[Update:] As mentioned in yesterday's comments, Randy Flores is on the way back up to St. Louis despite the fact that he's still not a good pitcher. Fun Fact: Flores has walked more batters than he's struck out this year. Chris Perez is being optioned back to Memphis, which is not an unreasonable decision as his command was never quite ready this season. Him dominating AAA hitters for a few more months can only be a good thing, imo.
A little more nauseating is the reference to a future call up of Kelvin Jimenez and the optioning of Joe Mather. Fun Fact: Jimenez had a 7.50 ERA in 40+ innings last year and was posting an ERA over 8 in his appearances this year (although in just 6 innings). Mark Worrell is a better pitcher than Jimenez but the Cardinals seem determined to try and prove that Jimenez can make it in the majors. Newsflash -- not gonna happen.
Happier thoughts below. [/end update]
St. Louis has been a hell of a story this year. Few expected the Cardinals to compete during their "transition year" with a variety of individual stories leading the way.
The Scott Rolen for Troy Glaus trade certainly hasn't been a bad one for the Cards. Ignoring the numbers (I know, perish the thought), even if Rolen is more valuable on a per game basis, the end of the drama between Scott and Tony is a blessing. Glaus has been a very good hitter since his powerless May (including the 2 HRs last night) and defensively he's been surprisingly spectacular. More than anything else, that has been a revelation I did not expect.
Ryan Ludwick offers hope to all of the toiling minor leaguers out there. Well at least the ones like Nelson Cruz. Plagued by injuries throughout his early professional career, Ludwick never really put up a monster season. Things never seemed to click despite having the toolset to succeed. After posting a 1.022 OPS in 100 odd ABs in Memphis last year, the Cardinals made him part of their rotation outfield where he hit .267/.338/.479 in 300 ABs. I doubt anyone suspected the breakout he'd experience this season (and on some level I still question whether this is sustainable). He's created a major league career where none was really expected.
I've written about Rick Ankiel before. He's a hell of a ballplayer with a multidimensional game that is astounding for someone in his 3rd year of being a professional hitter. His career arc is a sports writer's dream. A tremendous defender with plus-plus power and now he's taking walks. There's not a whole lot more you could ask from him.
.350/.466/.608 is a line that belongs to none of the above players. Overshadowed by the unexpected story lines of the season, Albert Pujols is being overlooked. Maybe it's the expectation of greatness that's become commonplace. Maybe it's the hitting of Lance Berkman and Chipper Jones that have overshadowed him on the national arena. Whatever the case, Pujols is having, arguably, the best year of his career. He's set to break 100 walks for the first time in his career and he's sacrificed nothing in terms of power to do so.
Pujols makes 16 million a year through 2011. To call that a bargain is misleading. He's making perhaps half of what his performance would be valued at on the free market. A 7 win offensive player who gets at least another win for his defense (some metrics show him as a 3 win defensive player -- I'm not sure I buy the 1B as 3 win defensive player necessarily), he's worth nearly 40 million on a yearly basis. That's an incredible value to the club.
He's hitting around his 75th PECOTA percentile. When that happens with most players you call it a fluke. For Albert, I think you just call it great. It's odd to think that the best player on the Cardinals, by a wide margin, gets overlooked but I think that's the case. The only modern players that approach him in terms of performance would be Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds. Indeed, Bonds and Pujols rank near the top of several all-time leader boards. Pujols is in a class with not merely the great but the once in a lifetime.
In a season with so much unexpected, the expected, even when exceptional, can be missed.