Right now, at this current moment, the hottest hitter in baseball is NOT Albert Pujols. Truthfully, Pujols's production has greatly slowed since the All-Star break.
I know that he's clearly the player of the decade and is making a good case for being the best player of his generation. So this isn't an anti-Pujols screed, and I'm not trying to take away from his unique place in modern baseball history. I'm simply stating the obvious; pitching to Albert Pujols now is not as daunting a prospect as it was earlier this season.
There is a more intimidating batter in the National League, one who has had an amazing offensive performance this week, and one who should send more shudders down the spine of opposing pitchers than Pujols.
I'm talking about Pujols’ new teammate, Matt Holliday.
In his first eight games for the Cardinals, Holliday has been on a tear; he has 17 hits in 29 at bats and has driven in eight runs. It is very telling that, in the late innings of yesterday's game against the Dodgers, Joe Torre, always a reliable baseball strategist, chose to intentionally walk both Pujols AND Holliday.
Tonight, thanks largely to the efforts of the incredible Matt Holliday, the St. Louis Cardinals (57-49) defeated their division rivals, the Houston Astros, by one run, winning the game 4-3, with a Holliday driven late-inning rally.
Holliday went 4-for-4 in the contest, with two RBI and four runs. His impeccably timed offense tied the game twice. In the fourth inning, when the Cardinals were down 1-0, Holliday hit a single to the outfield, driving in Julio Lugo. Then, in the eighth inning, with the Cardinals down by a run and Pujols on base after getting hit in the back by a pitch, Holliday hit a double to deep right field. Then, Holliday scored the winning run of the game off of a Rick Ankiel single.
Ankiel, by the way, has totally redeemed himself in the second half of this season, hitting much better than he did in his lackluster first half. He hit a home run last night and the game-winning hit tonight.
Jason LaRue, giving Yadier Molina some rest, went 2-for-3. Mark DeRosa, with his one hit, drove in a run and managed to score. The rest of the offense was pretty cold, and, even though he scored a run, Pujols didn't get a hit at all.
Besides Holliday's blockbuster performance, tonight's game was noteworthy because the Cardinals used it to try to find a proper replacement for "Terrible" Todd Wellemeyer. Mitchell Boggs was called up from AAA to start the game. His performance wasn't awe inspiring; it was a little shaky. In five innings, he walked six Houston batters and allowed five hits. Still, Boggs only gave up two runs, which I think any Cardinal fan can agree, is better than Wellemeyer would have done. I think Boggs pitched well enough to deserve another shot.
He was relieved by Brad Thompson, who didn't do a whole lot better, allowing a run and three hits in just over two innings. Trever Miller only pitched to one batter, and struck him out, but thanks to lucky timing earned the win. Then Ryan Franklin did what he usually does; took the mound in the ninth and overpowered Houston to earn his 24th well-deserved save of the year.
The Cubs lost to the Marlins tonight, which means that, thanks to this win, the Cardinals are back on top of the Central Division by half a game. The Astros are in town for two more games in this series.
I speculate that if Pujols gets hot again, there is now no way that St. Louis shouldn't win its division and at least be competitive in the postseason. They have a better, stronger lineup and starting pitching rotation than any other team in the National League Central. The way things stand now, even with Pujols in his current state of exhaustion, this team is staying afloat and making things very interesting.
That is due mainly to Matt Holliday. I hope, when it comes to future considerations, the Cardinals' management realizes that.