Albert Pujols Better Than Joltin' Joe? Say It Ain't So!: Texas Rangers-St. Louis Cardinals World Series Preview and Game 1 Open Thread
It's finally here. Pinch yourself. Your Texas Rangers are back in the World Series, and this time feels much different than last year's playoff run. There's a confidence flowing through my body that just wasn't there before, and I suspect the players feel the same way.
Texas Rangers Gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside, doesn't it?
Don't get me wrong. I expected the Rangers to beat the San Francisco Giants last season, but the prospect of facing the best pitching in baseball was daunting, and success seemed to be in the hands of one man for Texas: Cliff Lee. This year, however, the Rangers look and play much more like a complete team.
In my American League Championship Series preview, I boldly proclaimed that I didn't fear Detroit Tigers ace and soon-to-be-named AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, and the Rangers shouldn't have been scared of him either.
Sure enough, Verlander surrendered seven runs in his 11 1/3 innings on the mound. My point then was this: No one player can win a postseason series.
Of course, that's still the case. But if there's one player in baseball that comes the closest, it's the great Albert Pujols. The man. The myth. The Machine.
Despite three National League MVP awards and a 2006 World Series championship, Pujols' place in history hasn't been fully appreciated. Although he's played just 11 seasons, Pujols is already a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the game's all-time greats.
Just how great? I think he's already somewhere in the top 15 all time, which obviously puts him into some pretty incredible company. But he has really been that great and has plenty of productive seasons ahead of him at just 31 years old.
My older brother Jess recently scoffed at such a suggestion. I asked him to name some of the players he thought were in lower end of the top 15 or so, and Joe DiMaggio's name came up.
Without hesitation, I said, "Pujols is already better than him."
Seems like a crazy proclamation, and there's no definitive answer, but the numbers don't lie.
Like Pujols, DiMaggio began his career as a 21-year-old and won three MVP awards. He played a total of 13 seasons, missing three years during his prime (ages 28 to 30) while enlisted in the air force in World War II. In those 13 years, DiMaggio had a .325 batting average and .977 on-base plus slugging percentage with 2,214 hits, 361 home runs, 389 doubles, 1,537 runs batted in and 1,390 runs scored in 6,821 at-bats.
DiMaggio was also a spectacular defensive center fielder (105 career errors) and won the World Series a jaw-dropping nine times in 10 attempts. However, his performance in those games (51 total) wasn't nearly as jaw-dropping, as he hit .271 with eight homers and 30 RBI. Of course, he also holds the all-time record for recording at least one hit in consecutive games with 56 set in 1941.
In 500 fewer career at-bats (roughly a full season's worth), Pujols has a .328 BA and 1.037 OPS (sixth best all time) with 2,073 H, 445 HR, 455 2B, 1,329 RBI and 1,291 R. He's also a stellar defensive first baseman (110 career errors and two Gold Gloves) and is hitting .339 with 15 homers and 46 RBI in his 67 postseason games.
St. Louis Cardinals
Even if you don't buy the argument that he's better than Joltin' Joe, you have to admit Pujols belongs in the conversation, which puts him either right at or just outside the top 15.
And there's a lot more baseball ahead for him.
He's clubbed at least 30 homers every season. He's scored at least 100 runs in 10 of his 11 seasons, with 99 in 2007. And, this year, he just missed out (.299 BA and 99 RBI) on continuing his decade-long run of posting an average above .300 and at least 100 RBI.
Pujols already has more career home runs than Cal Ripken and Duke Snider, more runs scored than Ozzie Smith and Harmon Killebrew, more RBI than Roberto Clemente, a slugging percentage only bettered by Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig and a higher batting average than Honus Wagner, Jimmie Foxx and Wade Boggs.
He's the best player in the game right now. Period. And as soon as the Rangers forget that, they're gonna be in trouble.
I'm not suggesting Texas should issue Pujols a free pass every time he's at the dish, but they must pitch him tough and keep him off balance to win this series. And I believe Texas is poised to do just that after learning some tough lessons while facing probably the second-best player in the game right now, Miguel Cabrera, in the ALCS.
It's not like Pujols is the only Cards' hitter to be concerned about. Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, David Freese and Yadier Molina are big-time threats as well, and St. Louis led the NL in batting average, runs scored and OPS. And Chris Carpenter is capable of dominance on the mound, as he showed once again while tossing a shutout in Game 5 of the NLDS against Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies.
But the Rangers are simply a better all-around club, top to bottom. The Giants were last year. Texas is this year.
Expect to start celebrating at the end of Game 6.
Four more wins. Just four more wins.
A look at the position-by-position match-ups: