Player of the Week: Albert Pujols

If only Tony La Russa could snub his best player every week. The St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman, perhaps motivated by being left on the All-Star bench by La Russa, opened the second half by clobbering four home runs in three games. The defending NL MVP, who, after initially saying he was upset with La Russa at the All-Star sitdown but later retracted his statement, went 7-for-17 (.411) with five runs scored and five RBIs as the Cardinals went 2-2. With the home run binge, Pujols has 20, while raising his batting average to .315.

BASEBALL STORYLINES

The Philadelphia Phillies made history, but it was most likely not the type of headlines the franchise, and certainly their fans, would like to be reminded of. With their 10-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday, Philadelphia became the first sports franchise in America to rack up 10,000 losses.

The Phillies, who dropped to 46-45 on the year after the loss, had an all-time mark of 8,810-10,000 after that game in their 125-year history. Over the last two-plus decades, Philadelphia fans have had little to cheer about (the city’s last title came in basketball, when the Sixers won an NBA championship in 1983) and unless the Phillies and young slugger Ryan Howard can put together a second-half turnaround and make a deeprun in the playoffs, that anguish should last one more year.

Everyone’s lovable losers might be in for an image change. Mark Cuban, who turned the dormant Dallas Mavericks franchise into an annual contender for the NBA crown, was one of several people putting his name in to take over the Chicago Cubs from real estate magnate Sam Zell, who purchased the team from the Tribune Co. in April. Cuban recently ended speculation about his potential takeover bid when he announced he had sent in the proper paperwork to Major League Baseball as part of the bid process. Many Cubs players are reportedly excited at the possibility of working for the unconventional Cuban, including ace pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who said, “I think he would bring whatever it takes to win the World Series.”

One thing is beginning to become certain this baseball season: If Gary Sheffield opens his mouth, controversy most likely will ensue. After aggressively sounding off on the lack of black players in baseball, Sheffield again stirred the pot by accusing Yankees manager Joe Torre of treating black and white players differently.

— Will Reisman

KEY SERIES

Angels at twins (today-Sunday): Minnesota, which has won four of five since the All-Star break, could prove they are a legitimate contender for the postseason with a strong showing against AL West-leading Los Angeles, but will face a tough test in the series opener today against Angels ace John Lackey.

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