After a 13-game injury hiatus, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols was back in the lineup Thursday as the designated hitter.
Although the Cards suffered a walk-off loss for the second straight day, the question still beckons, "Can Albert Pujols turn this team around?" This answer to that question, ladies and gentlemen, is a resounding yes.
Pujols, who now has his batting average up to .358 with an exceptional 4-4 performance in his return, can bring back the offense that the Cards desperately need. If was quite evident that Ryan Ludwick's surprise blistering start had been keyed by Pujols' presence in front of him in the lineup. Ludwick dropped nearly 40 points on his batting average in the 13 games that Pujols was absent, showing that Pujols can truly make a difference in the Cards lineup.
Another issue, and perhaps the biggest indirect reason why Pujols' return will cause the Cardinals to play better, is that backup first baseman Chris Duncan can't hit a watermelon with a baseball bat.
Even if Pujols were to give mediocre production, it would most assuredly be better than the slump-driven Duncan.
Not to mention, Duncan isn't half the defensive first baseman that Pujols was before his injury. Furthermore, if I were manager Tony La Russa, I would have given Adam Kennedy more extended consideration at first base while Pujols was in the dugout. Kennedy showed that his second baseman defensive abilities can smoothly translate over to a solid job at first.
Pujols, the biggest Cardinals cheerleader, will provide even more support now that he is more actively involved in the flow of the game. Not to say that Pujols isn't paying attention to each and every pitch, but when you are a part of the game, you feel a lot more lively.
The last reason is pretty obvious, and it has been danced around several times within this piece: Pujols is not only the best player on the Cardinals, but when healthy, the best player in the game. Anytime you lose someone like Albert for an extended period of time, your team is going to suffer. Now that he is back, though, the Cardinals should find reason to believe in a strong season once again.
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