Albert Pujols and the Inevitable Triple Crown
61 HR, 159 RBI, .329 AVG.
That's Albert Pujols' current pace for this season.
Currently ranked first in HR, first in RBI, and ninth in AVG (20 points behind David Wright), Pujols once again is poised to make a serious run at the National League Triple Crown.
"But Scott, Albert has never finished as the National League leader in home runs or runs batted in, and he's only got one batting title. What makes you think he can lead all three categories in the same year?"
Well, that's a good point. But while he hasn't been No. 1 in those categories, he's almost always finished in the top five.
Pujols has finished in the top 10 among National League leaders in batting average every year of his career (eight seasons), placing in the top five five times. He was the NL batting champion in 2003 (.359) and currently leads all active players in career batting average (.334).
Pujols currently ranks ninth in the NL in batting average—a hefty 20 points behind league leader David Wright. Wright and teammate Carlos Beltran appear to be the most legitimate threats this season to besting Pujols in the category.
Pujols' career high for home runs is 49, which came in 2006 (Ryan Howard clocked 58 that year en route to the MVP). He's finished in the top-five five times in his career as well, and averages an astounding 43 HR a year. It should be noted his career high of 49 came in only 143 games (a 55 HR pace over 162 games).
His 26 HR lead the majors this season, three ahead of Adrian Gonzalez, who is on pace to hit 55.
Runs Batted In
In eight full Major League seasons, Pujols finished in the NL's top five RBI leaders seven times. His 162-game average is 129 RBI, yet he's never been the league leader.
He currently leads Prince Fielder by only one, and his pace of 159 is similar to his pace from 2006 (when he totaled 137 RBI in just 143 games).
Can he keep up the pace and make a run at one of baseball's toughest landmarks?
Sure he can—as long as teams pitch to him.
The Cardinals lineup can be frustrating and inconsistent at times, giving Pujols little protection. Ryan Ludwick's post-injury struggles have given pitchers more reason to pitch around the slugger Pujols than to let him put the ball in play.
He's on pace to walk 121 times, which would be a career high.
While the walk rate may better inflate his chance to keep a high batting average, his RBI opportunities could greatly decrease.
Take Barry Bonds' record-setting 2004 season, for example, when he walked 232 times. Bonds only drove in 101 runs that year, not good enough to land him in the top 10.
The Cardinals' top of the order hitters do not generally sport a high on-base percentage. Skip Schumaker (.346 OBP), Brendan Ryan (.345), and Colby Rasmus (.321) have to be on base if Pujols has any chance of keeping up his league-leading pace.
Ludwick, normally batting fourth behind Pujols, can't maintain his .240 AVG and .315 OBP if the Cardinals expect pitchers to go after Pujols. They'll continue to treat him like Bonds and be content with walking him.
This season is going to come down to the young Cardinals hitters getting on base and protecting their slugger, with Pujols making the most of every opportunity afforded him.
It may not take 60 HR and 160 RBI to lead the National League (maybe closer to 50 HR and 145 RBI could do the job), but if the Cardinals lineup doesn't allow Pujols more chances to swing the bat, his chance at winning the NL Triple Crown this season could be in danger.
One thing is certainly clear, however—this is the same discussion we're going to have every season of his career.
If not this season, then maybe next season, or the one after that, because at some point in his career, Albert Pujols will win the Triple Crown.
There's no stopping him.
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