NL Central: Cards' Albert Pujols out 4-6 Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers Division Faves

Jeffrey BeckmannCorrespondent IJune 20, 2011

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 19: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals holds his wrist after a collision with Wilson Betemit #24 of the Kansas City Royals at Busch Stadium on June 19, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Jeff Curry/Getty Images

With breaking news that the St. Louis Cardinals have lost their three-time MVP, Albert Pujols, for at least four weeks, are the Milwaukee Brewers now the sole favorites in the NL Central?

The two teams enter Monday's games tied atop the division with 40-33 records, and now the baseball world is left wondering how Pujols' absence will shake up the NL Central race.

For starters, the Cardinals offense will take another huge blow—as Matt Holliday is only just returning from a stint on the DL. But how will Holliday do without Pujols in the lineup with him? And will the added pressure have an effect on Lance Berkman's early season performance?

All valid questions, and the answer is an astounding Yes.

The Cardinals are currently second in MLB in team batting average at .272 and second in the NL in runs scored—both which will see drastic declines without Pujols' presence in the heart of the order.

If Pujols were to be out for exactly four weeks—meaning a return date of July 18th—he would be missing a very tough portion of the Cardinals' schedule. During that time, the Cards' have a series each against the PhilliesBlue Jays and Rays and two series against their division rival Cincinnati Reds.

To make matters worse, the Cardinals just ended a seven-game losing streak over the weekend, while the Brewers have been one of the best teams in MLB since the beginning of May.

The only positive is that 13 out of the 22 games over the four-week span will be played at Busch Stadium.

Yes, the season is not won over the course of one month; but there is no doubt that the loss of Pujols will have a lasting impact on the Cardinals' season. Pujols is baseball's best player, and taking his presence and leadership out of the lineup could spell doom for St. Louis.

The Milwaukee Brewers—26-13 since May 9th—are now in a position to create separation in the league's tightest division. The red-hot Brewers have a chance to win their first division title since way back in 1982, and you can be sure they'll be up to the challenge.

Prince Fielder is the leading candidate for NL MVP so far this season, and teammate Ryan Braun has been raking thus far as well.

Now more than ever, the battle for the NL Central crown will come down to pitching. Will the Cardinals' pitchers be able to keep their team in games with the absence of the leagues best hitter? And will the Brewers' pitchers take advantage of the opportunity that has been placed in front of them?

Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: The NL Central race just got a lot more interesting.