MLB Playoffs 2011: Does Albert Pujols' Future in St. Louis Rest on Game 5?

Manny RandhawaCorrespondent IIIOctober 6, 2011

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 22: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a solo home run against the New York Mets at Busch Stadium on September 22, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Albert Pujols has been a St. Louis Cardinal for 11 seasons. In that time, he's hit .328 with 445 home runs and 1,329 RBI. He's been a nine-time All-Star and won a World Series ring with the Red Birds.

And, following the final pitch of this year's World Series, he will be a free agent for the first time.

The difference between making the postseason and being four victories away from the World Series is significant. In fact, it may be significant enough to spell the difference between a superstar slugger like Pujols returning to the Cards, or taking his other-worldly services elsewhere for the first time.

So Friday night's Game 5 between the Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies could have more riding on it than just the fate of St. Louis' season. The chances of the Cardinals re-signing one of the greatest players in their history may also hinge on the outcome.

Prior to this season, the Cards had made the postseason only once (a 2009 NLDS appearance) ever since winning a World Series in 2006. And if they fall short of reaching the National League Championship Series this time, one has to wonder whether it will weigh on Pujols' mind.

Pujols will have a big choice to make this winter, and prospects of winning another championship or two from here on out will undoubtedly be one of his top priorities going into offseason negotiations.

Of course, what are Albert's alternatives next season? Any potential title contenders? The answer, to the dismay of Cardinals fans, is yes.

Among several potential suitors that seem to always finish below .500, including the Cubs, Orioles and others, there are also teams like the Texas Rangers (currently awaiting their opponent for the ALCS) and the San Francisco Giants (last year's world champions whose front office, though currently talking conservatively about next year's payroll, could have some surprises in store) who could pursue Pujols.

Pujols definitely has good options when it comes to where to play next season. And that makes the result of Game 5 of the NLDS all the more crucial for the Cardinals.