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Cardinals in Deep Trouble After Pujols Injury

The St. Louis Cardinals entered the 2006 season as the best team in the National League; a title they have held for three consecutive seasons. Things were looking up for the Cardinals, with Albert Pujols on a record-breaking homerun pace, and good contributions from newcomers Aaron Miles and Juan Encarnacion. The starting pitching was solid – Chris Carpenter was pitching as well as he was in 2005 when he won the Cy Young, Jason Marquis and Mark Mulder were pitching as well as expected, and newcomer Sidney Ponson, whose signing was questioned, was surpassing expectations.

The tide has turned away from the Cardinals over the last few weeks. First, Sidney Ponson went down with a strained elbow, then Chris Carpenter hit the DL with shoulder bursitis. But neither of these injuries appeared to be holding the Cardinals back. Unfortunately, the injury monster came back strong Saturday, when Albert Pujols went down with a strained oblique muscle. Pujols could be out anywhere from 15 days to 6 weeks; an MRI on Monday will determine the extent of the strain. The latest injury is the one that will certainly set the Cardinals back.

Pujols is the clear centerpiece of the Cardinals offense; there's no better hitter in baseball, and no one that even compares to him on the Cardinals roster. If there's one part of the Cardinals team that has been lagging this season, it's the hitting, and it's largely due to the major slump that Jim Edmonds is in. Edmonds is hitting just .257 with 5 homeruns and 31 RBI, which was good enough while Pujols was in the Cardinals lineup, but will be far from it while Pujols is out.  Not only will Jim Edmonds need to get out of his slump, but Juan Encarnacion and Scott Rolen will need to continue hitting well for the Cardinals to avoid getting mired in a deep skid.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their June schedule is among the toughest in baseball. They have games against the Reds, Pirates, and Brewers; three teams that are in their division and are playing solid baseball right now. The Cardinals also face the strong hitting of the Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians, as well as the team with baseball's best record, the Detroit Tigers. If the Cardinals offense doesn't step it up to make up for Pujols absence, the Cardinals could find themselves in a big hole by the time he returns.

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