Cards Without Pujols
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
ST. LOUIS STARTS POST-PUJOLS STRETCH VS. NL POWER PHILADELPHIA
Last night's series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies marked the first game for the St. Louis Cardinals since perennial MVP candidate Albert Pujols suffered a broken arm Sunday vs. Kansas City. He'll be out 4-6 weeks...and the recovery time for this type of injury has been longer than that in terms of regaining form upon return.
Pujols may or may not be a big factor if he can return to the lineup in early August as expected.
ESPN had already scheduled Philadelphia at St. Louis for its Wednesday Night national TV game before the injury. You know the storyline will be front and center. Here are some factors we hope they'll mention through the course of the night.
- The injury arguably came at the BEST possible time in terms of the divisional race and potential championship hopes. If it comes early in the season, the Cardinals may have dug a hole that would have been difficult to climb out of. If it happens late in the season, then Pujols would either miss the playoffs, or would be in sluggish form with a last second return. If a key player HAS to miss 4-6 weeks, the time around the All-Star Break is the best case scenario.
- Not only is this in an acceptable spot on the calendar from the Cardinals perspective. It also helps that chief rival Milwaukee has a BRUTAL Interleague schedule this year. We talked about that last week. St. Louis may slump without Pujols. Can Milwaukee make up ground during a trip to Yankee Stadium in New York? The Brewers started out 1-3 against Boston and Tampa Bay. Give St. Louis the brutal schedule, and Milwaukee the friendly one, and the NL Central race might have been decided for all intents and purposes before Pujols' return.
- The NL Central is a weak division. There aren't multiple threats right now to run away and hide during a St. Louis slump. Third place Cincinnati was 13-17 its last 30 games heading into Tuesday Night. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle told the press that this is probably the best division for something like that to happen in. Great to see a manager slam his own division!
- Lance Berkman takes over at first base for Pujols. You might be surprised to see the statistical difference this year between Pujols and Berkman. Here's a warning up front. No, these numbers AREN'T reversed! Berkman has been A LOT better than Pujols so far this season.
Berkman: .308 batting, .421 on-base, .621 slugging
Pujols: .279 battting, .355 on-base, .500 slugging
Pujols still had some pop with 17 home runs and 45 RBI's. Berkman had 17 home runs and 51 RBI's in 64 fewer plate appearances heading into Tuesday Night's series opener with the Phillies.
St. Louis was a first place team on a 90-win pace before the injury. It may seem that they have to replace an MVP. But, to maintain their current production...they're really just hoping to find a right-fielder who can hit in the neighborhood of .279, .355, .500. Maybe they don't find that. Maybe it's a little less. That's enough to keep them within striking distance of Milwaukee for the time being even if the Brewers don't slump vs. their tough IL slate.
- The potential that Pujols could have been playing "distracted" because of his contract situation can now be taken off the table for a while. Look at how far he's declined this year compared to the recent past.
2008: .357 batting, .462 on-base, .653 slugging
2009: .327 batting, .443 on-base, .658 slugging
2010: .312 batting, .414 on-base, .596 slugging
2011: .279 batting, .355 on-base, .500 slugging
That downward trend is alarming too considering he's only 31 years old. The numbers would suggest mid-30's.
There were some media types asking if the Pujols injury meant the end of the Cardinals season. In some years, it might have. In other divisions this year it might have. The stars have aligned in such a way that it may just be a blip on the radar people won't even remember come playoff time.
If you're a Cardinals fan, take a few breaths and let the season play out. If you're a handicapper, watch this team very closely!
- Oddsmakers may overreact to the injury, meaning the Cardinals are actually a value team over the next few weeks.
- The Cardinals themselves may overreact to the injury, going into a tailspin from panic that wouldn't have happened if they just worked through the issue. Manager Tony LaRussa is good at working through issues.
- The Cardinals may rally around the flag, and go on a tear the next few weeks because everyone's playing with a new sense of urgency. We've seen this time and time again in all sports. A key player gets hurt, and the team improves over the short term because they bring peak intensity.
- Totals may take a turn in one direction or another. Perhaps the "new look" Cardinals will have less pop but be better on defense. That will lead to a bunch of Unders. Or, the "rally around the flag" leads to such aggression that scoring goes up over the short term. You never know until it happens. But, you can make good money if you can get a quick read on the correct direction.
Though there are still a lot of exciting Interleague matchup on tap tonight and this week, it's important to spend some time with this National League series because you may pick up a slew of winners based on what you learn tonight and Thursday. Here are the projected pitching matchups.
Philadelphia: Cliff Lee (7-5, 3.12 ERA)
St. Louis: Kyle Lohse (7-3, 2.88 ERA)
Philadelphia: Roy Oswalt (4-5, 3.38 ERA)
St. Louis: Chris Carpenter (1-7, 4.47 ERA)
Carpenter is surely somebody who needs to bear down given his recent form. It's kind of amazing that the Cardinals were still a first place team given the pedestrian numbers from Pujols and the alarming numbers from Carpenter.
JIM HURLEY may or may not have a big play in one of those two games. We try to feature many of the national telecasts here in the NOTEBOOK because we know you like handicapping information on the games you'll be watching on TV. JIM HURLEY only releases the best plays on the board to his clients, regardless of whether they're on TV or not. Be aware that we'll have split sessions Wednesday and Thursday because of the heavy afternoon schedules that will allow us to maximize money management potential.
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Back tomorrow with stat summaries from Wednesday afternoon action that will allow us to get caught up with teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Tigers, Reds, Braves, and Dodgers. Then this weekend we'll focus on as many marquee matchups as we can, possibly including LA Angels/LA Dodgers (Saturday on FOX), NY Mets at Texas (Saturday on FOX), Colorado at New York Yankees (Sunday on TBS), Cleveland at San Francisco (time-changed Sunday for ESPN prime-time), Toronto/St. Louis, and Boston-Pittsburgh.
It's a great time to be a baseball fan and a Las Vegas bettor. Don't just sit on your couch. GET IN THE GAME!
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