unbelievable.”
The Cardinals are so lethargic offensively, they’re no longer taking advantage of Pujols’ largesse. For the second day in a row, the Cardinals lost to the Pirates despite a Pujols home run in each game, and his five total RBIs in the two games.
In their last 14 games the Cardinals are 6-8. That’s a predictable outcome when you score two or fewer runs nine times in a 14-game stretch. In the last 14 games the Cardinals have batted .210 with a .295 onbase percentage and .354 slug. One word: dismal. They’ve scored 49 runs during this late-season downturn, but 24 of the 49 were plated in two games: 11 runs at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 23, and 13 runs against the Pirates this past Saturday at Busch Stadium. That means the Cardinals averaged 2.08 runs in their other 12 outings starting with the second game of a doubleheader against the Reds on Sept. 17.
For those who believe it doesn’t really matter because the Cardinals have been in control of the NL Central for well over a month and had nothing urgent to go for … we can revisit that once they begin competing in the first-round playoff series on Friday. At this point, I don’t know what to make of the St. Louis offense. Is the zombie-mode offense the symptom of a first-place team on cruise control, or is there a deep-rooted issue that will lead to an early postseason elimination.
I’m anxious to find out. But we can all agree on this: Pujols is carrying this offense. I know we are talking about one of the greatest hitters of any generation, and nothing about him should surprise us any more during his celestial final season. That said, isn’t it just a bit unsettling to see a 42-year-old legend doing everything he can to prevent this offense from crumbling in a complete collapse when so many of teammates are failing to do their share?
Pujols is incredible. Too many of his fellow Cardinal hitters are … well, they are in uniform. They have cleats and everything. And they do a very fine job of hooting, jumping up and down in the dugout and congratulating Pujols when he swats a home run. At least we can give them credit for that.
For now, the Cardinals must rely on Pujols. Rely HEAVILY on Pujols. And Pujols is coming through, time and time again. It would be really swell to see some power and some life from other bats. It would be outstanding if Pujols didn’t have to do all of the heavy lifting in the first-round series against the Phillies or Padres.
Before the season we didn’t know what to expect from Pujols. The hope was that he’d do an above-average job against left–handed pitching. And we trusted manager Oliver Marmol to be pragmatic and shield Pujols from right-handed pitching.
That’s how the season took shape in the early stages, before Pujols found his groove. We learned this about him all over again: Pujols does not acknowledge his perceived limitations. He blasts them apart.
With that in mind, let’s split his performance into two halves …
— First three months: 136 total plate appearances, four homers, 17 RBI, .198 average, .336 slugging percentage, .630 OPS. Pujols was 16 percent below league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+) over that time. And Pujols hit a home run every 29 at-bats during his first three months. That’s OK, but on the mediocre side.
— Last three-plus months: 213 plate appearances, 20 homers, 49 RBI, .312 average, .683 slug, 1.058 OPS. And Pujols is 48 percent above league average offensively in wRC+ since the beginning of July. That’s an improvement of 64 points in adjusted runs created since his first three months. That’s huge. And Pujols has homered every 9.45 at-bats since the start of July. That HR rate is sensational.
— OK, so what about Pujols against right-handers? He did better against them in July but that was only a warmup. During the first four months of the season he batted .173 against RHP with four homers, a .317 slugging percentage and .601 OPS in 173 plate appearances. He was 22 percent below league average offensively against right-handers in wRC+ over his first four months. And Pujols homered every 26 at–bats vs. righties from the start of April through July.
— Since the beginning of August, Pujols has walloped RH pitching for a .276 average, seven homers, five doubles, a .575 slug and .911 OPS in 98 plate appearances. He’s been 54 percent above league average offensively against RH pitching over that time. That’s a spike of plus 76 points compared to his first four months vs. righties. And his home-run rate against RH pitching since the start of August has improved substantially: one homer every 12.4 at–bats.
— Since Sept. 1 seven of Pujols’ nine home runs have been struck against RH pitchers. And seven of his last eight homers flew against right-handed pitchers.
Pujols can’t be stopped. Not much, anyway. His kryptonite – right-handed pitching – has been turned off and flipped upside down to become a strength.
Pujols has outstanding statistics since the All-Star break but he’s really reached his peak over the last two-plus months.
– Since Sept. 1, Pujols’ team-leading nine home runs are more than twice the number of homers put up by Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado … COMBINED. They have two apiece, meaning that Pujols has out-homered the two MVP candidates 9-4 by himself since the calendar flipped to September. And during the same stretch Pujols has as many home runs (9) as all of the St. Louis outfielders put together (9.)
— The Pujols-dominated accounting is similar with runs batted in since the beginning of September, with a team-leading 25 for Pujols, and 22 RBI combined for Goldschmidt and Arenado. The entire Cardinal outfield has only five more RBI than Pujols (30-25) since the start of September.
— Since the beginning of August, Pujols has only two fewer home runs (17) than Aaron Judge (19.) But Judge also has more at-bats than Pujols over that time – which gives Pujols a better HR rate than Judge. Since Aug. 1 Judge has homered every 9.6 at-bats, and Pujols has topped that with a homer every 8.17 at-bats. And Pujols has out-slugged Judge by a minor margin (.719 to .716) since Aug. 1.
– We’re seeing Pujols do things that once seemed impossible. Since the All-Star break he’s slugged .718 with a 1.104 OPS. For perspective, consider this: durings his 22 MLB seasons Pujols has posted a second-half slugging percentage better than .718 only one time, drilling a .721 after the break in 2004. And he’s had only two higher OPS marks after the break than his current 1.104, putting up a 1.162 OPS in the second half of 2008, and a 1.154 OPS in the second half of 2004. How amazing is that?
— In hitting 24 home runs in the regular season (so far), Pujols has averaged a homer every 12.7 at-bats. He’s topped that only twice in his career, with a home run every 10.9 at-bats in 2006, and a big fly every 12 at-bats in 2009. His 2004 rate of a homer per 12.8 at–bats is only a tick below his current HR ration of 12.7.
— What’s that corny saying? Oh yeah: Pujols isn’t getting older, he’s getting better … and I’ll add “more dangerous.” His current .551 slugging percentage would be his best in a season since 2010, his 154 OPS+ would be his finest since 2010, his .895 OPS would be his most robust since 2011, his .344 onbase percentage would be his highest since 2011, and his .269 batting average would be his best since 2014.
— Pujols won’t catch Barry Bonds for most home runs in a season by a player age 42 or older. But Pujols has narrowed the gap more than anticipated. Bonds had 28 homers at age 42 in 2007 – only four more homers than Pujols had through Monday. Albert also ranks second to Bonds in MLB history for best slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+ in a season by a player age 42 and up. And Pujols’ 66 RBI are tied for third in a modern-era season among players age 42 and older. Carlton Fisk had 74 RBI in 1991 at age 43, and Carl Yastrezmski had 72 in 1982 at age 42. Then comes Pujols and the 2007 Bonds, each with 66 RBI.
Pujols has given us a season to remember and treasure and go nuts over. I haven’t seen anything like it, and I’m sure that many of you would agree. Pujols has been so imposingly great, his offense can no longer be considered a bonus. Down the stretch of the regular season, Albert Pujols has been the team’s best and most impactful hitter, and the Cardinals have become increasingly dependent on his elite, historic offense.
If his teammates want to honor Pujols, here’s a gift suggestion: how about hitting a bundle of homers and driving in bunches of runs so the Cardinals can extend this remarkable 2022 season past the first postseason round? It’s time, boys. King Pujols can’t do it alone.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.
“Seeing Red,” my weekly podcast on the Cardinals with Will Leitch, is available on multiple platforms including Apple and Spotify. Please subscribe.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com
All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.