ST. LOUIS — This is a much larger challenge for the St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols will be out indefinitely with a strained muscle on his right side.
Pujols, last year's NL MVP and this season's major league leader in home runs and RBIs, was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday.
"Life would be easier with Albert," closer Jason Isringhausen said. "But we've played without our star players before. We'll have to weather the storm."
Last year, the Cardinals soldiered through two Scott Rolen shoulder operations, Reggie Sanders' broken leg and Yadier Molina's broken hand, injuries that did not prevent them from their second straight 100-win season.
An MRI exam scheduled for Monday will give the team a better picture how long Pujols, batting .308 with 25 homers and 65 RBIs, will be sidelined. Dr. George Paletta, the team's orthopedic consultant, said Saturday that he could be out as long as six weeks.
On Sunday, trainer Barry Weinberg characterized the injury as "moderate to severe," saying it was closer to severe than moderate, and said Pujols had limited mobility and pain.
"Now, we just go through the steps of getting him better," Weinberg said. "The first thing he has to do is normal things: coughing, sneezing and opening the door.
"Then we can get more aggressive with the rehab and we can get more aggressive with some baseball activity."
Manager Tony La Russa said Pujols heard something pop when he tried to chase Aramis Ramirez' foul pop fly in the second inning on Saturday, then pulled up and grabbed his right side. Pujols finished the inning but was removed before the third inning.
"He doesn't give into pain very much," La Russa said. "So I knew there was something going on."
Weinberg said it was a positive sign that Pujols was injured in the field rather than swinging.
Jim Edmonds, nursing an abdominal injury that sidelined him for a week and threatened to land him on the DL, too, played first base Sunday against the Chicago Cubs after taking ground balls at the position a few hours before the game. Edmonds was 3-for-3 with two RBIs, helping the Cardinals win 9-6.
Edmonds, an eight-time Gold Glove center fielder, has been unable to run since being injured. But La Russa noted that he can swing a bat, and said Edmonds would not worsen his injury by playing.
"It's not rocket science here," Edmonds said. "The first baseman got hurt and we're short some guys. I figured if I can go out there and play for a couple of days and get a little bit better as I'm playing, it will be better for us. But if it's not, it's not."
La Russa said he's been told by team medical personnel that Edmonds cannot worsen the injury by playing.
"He's going to have some pain and he may get more pain from playing," La Russa said. "If it gets too painful to where he can't function, he doesn't play, but the injury will not be aggravated."
Scott Rolen moved into Pujols' third slot in the lineup, and La Russa said Rolen most likely would bat third the majority of the time Pujols is out. Rolen had two hits and three RBIs on Sunday.
"You're not going to replace Albert Pujols," Rolen said. "You can search through the league for his replacement."
Cubs manager Dusty Baker did not have too much sympathy. The Cubs lost Derrek Lee with a broken wrist in April and also have played much of the year without pitcher Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
"It just goes to show you it's a long season, No. 1," he said. "A No. 2, it's a test of really who has the most depth."
Baker said losing Pujols or Lee was a good comparison. The Cubs were 12-27 since Lee was hurt on April 21.
"There's a direct correlation," Baker said. "Big-time."
Now comes the Cardinals' turn to deal with adversity.
"It's part of grinding through a season, it's just something you've got to deal with," La Russa said. "The guys that have a chance to play can make a contribution, and if they do, you get by with it."
On the plus side, Chris Carpenter is to come off the disabled list from bursitis in his back on Tuesday and start against the Reds. Carpenter won 21 games and the NL Cy Young Award last year.
Rookie Chris Duncan was recalled from Triple-A Memphis in time for Sunday's game against the Chicago Cubs. Duncan, beginning his second stint with the team this season, was batting .272 in 42 games with six homers and 25 RBIs.
Duncan, the son of pitching coach Dave Duncan, appeared in four games earlier in the season and was 2-for-6 with a homer and three RBIs overall. Duncan had a pinch infield hit in the sixth on Sunday.