Could Albert Pujols be the National League MVP?

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The quiet NL MVP race looks like a two-man competition on the surface: Matt Kemp has been the league’s best player, while Ryan Braun has a good case for second best and has put up his numbers for a first-place team.  Still, I can’t help but wonder if a third candidate is lurking.

Albert Pujols may yet become the NL MVP if he leads St. Louis to what would be a pretty amazing comeback in the wild card race.  The Cardinals have won 10 of their last 12 games and now trail the Braves by just 2 1/2 games with nine left to play (the Braves have eight games remaining).

Pujols has certainly been a driving force while hitting .397 with four homers and 17 RBI in 17 games this month.  He’s batting .324/.386/.609 with 18 homers and 46 RBI in 60 games since the All-Star break.

Writers do love their stories, and Pujols provides a better one than either Kemp or Braun.  He had maybe the worst two-month run of his career at the beginning of the season, hitting just .265/.335/.412 with nine homers and 31 RBI through June 2.  Just after he regained his stroke, he suffered a fractured wrist that was supposed to cost him 4-6 weeks.  Instead, he returned after two weeks and never missed a beat.  He currently leads the NL with 36 homers and he’s seventh — and climbing — with 96 RBI.

Pujols will have to keep it going in these last nine games to have a chance, and he’ll need the Braves to continue to falter as well.  If it all comes together, he could be looking at a fourth MVP award, even as he finishes with what will probably be the lowest batting average and OPS of his career.

Aledmys Diaz is trying to improve his defense with strobe glasses

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MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports that Cardinals’ shortstop Aledmys Diaz has been sporting a new look around Busch Stadium with a pair of “strobe glasses,” technology-enhanced specs designed to help athletes focus on the ball. Like a strobe light, the lenses of these glasses affect a player’s vision by rapidly changing opacity, giving its wearers the illusion that the objects they see are moving more slowly than normal. Once a player adjusts to the new speed of play, they gain a greater sense of control and are able to time their actions with more precision.

Diaz isn’t the first MLB player to utilize the technology, just the first Cardinals’ player to do so. It’s been tested by Bryce Harper, Corey Brown, Tommy Joseph, Austin Hedges and Joe Mauer, among others around the league, and has been used for everything from refining a catcher’s reflexes behind the plate to tweaking a hitter’s ability to track a pitch. Per Langosch, Diaz has been using the glasses to hone in on the ball during pregame drills, increasing both his confidence and response time on the field and improving his defense at short.

The shortstop has been the focus of some concern this season after seeing a sizable dip in his production at the plate, and his five fielding errors, 0.6 UZR and 0.6 fWAR haven’t helped matters, either. He sustained a minor thumb injury during an at-bat on Friday night, and was left off of the Cardinals’ starting lineup on Saturday, though manager Mike Matheny didn’t rule out his ability to pinch-hit during the series. While the strobe glasses are a good start, Diaz will need more than a pair of specs to match the spotlight-worthy performance he turned out during his rookie season in 2016.

Eduardo Rodriguez could rejoin the Red Sox rotation in July

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Red Sox’ left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez may finally get a chance at cracking the rotation again, assuming all goes well in Double-A Portland first. Rodriguez took the field prior to the club’s afternoon session with the Angels, firing 68 pitches in a simulated game as he prepared for an upcoming rehab assignment in Portland on Thursday.

The 24-year-old southpaw suffered a right knee subluxation during pregame warmups on June 1, and it’s been a slow path to recovery ever since. It’s not the first time Rodriguez has had issues with his right knee — he sustained a similar injury during spring training last year — and this time around, the Red Sox weren’t about to gamble with their starter’s health. Ian Browne of MLB.com reports that Rodriguez was put in a knee brace and underwent exercises designed to help him regain some mobility and stability while he worked back up to full strength on the mound.

He’ll still need to prove he can throw a 75- to 80-pitch outing in Double-A, and barring any significant setbacks, will likely rejoin the Red Sox’ pitching staff when they visit the Rangers next month. In the meantime, the club will continue to cycle starters through the No. 5 spot, which has seen no fewer than three different pitchers since Rodriguez hit the disabled list. The lefty is 4-2 in 10 starts this season after logging a 3.54 ERA, 3.1 BB/9 and career-high 9.6 SO/9 through his first 61 innings.