ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols only hit .333 on the Cardinals' recent road trip. He was held to a mere three extra-base hits, four RBIs and three walks in six games. What would qualify as an excellent trip for many players was, for Pujols, somewhat frustrating.
He acknowledged on Saturday that he hasn't exactly been at his best at the plate recently, quality numbers notwithstanding. But he said it's not a result of being tired; rather, he's just a little off-kilter. So although the Cardinals have clinched the National League Central, Pujols doesn't want time off. Quite the contrary. He wants to get out there and swing the bat in order to get right.
"Right now, I don't feel good at the plate," he said. "So I'm going to [get] ready to go [for the playoffs]. I know what I need to do to get myself ready. If I play the next -- how many games have we got left? -- if I play them all, I'll take that. Because we've gotten plenty of days off. I don't like the days off. I feel like after days off I lose being comfortable at the plate."
That was excellent news for manager Tony La Russa. The skipper wants to give his key players a breather as the playoffs approach, but he doesn't want his team to lose an edge. He also wants the Cardinals to secure home-field for at least the first round, and having Pujols in the lineup surely helps in that regard.
"Makes me happy," the manager said. "I'd rather have it that way than the other way."
For Pujols, the recent weeks and months haven't been too grueling. It's the first half of the season that took a toll. The Cardinals had an extremely arduous schedule, with few off-days. And Pujols had extra responsibilities as a home-team ambassador for the All-Star Game, which was held at Busch Stadium. He put on a brave face throughout the festivities, but he admitted over the weekend that it took a lot out of him.
"I was pretty tired," he said. "I won't lie to you. It took a bit out of me. I enjoy it more now that everything happened and I can look back and be like, 'I was pretty blessed with the All-Star Game in our city.' But man, it took a lot. It was a lot of hard work. It seems like since Spring Training started, I was doing something for the All-Star Game twice a week. It gets to the point where it kind of wears you out."
But Pujols and his teammates have reaped the benefits of all that hard work recently. St. Louis has had a passel of off-days in August and September.
"That's something we looked at when the season started," he said. "If we could be close in the race [at the end of July], we thought we were going to have a pretty good chance. Because the last month of the season, with the schedule and the days off that we have, everybody was going to catch a second wind."
And that's a scary thought -- Pujols catching a second wind. Look out, playoff opponents.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.