Report: Albert Pujols could return around the All-Star break

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Albert Pujols is not like you and me.

In a stunning development, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Albert Pujols’ fractured left wrist has shown “significant improvement,” which could enable him to return “immediately after the All-Star break, if not before.”

After receiving “aggressive treatment to promote healing of the bone,” Pujols underwent a follow-up CT scan Friday, which found a diminished fissure on the distal tip of his left radius. He’s scheduled to be reexamined Monday and barring something unforeseen, it is expected that he will be cleared to resume baseball activities immediately.

When Pujols fractured his wrist on June 19, he was originally expected to be sidelined for 4-6 weeks, but Strauss writes that the “best-case scenario” is that he could return during the Cardinals’ upcoming four-game series against the Diamondbacks, which begins next Thursday. It’s more likely, however, that they hold him out through the All-Star break. Still, I’m pretty sure the Cardinals won’t mind waiting a few extra days if it means they can have their first baseman (and occasional third baseman) back to make a second-half playoff push.

Pujols, who is set to become a free agent this winter, is hitting .279/.355/.500 with 17 homers and 45 RBI over 318 plate appearances this season. He was batting .317 with eight homers and a 1.197 OPS in June prior to the injury.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.