Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright led the Cardinals to their NL-leading 84th victory Wednesday, with Pujols smacking a pair of homers and Wainwright shutting out the Brewers for seven innings. St. Louis is now 7-2 this month, 27-8 since August 1, and 34-15 since the All-Star break, and suddenly looks like the clear team to beat in the National League after sitting at just 41-38 after three months.
Pujols is six homers ahead of Mark Reynolds for the MLB lead with 47, is one behind Prince Fielder for the league lead in RBIs with 124, and trails just Hanley Ramirez for the batting title. However, the odds of a Triple Crown are very slim, because getting his .331 batting average past Ramirez and his .357 mark would be extremely difficult in just four weeks. The bum will probably have to settle for his second straight MVP.
Wainwright may also be headed for some hardware after becoming the season’s first 18-game winner. Along with the shiny win total that voters love Wainwright leads the NL with 205 innings and ranks fourth in ERA at 2.59. Rotation-mate Chris Carpenter has the league’s best ERA at 2.16, but has thrown 38 fewer innings than Wainwright. Tim Lincecum has a 2.34 ERA in nearly as many innings, but is “only” 13-5.
While the Cardinals emerge as the league’s best team and the Cy Young race goes down to the wire, here are some other notes from around baseball …
* Ryan Madson replaced Brad Lidge in the midst of a save situation Tuesday and got the call from the outset Wednesday, closing out a 6-5 victory with a scoreless frame. Charlie Manuel hasn’t officially announced a change yet, but after five months of bad pitching Lidge may have finally forced his manager’s hand. Keep a close eye on how the bullpen shakes out over the next couple games, but Madson is a must pickup.
* Texas knocked Fausto Carmona out of the game in the first inning Wednesday and then Scott Feldman cruised to his 16th victory with seven shutout innings. Nothing in Feldman’s track record or secondary numbers suggest that he’s anywhere near this good, but he’s shown zero signs of slowing down and is now 16-4 with a 3.46 ERA in 164 innings. He’ll likely be on my “busts” list for 2010, but it’s been quite a ride.
* Los Angeles’ rotation depth is coming in handy now that Randy Wolf was scratched from his scheduled Friday start with elbow soreness. Joe Torre said that Wolf might be able to rejoin the rotation after missing just one turn, but meanwhile Hiroki Kuroda will start in his place against the Giants. Wolf has a long history of injuries and is just one out away from his most innings since 2003, so there’s cause for concern.
AL Quick Hits: Brian Roberts doubled Wednesday to become just the fourth player of all time with 50-plus doubles in three seasons … Joba Chamberlain was lifted after just three innings and 56 pitches Wednesday as the Yankees continued to suppress his workload … Roy Halladay took a complete-game loss Wednesday, finishing his MLB-high seventh start … Daisuke Matsuzaka (shoulder) made his final rehab start Wednesday at Single-A, allowing one run in 6.2 innings … Adam Jones’ (ankle) year is officially over after he was moved to the 60-day disabled list Wednesday … Jeff Niemann got stuck with another no-decision Wednesday despite allowing one run in seven innings … Brandon Morrow will come up from Triple-A to start Friday, but can’t be trusted yet … Francisco Liriano will work out of the bullpen after coming off the shelf Wednesday … B.J. Upton left Wednesday’s game with discomfort in the ankle that he injured a collision last week.
NL Quick Hits: Jose Reyes (hamstring) said Wednesday that he’s still trying to return this year, but don’t count on it … Wandy Rodriguez hurled another gem Wednesday and has allowed zero or one earned run in 11 of 13 starts … Tommy Hanson tossed eight shutout innings Wednesday before Rafael Soriano blew what would have been his 10th win … Ubaldo Jimenez (hamstring) will throw a bullpen session Thursday in preparation for his start this weekend … Tim Lincecum (back) said Wednesday that he hopes to avoid a second missed start … Kevin Kouzmanoff is expected to miss at least a few games after injuring his calf Tuesday … Dexter Fowler returned from the disabled list Wednesday, but wasn’t in the starting lineup … Huston Street (biceps) is now considered unlikely to pitch before next week … Matt Holliday left Wednesday’s game with a bruised knee … Cliff Lee won Wednesday, but struggled while allowing five runs over seven innings … Jose Valverde has been found to be 15 months older than his listed birth date, making him 32 years old.