Lance Berkman is playing like a man possessed

St. Louis Cardinals Lance Berkman connects for a single in the fourth inning against the San Diego Padres at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on March 31, 2011. San Diego won the game in 11 innings, 5-3. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

To suggest that Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman is rejuvenated since arriving in St. Louis this year would be the understatement of Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 2:30PM ET.

Fresh off winning his second NL player of the week award this season, “Big Puma” went 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBI in the Cardinals’ loss to the Marlins on Monday. That effort raised his batting average to .406 to go along with nine home runs and 27 RBI through his first 96 at bats this season.

Only teammate Matt Holliday (.410) has a better average right now than Berkman, who trails MLB leader Alfonso Soriano (11) by only two home runs. Berkman is also just one RBI away from tying the Phillies’ Ryan Howard, who has driven in 28 runs so far this season.

Berkman isn’t just playing beyond what St. Louis expected – he’s playing like one of the best in the game. It’s rather remarkable when you consider the Yankees declined to exercise their option for him in the offseason after trading two minor leagues (Jimmy Paredes and Mark Melancon) to Houston in order to acquire him from the Astros in July last year. Plus, he’s holding his own in the outfield, a position he hasn’t played since his early days in Houston.

After news broke this spring that Adam Wainwright had to have Tommy John surgery and Holliday suffered an early-season appendectomy, many pundits thought the Cardinals would slowly fade out of contention at some point this year. And while that still might happen, the Cardinals are currently atop the standings in the NL Central thanks to guys like Berkman and Holliday.

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