Pujols has no plans to talk contract upon arrival to camp

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Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols is dominating the headlines this week, and that probably won’t change in the coming weeks and months until some kind of resolution is reached about his expiring contract.

SI.com’s Jon Heyman reported earlier today that there is “virtually no chance” of Pujols and the Cards finding a middle ground on an extension before the slugger arrives at spring training next Wednesday, February 16.  Now Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com is reporting that Pujols has no plans to address the media on his day of arrival either.

That’s Albert’s prerogative, just as it’s his prerogative to seek out as much money as he can possibly find either from the Cardinals this spring or as a free agent next winter.  But Pujols set that mid-February deadline two months ago because he wanted to “avoid distractions” while preparing for the 2011 season, and that simply isn’t going to happen.

Cardinals camp will be flooded with reporters on February 16 and they will all want to ask Pujols about his contract status.  How many times can one guy respond “no comment” before a chair goes flying?

Even if Pujols makes it through that day without getting frustrated by the throngs of media members who want a sound byte from baseball’s best hitter, the rest of the spring is not going to be a breeze and the regular season will probably be even worse.  Reporters who cover road teams are going to ask him about his contract status after every single game and a packaged response may only work for so long.

Albert can probably handle it.  The Cardinals’ media relations department will do a fine job of blocking potential problems and keeping things well mannered, but Pujols will soon come to realize that his 2011 spring and summer won’t be distraction-free if he is indeed an impending free agent.

For a guy who likes to keep things close to the vest, this will all be strange territory.

Astros clinch postseason berth with 11-3 win over Angels

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No surprise here: The Astros are headed back to the postseason to defend their title following a landslide 11-3 win over the Angels on Friday. This figures to be their third playoff run since 2015, though they have yet to wrap up the AL West with a division title.

First baseman Yuli Gurriel led the charge on Friday, smashing a grand slam in the first inning and tacking on a two-run homer in the second and RBI single in the fifth to help the Astros to a seven-run lead. The Angels eventually returned fire, first with Mike Trout‘s 418-foot homer in the sixth, then with an RBI hit from Francisco Arcia in the seventh, but they couldn’t close the gap in time to overtake the Astros.

On the mound, right-hander Gerrit Cole clinched his 15th win of the year after holding the Angels to seven innings of three-run, 12-strikeout ball. His sixth strikeout of the night — delivered on an 83.1-MPH knuckle curveball to Kaleb Cowart — also marked the 1,000th strikeout of his career to date. He was backed by flawless performances by lefty reliever Tony Sipp and rookie right-hander Dean Deetz, both of whom turned in scoreless innings as the offense barreled toward an 11-3 finish with Jake Marisnick‘s sac bunt and George Springer‘s three-run shot in the eighth.

Despite having qualified for the playoffs, the Astros still carry a magic number of 6 as they look to clinch a third straight division title. They’re currently up against the Athletics, who entered Friday’s contest against the Twins just four games back of first place in the AL West.