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Five things we learned Saturday

9/7/2014

1. Albert Pujols could be a big factor in the American League pennant chase.

Remember Albert Pujols?

Certainly, the 2014 version of Pujols isn't the legendary hitter we saw during his St. Louis years. (His teammate Mike Trout, however, might be the only hitter on earth who resembles that version of Pujols.) On the other hand, the 34-year-old Pujols is quietly having an effective season (.274/.330/.467, .343 wOBA), and he served notice Saturday night that he intends to be a factor in the Angels' drive toward the American League pennant.

In the Angels' 8-5 win over Minnesota, Pujols went 3-for-5 with three runs scored, a double, a home run and three runs batted in. In the process, Pujols reached some personal milestones. He scored his 1,500th career run, a feat accomplished in baseball history by only 69 other players. The homer was Pujols' 25th of the season, which means that he is now one of only 14 players all time to have hit 25 or more homers in 13 different seasons.

In addition, Pujols' final hit of the evening was the 2,500th of his illustrious career, and he became just the fourth player ever to have 2,500 hits, 1,500 runs and 500 homers before age 35. None of that, however, likely means more to Pujols right now than the fact that his 2,500th hit was a double that drove in the two go-ahead runs in the ninth inning, a lead the Angels would not relinquish.

Sure, the Athletics had a fun walk-off win against the Astros, but the Angels keep rolling, having won 9 of 11 and 18 of their past 24. The Halos aren't going anywhere.

2. Danny Duffy's injury adds yet another element to the fascinating AL Central race.

You thought the most intriguing division race in baseball couldn't get more interesting, didn't you? Well, you were wrong. Kansas City's Danny Duffy was removed from his start against the Yankees after throwing just one pitch.

Obviously, this looks to be a huge blow to the Royals, in the midst of their first legitimate playoff push since, when? The Reagan administration? After missing portions of the 2012 and 2013 seasons because of Tommy John surgery, Duffy has been outstanding this season.

He's made 22 starts, and despite a pedestrian 8-11 record, Duffy owns a 2.42 ERA that ranks third in the American League (behind Chris Sale and Felix Hernandez).

The Royals say Duffy is just suffering from shoulder soreness; only time will tell whether that's an accurate diagnosis or if there is something more sinister at play. Suffice to say, however, the Royals will find it difficult (impossible?) to replace Duffy in the rotation for the stretch run if he's out for an extended period, since, by some measures, Duffy has been the best starter in the Royals' rotation. Kansas City fans probably shouldn't worry too much, though.

After all, it wasn't long ago that we thought Detroit's acquisition of David Price spelled the end of K.C.'s playoff hopes.

3. The Brewers' slide isn't over just yet.

Milwaukee's free fall in the National League Central was arrested temporarily Friday night, as the Brew Crew snapped a nine-game losing streak. They weren't as fortunate Saturday, as the Cardinals dropped the Brewers 5-3 behind six solid innings from Lance Lynn and homers from Matt Adams and young Oscar Taveras.

Milwaukee has now lost 10 of 11 and 13 of its past 16. The Brewers, as you know, have dominated the division all year, holding first place through the end of August. Barely more than two months ago, they held a 6.5-game lead and were three games ahead as recently as Aug. 17. Milwaukee is now four games behind St. Louis, and even more worrisome is the fact that it's only a half-game ahead of a somewhat resurgent Pittsburgh club (which took a pair from the Cubs) in the NL Central and wild-card standings.

4. The Giants keep the pressure on the Dodgers.

The Giants scored four runs in the first off David Price and cruised to a second straight victory over the Tigers in Detroit. San Francisco is now 78-64, having won nine of its past 11 games. The Giants cooled off substantially after a torrid start to the season, but Bruce Bochy's crew is turning up the heat again. If the Dodgers aren't hearing footsteps, they aren't listening.

Meanwhile, Buster Posey continues to mash the baseball in the second half. Posey reached base four times Saturday, hitting his 20th homer while going 3-for-3 with two runs scored. On the season, Posey's numbers are very good: .310/.361/.494, .370 wOBA. During the second half, however, Posey has been exceptional, hitting .356/.399/.592 with 10 doubles, nine homers and 32 RBIs in 172 at-bats.

5. Corey Kluber is the latest Cleveland pitcher to toss a gem.

Just last night in this space, my colleague Katie Sharp declared that the Indians were still very much in the playoff race thanks to another excellent performance by a Cleveland starter. Different night, same story. Cleveland beat the ChiSox 3-1 on Saturday, and Kluber delivered a superb outing for the Indians, allowing five hits and no earned runs in a complete-game effort. Kluber struck out eight and didn't walk a batter.

Don't look now, but Cleveland is six games over .500 and closer to first place in the AL Central than Oakland is in the AL West. The Indians are four games out of the second AL wild-card spot. Stranger things have happened. This is baseball, after all.

Chad Dotson writes for Redleg Nation on the SweetSpot Network and Cincinnati Magazine. You can find him on twitter @dotsonc.