JUPITER, Fla. -- Cardinals rookie manager Oliver Marmol has said repeatedly throughout Spring Training that he plans to lean heavily on matchup data and advanced analytics to dictate decisions as to his team’s starting lineup this season.
However, Marmol wasn’t about to let any sort of data or analytical analysis stand in the way of future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols and his historic run as an Opening Day starter Thursday.
The 42-year-old Pujols, who is back with a Cardinals franchise for which starred from 2001-11, will be in Thursday’s starting lineup as the DH, meaning he will extend his streak of consecutive Opening Day starts to 22. That’s tied for second in baseball history with Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Carl Yastrzemski and trails only the 23 straight openers started by Pete Rose.
“Pete has 23, from my understanding, and two others have 22, so it’s meaningful,” said Marmol, baseball’s youngest manager at 35 years old. “We can sit here and talk about matchups but we’re in a good spot with Albert playing against a righty, and it’s meaningful for that record. And I think it’s going to be kind of loud that day [in Busch Stadium].”
A veteran-laden Cardinals roster that has designs on contending for a World Series re-signed Pujols largely because of what he did last season with the Dodgers against left-handed pitching (.294 batting average, 13 home runs and 34 RBIs).
With four-time Gold Glover Paul Goldschmidt entrenched at first base, Pujols will largely play as a DH and a pinch-hitter against lefties in high-leverage situations.
Pujols also showed his ability to hit against right-handers by singling twice Monday and driving in a run in the Cardinals' 4-3 win over the Nationals.
“I had a week left to get myself ready and I feel like I got the swings that I needed to be ready to go,” Pujols said. “It was good to get out there at first base, which I was supposed to do on Saturday before rain. I’m just really excited because 22 years is a really long period. I’m looking forward to Thursday.”
The Pirates will start right-hander JT Brubaker on Thursday at Busch Stadium, but Marmol wanted Pujols in the lineup for his first game with the franchise since the Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.
“There’s a certain presence to Albert when he’s in the box, people know that, and you feel it when you’re on the other side,” Marmol said of Pujols, who homered in his returns to St. Louis in 2019 (with the Angels) and again last season (with the Dodgers). “There’s a reason L.A. went and grabbed him last year, because he does a nice job of having that presence and teaching others what that looks like.”
Pujols will be in the Opening Day lineup with Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, teammates from the Cardinals’ World Series wins in 2006 and ’11. Molina, who like Pujols has announced that this will be his final season, will be making his 18th straight Opening Day start. As for Wainwright, this will be his sixth Opening Day assignment for the Cardinals and the seventh time he’s started the home opener – one more than Bob Gibson’s six such appearances.
Pujols enters 2022 fifth in MLB history in home runs (679), third in RBIs (2,150), fourth in extra-base hits (1,367) and fourth in total bases (6,042). As for Molina -- Pujols’ best friend in baseball -- he was the first catcher to catch 2,000 games with one franchise.
“I expect it to be loud like always,” Pujols said. “What will be special is that I’ll now come in on [the Cardinals] side and I’m not coming in as a visiting [player] like in 2019 or last year. … We have the best fans in baseball. I lived it for 11 years that I played in that stadium. It’s going to be a special moment that I’m going to cherish the rest of my life.”