by Mike Hayes - 06/02/2006
Barbaro's injury in the Preakness Stakes left just one contender in the race for a Triple Crown, and unless he follows Barbaro and pulls up lame, Albert Pujols just might have what it takes to accomplish a feat that is as remarkably rare in baseball as it is in the world of thoroughbred horse racing.
Prior to his injury in Baltimore, Pinnacle Sportsbook had made Barbaro a rather short 2/1 to do what no 3-year-old has done since Affirmed in 1978 - win all three legs of racing's Triple Crown.
Pinnacle opened wagering on Pujols pursuit of baseball's Triple Crown - a feat no major league player has accomplished since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 - at 5/1 that he would and 2/13 that Cardinal slugger would fall short.
As Pujols has fallen out of the top 10 leaders in batting average in the National League, the odds on his accomplishing the feat have risen to better than 11/1 that he will finish the season as the National League leader in homers, average and RBI.
"While he's not currently leading the NL in batting average, his career average of .332 would put Pujols in the thick of the batting race as well," said Simon Noble of Pinnacle Sports. "Although history and the odds are against him, if any modern day player were going to capture the first Triple Crown in nearly 40 years, Pujols would be the best bet."
Since the inception of the Triple Crown, thoroughbred racing has had 11 Triple Crown winners while baseball has had 13 Triple Crown winners since 1900. Ironically, the last two winners of the Triple Crown in horse racing and baseball occurred in back-to-back years.
In 1977 Alydar became racing's first Triple Crown winner since Secretariat in 1973, a year before Affirmed. Yaz won his triple crown just a year after National's manager Frank Robinson, then playing for the Orioles, accomplished the feat.
Recently there have been a number of close calls in racing. A Triple Crown was possible entering the Belmont Stakes for three consecutive years from 1997-99 and again from 2002-04. The closest call came in 1998, when Victory Gallop closed a ton to defeat Real Quiet by a nose.
Although a number of players have topped their respective league in two of the three Triple Crown categories over the years, there hasn't been a real serious run at the award for some time. Although he did not lead the league in any of the categories last season, Pujols was the closest, finishing second in batting average, third in homeruns and tied for second in RBI.
Whether Pujols becomes the first NL player to capture the crown since Joe Medwick in 1937 remains to be seen, but one thing is certain. He is in the process of putting together what could very well wind up being the greatest offensive season in the history of major league baseball as he projects to finish the year with 78 homeruns, 204 RBIs, 160 runs scored, a slugging percentage of .775 and an on base percentage of .449.
Here's a look at the three categories and where Pujols is likely to see his greatest challenge:
HOMERUNS - The homerun title, which would be the first for Pujols -- whose career high is 46 -- is his to lose. He holds a comfortable six homer lead over Alfonso Soriano who has 19, but the stiffest competition might come from the Phillies Ryan Howard who after a torrid May is at 18.
Pinnacle is offering +103 that Pujols reaches 60 homers. This is enticing considering he is on a pace to blow by what had been the pre-steroid benchmark for power prowess.
RBI - Again, this one is Albert's to lose and he would have to fall flat on his face not to, considering the Cardinal lineup. He is only the fifth player to tally 60 through the end of May. The Braves Andruw Jones is currently second with 51, five ahead of Howard.
AVERAGE - This is where Pujols has some work to do. Because he is playing catch up here he could be hurt by the likelihood that as his offensive assault continues he is more likely to be pitched around and walked more.
With a .315 average he is currently behind 12 players, but his lifetime average of .326 would move him up to fifth or sixth on the list. The current leader is Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez at .358, slightly ahead of Florida's Miguel Cabrera who is at .355. Cardinal teammate David Eckstein is third at .330. There is a good chance Pujols can be at the top of this list by the end of the year, but Cabrera clearly poses the stiffest competition as of all those ahead of him he appears the least likely to experience the drop off that would be needed to get him in the mix.
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