Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Albert Pujols is the Best Player in Baseball

Let's set the scene. Top of the ninth, 3-2 Cardinals as their esteemed closer, Jason Isringhausen, tries to shut down the NL cellar dewlling Pirates. Not a terribly difficult task, and Izzy makes quick work of Craig Wilson and Joe Randa, leaving 36-year-old Jose Hernandez with all the pressure. And somehow, going against the grain of his mediocre-at-best career, he sends a shot over the left field wall, tying the game and leaving Izzy shamed.

Now in the bottom of the ninth, all the Cardinals need is a single run off 40-something Roberto Hernandez to save Izzy from his blunder. With one out and none on, white boy extraordinaire David Eckstein singles, followed by a broken bat poke to center field by Hector Luna. New Busch Stadium erupts, as Albert Pujols makes his way from the on-deck circle to the batters box. FOX Sports is ready, boasting that Albert has hit seven walk-off hits, and six walk-off homers.

Things don't look so hot at first, as Pujols quickly finds himself down 0-2. Of course, striking out isn't the end of the world, since that still leaves the Cardinals with one more chance to knock in Eckstein. But this is Albert freakin' Pujols, and he's not about Juan Encarnacion decide his team's fate. So, in typical Pujols fashion, he rips one down the left field line, easily scoring Eckstein and winning the game.

Of course, this act alone doesn't qualify Pujols as the best player in baseball. Rather, it's his career progression to this point. His .330/.430/.609 was good enough for NL MVP in 2005, an award he well could have won even if Juice had played the entire season. More importantly, he did it in a consistent manner, never hitting an exceeding hot streak or abysmal cold streak, a la the AL MVP, Alex Rodriguez.

(Aside: Don't get me wrong; A-Rod had my vote for MVP. But we all known that he's prone to streakiness, which will impede his future MVP bids.)

It seems like this could be the year Albert crowns himself the new Bonds, the hands-down best player in the game. The man has even gone so far as to pull a Ruthian home run call against Oliver Perez. From St. Louis Today:

"He struck me out last year and did all his dancing and I remember that," Pujols said. "That's what happened in Pittsburgh. I hit that ground ball back to him (in the first inning) and he did his little dance again and I got real upset. I went to the video room and told my guy Chad (Blair), 'I'm going to hit the next ball and I'm going to hit it a long way. But don't look at the ball. Look at where the bat is going to land.'"

And, of course, Albert delivered. Not only that, but he took Perez deep again this year. Boy oh boy, do I bet Perez is embarassed. I think Jim Tracy would do his ace some good by working his rotation around him when they're facing St. Louis throughout the year.