Albert Pujols watches from the dugout during a game against the Indians on Aug. 21.
Albert Pujols didn’t define the St. Louis Cardinals franchise.
Sure, he was one of many cornerstone players to ever don the birds on the bat. But this rich and historic organization won before him and with him, and now they are winning without him.
From 2001-2011, the Cardinals won 40 postseason games, including two World Series championships with Pujols in the middle of the lineup. Following the Cardinals’ most recent title in 2011, Pujols walked as a free agent and signed a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.
Life without this franchise’s most coveted star was surely going to be rough, right? Only the completely delirious believed such a notion.
Matter of fact, Pujols continues to help the Cardinals win crucial postseason games.
Think of it this way: had Pujols decided to stay under the Arch, owner Bill DeWitt and general manager John Mozeliak would have their hands tied for the next decade with such a monstrous contract making it nearly impossible to land key free agents and take on additional contracts.
With Pujols long gone, DeWitt and Mozeliak were able to keep the Cardinals core intact for years to come.
Yadier Molina, the best catcher in the game, signed a five-year, $75 million deal in March of 2012, pitching ace Adam Wainwright signed a five-year, $97.5 deal last March and Pujols’ current replacement, Allen Craig, agreed to a five-year, $31 million deal last March.
Behind the plate, Molina is the driving force behind the Cardinals’ pitching staff. His chemistry with each pitcher and overall knowledge of the game are second to none.
Wainwright closed out the 2006 World Series when the Cardinals extinguished the Tigers in five games, and he has another ring from the 2011 championship season.
Craig’s .454 average with runners in scoring position led the National League this season.
This is the same core of players that are annually displayed each October.
Most importantly, when Pujols bolted for Los Angeles, the Angels dealt the Cardinals the 19th overall selection in the 2012 Amateur Draft. With the pick, the Cardinals took a young lad by the name of Michael Wacha out of Texas A&M.
For the second time in as many starts, the 22-year-old rookie flirted with a no-hitter. He made history Monday afternoon when he took his no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game Four of the Division Series against the Pirates. It was the longest no-hit bid by a rookie pitcher in postseason history. In the biggest game of his life with his team on the verge of elimination, Wacha stood tall on the mound en route to forcing a decisive Game Five at Busch Stadium Wednesday night.
Without Pujols, the Cardinals are continuing to venture down their illustrious postseason winning path. They’ve won nine playoff games games without him and are looking for their 12th World Series championship.