10/02/09 3:00 AM EST
Pujols still in Triple Crown mix
A big final weekend could lift superstar to league titles
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols has reached the point where just about everything he does gets noticed. But quietly, he's worked his way back into contention for one of baseball's most hallowed accomplishments.
Earlier this year, talk surfaced that Pujols might be a serious contender to win the Triple Crown, something that hasn't been done in either league since Carl Yastrzemski did it in the American League in 1967. No National Leaguer has won the Triple Crown -- leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs in the same season -- since Joe Medwick in 1937. It's happened six times in NL history and nine times in the AL. Every player who won a Triple Crown in the 20th Century is in the Hall of Fame.
Then that talk tailed off, as Pujols saw the batting-average lead grow more and more distant. But now, if you squint a little bit, you can see how Pujols might add his name to the list. It would be a crowning achievement -- pardon the expression -- in an already spectacular career. Pujols is almost assured of a third NL MVP award already.
Given that this may well be his finest offensive season, it would be fitting to top it with one of the game's signature feats.
"Consistency-wise, yeah," Pujols said when asked if this is his best season. "In past years I've struggled with slumps, and obviously I have a little slump right now where I haven't hit a home run, but I'm driving the ball. Conistency-wise, I'm in some big situations, bases loaded, and getting hits for my team -- a couple of big hits in a couple of big moments."
It's going to be difficult for Pujols to reach those heights, to say the least. Pujols is in good shape in home runs, leading Mark Reynolds and Prince Fielder by three. He has 47, two short of a career high and three from 50. He's in the mix in RBIs, though there's a bit of a hill to climb. Pujols stands at 134, four behind Fielder and Ryan Howard.
But we knew he'd be in the hunt in both of those categories. He amassed huge totals in both before July even started. What was hard to foresee was that Pujols would get back in the race for what would be his second batting title. On the morning of Aug. 29, Pujols woke up a full 50 points behind Hanley Ramirez. The Marlins' shortstop was at .366, while Pujols was at .316. Since then, things have changed dramatically.
Ramirez fell into a significant slump. Since that day, he's gone 26-for-109, a .239 average, to drop to .341 on the year. It's been especially pronounced lately, with Ramirez in a 3-for-26 slump. Pujols, meanwhile, has taken off. He's 40-for-106 (.377) since Aug. 29, raising his average to .328. It's tough to make up 13 points of batting average in three days, but not impossible. If any power hitter can do it, Pujols can.
"He just hits line drives that go out of the park," manager Tony La Russa said recently. "That's why he's a .330 hitter. He's a great hitter. He catches it and it goes. He's a high-average hitter with power."
If, for example, Ramirez were to go 2-for-12 over the final three days, he would fall to .3379. Pujols would pass him by going 10-for-12. If Ramirez somehow went 0-for-12 on the weekend, he'd be at .3345, and an 8-for-12 weekend for Pujols would vault him into the batting average lead.
The batting title is one of Pujols' more coveted accomplishments. He greatly values hitting for a high average.
"Fifty home runs, yeah, it would be great to hit 50," he said. "But that's not my goal. My goal is to try to finish over .330, keep my batting average high. That's something I've been doing over the last couple of weeks. Don't get me wrong. I wish that I could have hit one or two home runs on this road trip. But I'm not concentrating on that. I'm not looking for it. If I were looking for that, I would have had a bad road trip, because they made some pitches. They pitched me pretty well. I wanted to make sure I drove the ball in the gap."
It's a long shot. But it's conceivable. And because Ramirez is closing in on a milestone as well -- 200 hits -- the Marlins might not just sit him to protect his batting title.
It's not that no one has contended for the Triple Crown. Pujols himself has been in the mix before, such as in 2006. In that season, he finished 13 points off in batting average, nine home runs back (but in second place) and 12 RBIs out (also second to Ryan Howard). In 2003, he won the batting title, finished fourth in homer (but only four out of first place) and fourth in RBIs (14 back).
Now, he has another shot.
Chasing the Crown
|A look at players who have put up near-Triple Crown numbers since Carl Yastrzemski did it in the American League in 1967.|
|2005||Alex Rodriguez||.321 (2nd; .331)||48 (1st)||130 (4th; 148)|
|2001||Alex Rodriguez||.318 (7th; .350)||52 (1st)||135 (3rd; 141)|
|2000||Carlos Delgado||.344 (4th; .372)||41 (T-4th; 47)||137 (T-4th; 145)|
|1999||Manny Ramirez||.337 (5th; .357)||44 (T-3rd; 48)||165 (1st)|
|1998||Albert Belle||.328 (3rd; .339)||49 (2nd; 56)||152 (2nd; 157)|
|1994||Albert Belle||.357 (2nd; .359)||36 (3rd; 40)||101 (T-3rd; 112)|
|1994||Frank Thomas||.353 (3rd; .359)||38 (2nd; 40)||101 (T-3rd; 112)|
|1986||Don Mattingly||.352 (2nd; .357)||31 (T-6th; 40)||113 (3rd; 121)|
|1982||Cecil Cooper||.313 (5th; .332)||32 (T-5th; 39)||121 (2nd; 133)|
|1979||Fred Lynn||.333 (1st)||39 (T-2nd; 45)||122 (4th; 139)|
|1979||Jim Rice||.325 (4th; .333)||39 (T-2nd; 45)||130 (2nd; 139)|
|1978||Jim Rice||.315 (3rd; .333)||46 (1st)||139 (1st)|
|2007||Matt Holliday||.340 (1st)||36 (4th; 50)||137 (1st)|
|2006||Albert Pujols||.331 (3rd; .344)||49 (2nd; 58)||137 (2nd; 149)|
|2003||Albert Pujols||.359 (1st)||43 (4th; 47)||124 (4th; 141)|
|2002||Barry Bonds||.370 (1st)||46 (2nd; 49)||110 (6th; 128)|
|2000||Todd Helton||.372 (1st)||42 (7th; 50)||147 (1st)|
|1997||Larry Walker||.366 (2nd; .372)||49 (1st)||130 (3rd; 140)|
|1995||Dante Bichette||.340 (3rd; .368)||40 (1st)||128 (1st)|
|1994||Jeff Bagwell||.368 (2nd; .394)||39 (2nd; 43)||116 (1st)|
|1992||Gary Sheffield||.330 (1st)||33 (3rd; 35)||100 (5th; 109)|
|1983||Dale Murphy||.302 (6th; .323)||36 (2nd; 40)||121 (1st)|
|1981||Mike Schmidt||.316 (4th; .341)||31 (1st)||91 (1st)|
|1978||Dave Parker||.334 (1st)||30 (3rd; 40)||117 (2nd; 120)|
|1977||George Foster||.320 (4th; .338)||52 (1st)||149 (1st)|
|1972||Billy Williams||.333||37 (3rd; 40)||122 (2nd; 125)|
|1969||Willie McCovey||.320 (5th; .348)||45 (1st)||126 (1st)|
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.