Pujols makes his presence felt in a big way

Updated: April 9, 2008

AP Photo/Bob Levey

Albert Pujols watches the flight of the first of his two homers in the Cardinals' 6-4 win on Wednesday.

PHAT ALBERT

For eight games, teams pitched to Albert Pujols with great care. On Wednesday, in the Cardinals' ninth game of the season, the Astros found out that, even battling injuries, Pujols can still drive the ball out of the ballpark when given the opportunity.

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Pujols crushed two home runs for the Cardinals in their victory over Houston, his first two of the season (he did hit a homer on Opening Day against the Rockies, but it got wiped out because the game was postponed by rain).

Through the first eight games, Pujols was not the story for the surprising Cardinals. Their pitching was. The starters for St. Louis have been fantastic, not shocking considering that Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan have worked such wonders before, though maybe somewhat surprising considering that the Cardinals' staff consists of pitchers like Kyle Lohse and Brad Thompson.

On Wednesday, Pujols was the story as he did what he does best: Swing the bat with authority. Either way, the Cardinals are winning and look like they could be in the National League Central race for the long haul.

IN THE CARDS
2008 season highlights:
• Albert Pujols: Has 13 hits and nine walks in nine games.
• Kyle Lohse and Brad Thompson: Have combined to throw 22 2/3 innings and have allowed three earned runs.
• 7-2 record is the Cardinals' best nine-game start since going 7-2 to open the 2000 season.
• Cardinals' hitters have drawn 43 walks and have struck out only 47 times.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: April 8 | April 7 | April 6 | April 3 | April 2 | April 1

THREE KEY SURPRISES

• The Tigers' seven-game losing streak to start the season has been magnified because of the high expectations of the team at the start of the season. The Tigers came into 2008 with a lineup that rivals any Yankees lineup in terms of run production. With such high expectations and getting off to such a bad start just magnifies the situation.

Every team in baseball is going to win 60 games and lose 60 games, it's what you do with the other 42 games that matters. Players understand this -- as does Detroit manager Jim Leyland -- but they just don't want this streak to turn into something that ruins their season. I don't think it will and I still expect them to win the American League Central. But how bad have things gotten for the Tigers? Placido Polanco made an error on Tuesday against Boston, ending his streak of 186 games without an error. Not much more can go wrong now, can it?

• It's a surprise that Kosuke Fukudome is off to a fast start because he seems to have adjusted to the major league game very well. Pitchers usually have the advantage the first time around against a newcomer to major league baseball, but Fukudome's transition has been smooth thus far.

Scouting reports I got from Cubs' insiders during spring training projected Fukudome to be solid defensively with a very accurate arm, but he wasn't going to have as much power as Hideki Matsui or run like Ichiro Suzuki. But thus far his production curve is off the charts.

• OK, Joba Chamberlain might not be much of a surprise since he's picked up where he left off in 2007. The only surprise -- a minor one at that -- is that Chamberlain is showing no ill-effects from the breakdown he endured against Cleveland in last year's ALDS.

He's still only given up one run in the eighth inning in regular-season action since he was called up last season. He's not only the premiere setup man in the majors, but if given the opportunity he could be the premiere closer with his combination of strength, aggressive makeup and the maturity to deal with pressure -- plus he has an unhittable slider. His two-inning performance on Sunday against Tampa Bay -- in which he threw just 16 pitches -- was phenomenal. Throwing 16 pitches in one inning is good, but 16 pitches to retire six batters is amazing.

FORWARD THINKING: THURSDAY

• Braves at Rockies, 3:05 p.m. ET: Tim Hudson (1-0, 3.46) will get the start for the Braves. He has yet to allow a home run in two starts (13 innings pitched), and opponents are batting just .188 against him this season. He'll be opposed by Jeff Francis (0-1, 7.11), who gave up three home runs in his first start of the season against the Diamondbacks.

• Phillies at Mets, 7:10 p.m. ET: The Phillies will hand the ball to Adam Eaton (0-0, 3.52), who was unbeaten in four starts (2-0 with two no-decisions) against the Mets last season. John Maine (0-1, 9.00) will pitch for the Mets. He compiled a 3.45 ERA in 16 starts at home last season.

• Twins at White Sox, 8:11 p.m. ET: Livan Hernandez (2-0, 3.86) will get the start for the Twins. He hasn't allowed a home run or issued a walk in 14 innings pitched. He'll be opposed by Jose Contreras (0-0, 7.20), who allowed 10 hits and four walks in his first start of the season.

Complete list of pitching probables for Thursday's games


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TIME WHO'S ON?
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Analysts: Peter Gammons, Steve Phillips, Buster Olney, Orestes Destrade
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BASEBALL TONIGHT MINUTE: CARDS IMPRESSING

WEDNESDAY'S NOTEWORTHY PERFORMANCES

GOOD
Mike Jacobs hit a pair of two-run homers in the Marlins' 10-4 rout of the Nationals. Jacobs' first two-run blast capped off a seven-run fifth inning that put the Marlins in control.
BAD
Paul Byrd gave up three home runs, including a grand slam to Mike Napoli, and was taken out after three innings in the Indians' 9-5 loss to the Angels. Byrd has allowed a combined 13 hits in two starts (7 1/3 innings pitched) -- both losses.
UGLY
Russell Martin went 0-for-4 -- lowering his batting average to .103 -- in the Dodgers' 4-3 loss to the Diamondbacks. Martin has just three hits in 29 at-bats thus far.

A'S RALLY FOR FOUR RUNS IN NINTH TO TOP JAYS

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF THURSDAY'S GAMES

Will Harris examines the pitching matchups in store for the 13 games on Thursday's schedule in the American League and National League.

Will also looks at current injuries and details player reports that could help shape the way you put together your roster for Thursday's slate of games. Daily Notes

FANTASY FIRST TAKE: THE INJURY WATCH

THIS DATE IN MLB HISTORY (APRIL 10)

1947: Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in the modern major leagues when the Dodgers purchased his contract from Montreal.

1989: Ken Griffey Jr. hit his first major league home run, off of Eric King, in Seattle's 6-5 win over the White Sox. He and his father, a reserve outfielder on the Reds at the time, became the first father-and-son duo to play in the major leagues at the same time. In addition, Ken Griffey Sr. was born on this date in 1950.

2000: The Colorado Rockies defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 7-5, despite Ken Griffey Jr.'s 400th career home run. Griffey became the youngest player in history to reach that milestone.

2007: After four days of weather-induced postponements, including blinding snow and sub-freezing temperatures, the Cleveland Indians play their home opener on the road, beating the Angels at Miller Park in Milwaukee, 7-6.

NEWS AND NOTES

Ivan Rodriguez singled in the eighth inning of the Tigers' 7-2 win over the Red Sox (Detroit's first win of the season) to become the first catcher to accumulate 2,500 career hits.