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Pujols still in Triple Crown mix

Pujols still in Triple Crown mix

• Chart: Chasing the Crown

ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols has reached the point where just about everything he does gets noticed. But quietly, he's worked his way back into contention for one of baseball's most hallowed accomplishments.

Earlier this year, talk surfaced that Pujols might be a serious contender to win the Triple Crown, something that hasn't been done in either league since Carl Yastrzemski did it in the American League in 1967. No National Leaguer has won the Triple Crown -- leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs in the same season -- since Joe Medwick in 1937. It's happened six times in NL history and nine times in the AL. Every player who won a Triple Crown in the 20th Century is in the Hall of Fame.

Pulse
Cardinals at a glance
2009 record: 91-71
2008 record: 86-76
NL Central champs

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
McClellan: Hometown boy
Cards: Shaking off walk-off
Ludwick: Dream fulfilled
Hawksworth: On way up
Ryan: Playing it cool
Pujols: Ready for fun stuff
Wainwright: Proud, durable
Holliday: Kids' play
Pujols: Triple Crown?
La Russa: 14th postseason
Carpenter: Heart of staff
Pujols: Eschewing rest
Holliday: A perfect fit
Carpenter: Ready to go
La Russa: Getting proactive
Wainwright: Apt pupil
Pujols: His place in history?
Pujols: The evolution
Holliday: Offensive spark
La Russa: Controls fate
Pujols: MVP No. 3?
Wainwright: Mr. Consistent
La Russa: Winning cures all
Carpenter: A go Game 1
Holliday: Big impact
Wainwright: Cy in cards?

Then that talk tailed off, as Pujols saw the batting-average lead grow more and more distant. But now, if you squint a little bit, you can see how Pujols might add his name to the list. It would be a crowning achievement -- pardon the expression -- in an already spectacular career. Pujols is almost assured of a third NL MVP award already.

Given that this may well be his finest offensive season, it would be fitting to top it with one of the game's signature feats.

"Consistency-wise, yeah," Pujols said when asked if this is his best season. "In past years I've struggled with slumps, and obviously I have a little slump right now where I haven't hit a home run, but I'm driving the ball. Conistency-wise, I'm in some big situations, bases loaded, and getting hits for my team -- a couple of big hits in a couple of big moments."

It's going to be difficult for Pujols to reach those heights, to say the least. Pujols is in good shape in home runs, leading Mark Reynolds and Prince Fielder by three. He has 47, two short of a career high and three from 50. He's in the mix in RBIs, though there's a bit of a hill to climb. Pujols stands at 134, four behind Fielder and Ryan Howard.

But we knew he'd be in the hunt in both of those categories. He amassed huge totals in both before July even started. What was hard to foresee was that Pujols would get back in the race for what would be his second batting title. On the morning of Aug. 29, Pujols woke up a full 50 points behind Hanley Ramirez. The Marlins' shortstop was at .366, while Pujols was at .316. Since then, things have changed dramatically.

Ramirez fell into a significant slump. Since that day, he's gone 26-for-109, a .239 average, to drop to .341 on the year. It's been especially pronounced lately, with Ramirez in a 3-for-26 slump. Pujols, meanwhile, has taken off. He's 40-for-106 (.377) since Aug. 29, raising his average to .328. It's tough to make up 13 points of batting average in three days, but not impossible. If any power hitter can do it, Pujols can.

"He just hits line drives that go out of the park," manager Tony La Russa said recently. "That's why he's a .330 hitter. He's a great hitter. He catches it and it goes. He's a high-average hitter with power."

If, for example, Ramirez were to go 2-for-12 over the final three days, he would fall to .3379. Pujols would pass him by going 10-for-12. If Ramirez somehow went 0-for-12 on the weekend, he'd be at .3345, and an 8-for-12 weekend for Pujols would vault him into the batting average lead.

The batting title is one of Pujols' more coveted accomplishments. He greatly values hitting for a high average.

"Fifty home runs, yeah, it would be great to hit 50," he said. "But that's not my goal. My goal is to try to finish over .330, keep my batting average high. That's something I've been doing over the last couple of weeks. Don't get me wrong. I wish that I could have hit one or two home runs on this road trip. But I'm not concentrating on that. I'm not looking for it. If I were looking for that, I would have had a bad road trip, because they made some pitches. They pitched me pretty well. I wanted to make sure I drove the ball in the gap."

It's a long shot. But it's conceivable. And because Ramirez is closing in on a milestone as well -- 200 hits -- the Marlins might not just sit him to protect his batting title.

It's not that no one has contended for the Triple Crown. Pujols himself has been in the mix before, such as in 2006. In that season, he finished 13 points off in batting average, nine home runs back (but in second place) and 12 RBIs out (also second to Ryan Howard). In 2003, he won the batting title, finished fourth in homer (but only four out of first place) and fourth in RBIs (14 back).

Now, he has another shot.

Chasing the Crown
A look at players who have put up near-Triple Crown numbers since Carl Yastrzemski did it in the American League in 1967.
AMERICAN LEAGUE
YearPlayerAVGHRRBI
2005Alex Rodriguez.321 (2nd; .331)48 (1st)130 (4th; 148)
2001Alex Rodriguez.318 (7th; .350)52 (1st)135 (3rd; 141)
2000Carlos Delgado.344 (4th; .372)41 (T-4th; 47)137 (T-4th; 145)
1999Manny Ramirez.337 (5th; .357)44 (T-3rd; 48)165 (1st)
1998Albert Belle.328 (3rd; .339)49 (2nd; 56)152 (2nd; 157)
1994Albert Belle.357 (2nd; .359)36 (3rd; 40)101 (T-3rd; 112)
1994Frank Thomas.353 (3rd; .359)38 (2nd; 40)101 (T-3rd; 112)
1986Don Mattingly.352 (2nd; .357)31 (T-6th; 40)113 (3rd; 121)
1982Cecil Cooper.313 (5th; .332)32 (T-5th; 39)121 (2nd; 133)
1979Fred Lynn.333 (1st)39 (T-2nd; 45)122 (4th; 139)
1979Jim Rice.325 (4th; .333)39 (T-2nd; 45)130 (2nd; 139)
1978Jim Rice.315 (3rd; .333)46 (1st)139 (1st)
NATIONAL LEAGUE
YearPlayerAVGHRRBI
2007Matt Holliday.340 (1st)36 (4th; 50)137 (1st)
2006Albert Pujols.331 (3rd; .344)49 (2nd; 58)137 (2nd; 149)
2003Albert Pujols.359 (1st)43 (4th; 47)124 (4th; 141)
2002Barry Bonds.370 (1st)46 (2nd; 49)110 (6th; 128)
2000Todd Helton.372 (1st)42 (7th; 50)147 (1st)
1997Larry Walker.366 (2nd; .372)49 (1st)130 (3rd; 140)
1995Dante Bichette.340 (3rd; .368)40 (1st)128 (1st)
1994Jeff Bagwell.368 (2nd; .394)39 (2nd; 43)116 (1st)
1992Gary Sheffield.330 (1st)33 (3rd; 35)100 (5th; 109)
1983Dale Murphy.302 (6th; .323)36 (2nd; 40)121 (1st)
1981Mike Schmidt.316 (4th; .341)31 (1st)91 (1st)
1978Dave Parker.334 (1st)30 (3rd; 40)117 (2nd; 120)
1977George Foster.320 (4th; .338)52 (1st)149 (1st)
1972Billy Williams.33337 (3rd; 40)122 (2nd; 125)
1969Willie McCovey.320 (5th; .348)45 (1st)126 (1st)


Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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