No one in St. Louis expected to be celebrating the Cardinals so soon after the free-agent departure of Albert Pujols. The loss of the Lou Gehrig clone was expected to impact the team for years, especially combined with the retirement of manager slash savant Tony LaRussa.
But in the two years since, all the Cardinals have done is located another brilliant manager (Mike Matheny), successfully replaced perhaps the most dominant player of the oughts and won.
In their first PP (post-Pujols) season, the Cardinals won a very respectable 88 games. Using a modest wild card slot as a launching pad, they took the eventual-champion San Francisco Giants all the way to a seventh game in the 2012 NLCS. (This after defeating the team with the best record in major league baseball in the second round.)
They took no chances this year, winning more games (97) than any team in the National League and tying the surprising Boston Red Sox for the major-league lead. After dispatching the Pittsburgh Pirates, they stand just one victory away from their fourth World Series in ten years.
In the meantime, the once-invincible Pujols looks decidedly human in an Angels uniform, having hit just .275 over the past two seasons with a .485 slugging percentage. By comparison, his eleven seasons in St. Louis netted a batting average of .328 and a slugging percentage of .617.
Worse, the Angels are stuck with Pujols through 2021 (when he turns 41), at a cost of $240 million. Given these two very different outcomes, you could be forgiven for thinking the most popular joke in St. Louis is this:
Moe: Knock knock.
Joe: Who’s there?
Joe: Albert who?