Pujols & Cruz Keep Shining

Albert Pujols and Nelson Cruz continue to loom large in the respective bids of St. Louis and Texas to win pennants. Cruz, having already made his mark with the bat, got it done in the field yesterday, as the rightfielder threw out Miguel Cabrera at the plate with a perfect strike throw that prevented the lead run from scoring in the eighth. And the bat? Yes, Cruz still has that going for him to, as a three-run shot in the 11th put what had become a 4-3 lead for Texas out of reach. The Rangers now lead the series 3-1 and can clinch this afternoon.

Pujols went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks in St. Louis’ Game 3 win over Milwaukee, following up his gigantic Game 2 performance on Monday. His play yesterday can be contrasted with Milwaukee’s big guns of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder who combined to go just 1-for-6 with a walk, and that hit was a lone single. To be fair, both Braun and Fielder have been excellent throughout this postseason, but when trying to keep pace with Pujols, there’s no room for even a single night off and the Cards slipped out with a 4-3 win.

Both Texas and St. Louis have not only their stars to thank, but their bullpens. As predicted here in the Notebook, the Ranger relief corps continues to be a big reason why the team is on the verge of a second straight pennant. Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams, Darren Oliver and Scott Feldman combined for five innings of one-run ball and then Neftali Feliz closed things up in the 11th. It speaks volumes to the depth of the pen that Ron Washington didn’t feel the need to bring in Feliz when the game was tied in the 9th, as most managers do in postseason play. Jose Valverde may be perfect on his save opportunities this year, but his ERA always suggested a closer, who was simply good, not great and that showed in a situation like this. Asked to go an additional inning in a tie game, Valverde was lit up for all four Texas runs in the 11th and showed that while he’s a competent 9th-inning guy, he’s not the one to put up a successive zeroes for you in a big game.

I would expect Detroit to win this afternoon (4:19 ET, Fox) with Justin Verlander on the mound and send the series back to Texas on Saturday. Milwaukee sends Randy Wolf to the mound against Kyle Lohse to try and even up the series. The deck is stacked against the Brewers, but if you’re a Milwaukee fan, you’re just hoping for a win tonight and then seeing if Zack Greinke can put you back in the series lead tomorrow. Game 4 goes at 8 ET on TBS.

Can I ask whose ingenious idea it was to make Detroit-Texas the afternoon game? This is a possible clinching spot, they already played in the early slot yesterday (although it ended being a 6:30 PM ET start due to the rain) and they also played early on Monday due to rain. Meanwhile all of the middle three Milwaukee-St. Louis games are slated for prime-time. The Tigers-Rangers should have been the prime game tonight.