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Is Pujols out of the Triple Crown race?

At this time of year, baseball talk is all about clinching – division championships or wild card berths, primarily. So it is with the St. Louis Cardinals, hoping to clinch on Friday evening in Colorado.

A once-in-a-lifetime event like the National League Triple Crown could not be clinched, but could be lost. About the only shortcoming of Albert Pujols’ fantastic 2009 season has been his apparent failed bid to unseat former Cardinal and Hall of Famer Joe “Ducky” Medwick as the NL’s most recent winner.

Medwick accomplished the feat in 1937 that has been unmatched in the Senior Circuit since – accumulating the most home runs, RBI and posting the highest batting average in a single season.

During comment discussion here on Thursday, it was generally agreed that Pujols’ Triple Crown bid is over. Let’s look at the three components.

Pujols still leads the home run race with 47 though he hasn’t gone deep since hitting a pair on September 9. Mark Reynolds of Arizona is four behind at 43.

The RBI chase may be getting away from Albert. After pulling even with Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder on Monday for the lead at 129, Pujols is now third. Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard is the new co-leader at 132 with Fielder.

The biggest problem is clearly Pujols’ .330 batting average. Though only four points off his career mark, it is currently 20 points south of Florida’s Hanley Ramirez, who is having a tremendous season.

My belief is that Pujols expanded his strike zone prior to the arrival of Matt Holliday and because of it, lost valuable batting average points. Ironically, Pujols’ low point after the first two weeks of the season of .317 came on June 11 as the Cardinals finished a three-game series against Ramirez’ Marlins.

Back to the clinching idea. I thought I would determine if Ramirez has yet clinched the batting championship and in the process would formally eliminate Pujols’ faded Triple Crown hopes.

Unrealistic case – Hanley completely tanks

Like the Cardinals, the Marlins have nine games remaining. On the season, Ramirez has averaged 3.83 at-bats per game, meaning he should accumulate 35 more at-bats. If he goes completely hitless, 0-for-35, his current .350 average would drop to .329.

Obviously, in that case, all Pujols would basically need to do is maintain his season-long .330 average to edge out Hanley.

Albert has averaged 3.54 at-bats per game this season. With nine games remaining, he should accumulate 32 more at-bats. Going 11-for-32 (.344) would keep him just ahead of Ramirez.

An even more unrealistic case – Pujols unstoppable

What if Pujols has a hit in every single at-bat the rest of the way?

Going 32-for-32 would raise his season mark to .3675.

To beat Pujols, Ramirez would then need to go 23-for-35 (.657), which would put him at .3679 to end the year.

Slightly more realistic case – meet me in the middle

In a more possible, yet still negative scenario, let’s assume Ramirez will slump, but will still get seven more hits to reach an even 200 on the season. Hitting 7-for-35 (.200) would put his final mark at .3407.

To reach .3409 and edge out Hanley, Albert would need 17 hits in his 32 at-bats, or a .531 pace over his final nine games.

Will it happen? Will Pujols find a way to catch Hanley in average and edge out Howard and Fielder in RBIs? Most likely not.

But could it happen? Yes, it still could.

In other words, on the evening the Cardinals as a team may clinch, in their individual Triple Crown category battles, Pujols’ opponents have yet to clinch against him.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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