Whether caused by a hamstring injury, distractions related to his impending free agency, or simply the aging process, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols had a disappointing first two months.
He’s on a mission to make June, July, August, September and October far more fruitful.
Pujols finished 3-for-4 with four RBI in the Cardinals’ extra-innings defeat of the rival Cubs on Saturday afternoon in a muggy St. Louis. He ripped a two-run shot to right-center field in the fourth inning, an RBI double in the sixth inning and then played the hero in the 12th inning with his first walkoff home run of the season. It was the ninth game-ending homer of his career.
Pujols is now 10-for-23 with four home runs, nine RBI and nine runs scored since the Cardinals arrived home from a western road trip on Monday. His OPS rose from .761 to .807 on Saturday alone and has jumped over 70 points in the past 10 days. The slugger is still miles from his historically exceptional career offensive pace, but Pujols is capable of going on a tear that can last until autumn and is certainly showing signs of life.
The Cardinals are 10 games above .500 and sit alone atop the National League Central standings.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Indians and Padres are still discussing a potential trade for a starting pitcher, namely Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer. Rosenthal adds that a deal isn’t close and is unlikely to occur before Opening Day. The Padres are balking at the Indians’ asking prices for the two starters.
The Padres could certainly use an ace at the top of the rotation. With the addition of Manny Machado, the lineup is looking decent, but beyond Joey Lucchesi, the starting pitching doesn’t inspire confidence.
Kluber, who turns 33 years old next month, has club options for the next two seasons at $13.5 million and $14 million with $1 million buyouts each. Last year, the right-hander finished third in AL Cy Young balloting, finishing 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA and a 222/34 K/BB ratio in 215 innings.
Bauer, 28, is earning $13 million this season and will enter his fourth and final year of arbitration heading into 2020. Last year, Bauer went 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA and a 221/57 K/BB ratio across 175 1/3 innings.
The Indians are the prohibitive favorites in the AL Central once again, but that has as much to do with the mediocrity of the rest of the division as the Indians’ commitment to competing. If the Indians were to trade either or both starters, that would be good news for the Twins, who are projected to be 15 games worse than the Indians but still finish in second place, according to PECOTA from Baseball Prospectus.