By Bill Begley
When Albert Pujols returns home for a visit, it usually means a celebration that includes fireworks … by Pujols.
And honestly, the Royals would probably celebrate if the St. Louis slugger never returned to the town where he went to high school.
On Sunday, Pujols smacked a pair of home runs – including a grand slam – and drove in six runs as the Cardinals beat the Royals 12-5 to complete a three-game sweep in Kansas City. Overall, Pujols lit up the Royals pitching staff for three home runs and 10 RBI, giving him 12 home runs in 27 career games at Kauffman Stadium and an MLB-leading 26 home runs this season.
Imagine the kind of number Pujols could have been putting up over the years if the Royals had found a way to keep him at home …
1. Derrek Lee (Cubs): An RBI single in Sunday’s 6-2 win over the Indians gave the slugging first baseman an 18-game hitting streak, tying a career high. That’s helped up his batting average – below .200 at one point in mid-May – to a respectable .287 and gave him 36 RBI on the season. Six of his 11 home runs this season have come in June, when he’s posted a .375 average so far, and he is hitting .313 at home. The latest streak sparked Chicago to five wins in the last six games and kept them within 2½ games of the Cardinals the NL Central race.
2. Kevin Slowey (Twins): A 5-2 win Saturday against Houston was the 25-year-old righthander’s sixth in his last seven decisions (over eight starts) and upped his record to 10-2 overall. And he’s done that with an ERA of 4.04. How? Damage control. While Slowey gives up hits – and he’s given up 102 in 84 2/3 innings this season – he has given up just 14 walks all season, and he’s allowed just 12 home runs. Only three of those have come in June, all in a 4-2 loss to Seattle.
3. Colorado Rockies: OK, this could really mess up plans for GM Dan O’Dowd to start dealing veterans for prospects. Sunday, a 5-4 win over the Pirates was Colorado’s fifth straight, the 16th in its last 17 games, completed a sweep of Pittsburgh to cap an 8-1 homestand, and made the Rockies 18-5 under new manager Jim Tracy. Colorado has won five straight series – four of those sweeps – and though nine games back in the NL West, a longshot at best to catch Los Angeles, is now 36-33 and a player in the wildcard picture.
1. Alex Rodriguez (Yankees): A protracted slump precipitated a day off over the weekend, and a two-run single in a 6-5 loss to Florida on Sunday ended a 0-for-16 skid and was just his 14th hit in his last 78 at-bats. A-Rod is hitting an anemic .213. Even with nine home runs in just 136 at-bats so far during this abbreviated season, only one of those dingers has come away from homer-haven Yankees Stadium, where he is hitting .178 and has more strikeouts (16) than hits (13).
2. Jeremy Sowers (Indians): The lefthander fell to 1-5 this season and his ERA rose to 5.95 after Cleveland’s 6-2 loss to the Cubs in Chicago on Sunday. He allowed seven hits and six runs – all earned in 4 1/3 innings of work – and fell to 0-3 in five starts since being recalled from Triple-A Columbus last month. Nibbling could be an issue. He’s walked 21 and struck out just 18 in 39 1/3 innings this season, and his ERA on the road rose to 7.36.
3. Philadelphia Phillies: At one point, everything was going pretty well for the defending World Series champs. They were 32-20, four games up on the Mets in the NL East and with “Iron Man” Ryan Howard in the lineup every day. Since then, they’ve won just four games (though, they’ve lost just two games off their lead on New York) and just one of those wins came in their last nine games—all at home. Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Baltimore was their sixth straight and Howard saw his streak of 343 games played ended because of flu-like symptoms. There’s no place like the road for these guys. They are now 23-9 on the road and 13-22 at home. Fortunately, they start a nine-game road trip Tuesday.