St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols was activated from the DL today in a pleasant surprise for Pujols, the Cardinals, and their fans. The prognosis when Pujols was first injured on June 19 was a lengthy layoff - 4-6 weeks after fracturing his wrist in a game against the Kansas City Royals. Nevertheless, Pujols has been activated after only 15 days missing from the lineup. Here's what Pujols and Cards skipper Tony La Russa had to say...
"I feel like if I can play, why should I be on the bench?" Pujols said. "My job is to play baseball. When you do that as a little boy growing up, and get an opportunity to play as a pro and get to the big leagues and do everything that I can to help this ballclub to win, this organization, I feel guilty feeling good and sitting on the bench. If I didn't feel good, I tell you, I'd be the first guy to say, 'You know what? I can't go.'"
"It's about as good a break as we could catch," manager Tony La Russa said. "To have him miss two weeks, that's a serious break on our behalf."
La Russa is just happy that Pujols' wrist healed much faster than those nasty shingles. Even though he was activated today, Pujols isn't in the lineup for today's game against the Reds, but he is available to pinch hit. With the All-Star break only a week away, it remains to be seen just how much the Cardinals use Pujols coming back from injury. He could just pinch hit up until the break and get another week to become fully healthy. To his credit, Pujols seems like he wants to get out and play now.
The Pujols injury might say more about the team the Cardinals have around him though. While St. Louis only went 6-7 in those 13 games without their star player, the Cards have actually grown their NL Central lead. On June 19, St. Louis was tied with Milwaukee at the top of the division, they now have a 1 game lead over the Brewers. Now, this may say more about the slightly above average NL Central this year, but St. Louis has to breathe a big sigh of relief that they actually gained ground on their closest competitor with Pujols on the bench. Currently, four teams sit within three games in the Central (St. Louis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh... yes, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati), so the quick recovery couldn't have been timed better. In fact, this may develop into one of the best, if not closest, division races as we approach October.
The final angle on the activation of Albert Pujols is what it means to his future in St. Louis. The speculation has clearly gotten to Pujols already this season (see his recent blow up at a reporter), so a return to the field may be the best thing for his mental well-being and game. If the Cardinals had drastically slipped and Pujols stayed on the bench, perhaps he wouldn't be as keen on signing a long-term extension with the Cards. Hypothetically, do you think Albert Pujols would be excited about continuing in St. Louis if he returned on May 5th and the Cardinals were 10 games out of first place? I don't think so. At least in this scenario, the Cardinals will get a fair shot at contending this year and maybe even convincing the man that has been most identified with St. Louis baseball over the last 20 years to stay a little while longer.