While the current series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers is a potential playoff preview, with multiple MVP candidates on the field, one player in particular has stolen all of the attention.
The Cardinals' Albert Pujols reached 700 home runs in the series opener Friday andwill try for more Saturday against the host Dodgers. Pujols reached the milestone with a pair of home runs over the first four innings to give him 21 on the season.
Pujols is not trying to make too much of the accomplishment, but he will soon enough.
"I had so many people that taught me the right way early in my career and that's how I have carried myself for the 22 years that I have been in the big leagues," Pujols said after hitting No. 700. "That's why I have really not focused on the numbers. I will one day, but not right now because I'm still active in this game. I guess I just don't want to disrespect what's happening, what's around me and my teammates."
Pujols knows all about being an MVP. He won the award in 2005, 2008 and 2009 in his original tenure with the Cardinals.
The Dodgers have a trio of award candidates at the top of the order in Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman. Betts is in the midst of his best power season, as he has 35 homers and 80 RBIs.
The Cardinals sport Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado at the corner infield spots, with Goldschmidt an MVP favorite with an NL-best .999 OPS along with his 35 homers.
Freeman had a rare night off Friday, just his second game out of the starting lineup this season. The Dodgers' offense looked lost without him in an 11-0 defeat.
Goldschmidt and Arenado went a combined 0-for-8 as they took a backseat to their veteran teammate. Lars Nootbaar, Juan Yepez and Alec Burleson also hit home runs Friday.
The Cardinals will send left-hander Jordan Montgomery (8-5, 3.26 ERA) to the mound Saturday. Since arriving in St. Louis after he was dealt from the New York Yankees at the trade deadline, Montgomery is 5-2 with a 2.35 ERA in nine starts.
Making his first career appearance against the Dodgers, Montgomery is coming off an outing Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds in which he gave up three runs on seven hits over 5 1/3 innings.
The Dodgers will counter with veteran left-hander Clayton Kershaw (9-3, 2.39), who will be making his fifth start since returning from the injured list after a back issue. Kershaw has made his case for a key spot in the team's playoff rotation, going 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA (24 innings) in those four most recent starts.
Kershaw has a long regular-season and playoff history against the Cardinals. In 18 career regular-season starts against St. Louis, Kershaw is 8-5 with a 2.97 ERA and has 388 strikeouts in 377 innings.
While Kershaw has given the Dodgers some rotation stability moving forward, struggling closer Craig Kimbrel was removed from his role by manager Dave Roberts.
Brusdar Graterol, Chris Martin or Tommy Kahnle are in line for the job, or the trio could share it.
"That's kind of what our thinking is the best way to go about it right now," Roberts said. "It's kind of the whole mindset of just because you've always done something one way doesn't make it right. So it might not be traditional, but I'm not too concerned about it."
--Field Level Media