There hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner in 42 years and no one has led the NL in batting average, home runs and RBIs in 72 seasons.
Following arguably the best first half of his remarkable career, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols(notes) has a shot to end those droughts and will resume his historic chase beginning with Friday night’s opener of a three-game series against the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks.
Before Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Busch Stadium and catching President Obama’s first pitch, Pujols powered to a major league-best 32 home runs and 87 RBIs - his best totals before the break in his nine seasons - and helped St. Louis (49-42) to the NL Central lead.
To win the majors’ first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and become the first NL winner since the Cardinals’ Joe Medwick in 1937, he’ll likely need to improve a .332 batting average that’s fourth in the NL and is 14 points behind Florida’s Hanley Ramirez(notes).
What could derail the first baseman’s pursuit of history is the Cardinals’ lack of credible threats around him. Skip Schumaker(notes) is the lone teammate batting .300, and St. Louis ranks in the bottom half of the NL at .255.
The only Cardinals with double-digit home runs are Ryan Ludwick(notes) (15) and rookie Colby Rasmus(notes) (11). That’s why opponents have already walked Pujols 71 times this season with 32 intentional passes - three shy of the team’s single-season record he set last year.
Ludwick has hit .400 over his last 15 games after batting .176 through his first 23 contests last month. The Cardinals are also expected to get Troy Glaus(notes) (right shoulder surgery) and Mark DeRosa(notes) (sprained left wrist) back in the lineup this month.
“We know what kind of talent we have. Obviously, we haven’t clicked,” Pujols told the Cardinals’ official Web site following last Friday’s 8-3 win over the Chicago Cubs.
After losing a month to a strained ribcage muscle following three scoreless innings April 14 against Arizona, the 2005 Cy Young winner recorded six victories in 11 outings and enters Friday looking for his third in as many starts.
Carpenter will also try to improve on his 3-0 record and 2.30 ERA in six career starts versus the Diamondbacks (38-51).
Arizona right-hander Jon Garland(notes) (5-8, 4.53), meanwhile, is searching for his first win in three career starts against the Cardinals and is looking to build off his first victory in nearly two months.
After opening the season with a win, Garland, who is 0-2 with a 10.38 ERA versus St. Louis, was tagged by the Cardinals for seven runs in 3 2-3 innings in a 12-7 loss April 15. He halted a career-high six-game losing streak Saturday against visiting Florida by allowing one run over eight innings in a 5-1 victory.
“It’s always a big confidence booster when you win a game and can follow it up into the next start,” Garland said.
The Diamondbacks, the NL’s second-worst hitting team at .247, come out of the break looking to build on a strong end to the first half as they hit .289 in winning seven of nine.