Albert Pujols could make history this week when the St. Louis Cardinals visit the San Diego Padres beginning Tuesday for a three-game series that may also be a preview of a first-round playoff series.
The 42-year-old Pujols arrives in San Diego with 698 career home runs, including 19 in 273 at-bats during his return to St. Louis this season. He needs two more to become the fourth player in major league history to reach 700.
Pujols has had great success against the Padres in the past. He has 20 homers in 314 career at-bats against the Padres with a .309/.402/.564 slash line. He also has 16 doubles and 68 RBIs in 88 career games against them.
One of the few active major leaguers who was playing before Petco Park opened in 2004, Pujols has struggled a bit at the Padres' current home -- hitting just seven home runs in 128 at-bats with a .227/.315/.430 slash line in downtown San Diego.
Tuesday's series-opening, right-handed matchup of Mike Clevinger (5-7, 4.47 ERA) starting for the Padres against the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright (11-9, 3.29 ERA) could pose another problem for Pujols.
Pujols is 1-for-14 in his career against Clevinger with no homers and three strikeouts. However, Clevinger did give up three homers over five innings in his most recent start -- and has given up at least one home run in five straight starts (nine total in 24 1/3 innings).
For the Padres, however, Pujols is the secondary story to the next three games. While the Cardinals (87-61) hold an eight-game lead on Milwaukee in the NL Central, the Padres (81-66) are clinging to a 2 1/2-game lead on the same Brewers in the wild card race. San Diego moved into second in the race for three wild-card berths over the weekend, passing Philadelphia by half a game.
In one scenario, the Padres could open the playoffs against the Cardinals in St. Louis -- where the Cardinals swept a three-game series against the Padres on May 30-June 1, outscoring the visitors 14-7. The Cardinals scored late to win all three games, including one walk-off win in the 10th on Pujols' sac fly.
"All three of those games were close," Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. "We came from behind in two of the three. I thought we played good baseball. We had to."
Meanwhile, Padres manager Bob Melvin says his team recognizes the importance of every one of the season's last 15 games, not just the Cardinals series.
"We've played solid baseball the last three games," Melvin said after the Padres won their past three games in Arizona to win the series 3-1 and post a 14-5 record against the Diamondbacks this season.
"We've got to keep winning. The importance of winning grows with every game at this time of the season."
The Padres finish the season with 12 of their last 15 games at home, including nine straight to end the regular season after a three-game trip to Colorado this weekend.
Wainwright faced the Padres earlier this season, holding them scoreless on two hits and a walk with 10 strikeouts in seven innings. Wainwright is 7-5 with one save in his career against the Padres in 18 appearances (15 starts) with a 2.54 ERA.
Clevinger has made one career start against the Cardinals, giving up two runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts over five innings in a loss in 2018.
--Field Level Media