Monday, April 30, 2012

The Albert Pujols Agony

Watching LA Angels' Albert Pujols was supposed to be a joy. Who can forget him blasting three homers in in game three of last year's World Series for the world champion St. Louis Cardinals? When he was traded to the Angels in the off season and signed a $240 million, long-term contract, it was supposed to be raining Pujols homers in Orange County.

So far it's been nothing but a nasty Pujols drought, the worst April of  his career. He was supposed to be at least hitting in the .320s with a gaudy slugging percentage. So far, not even close. Just ugly numbers--no homers in 22 games and 88 at-bats, a .216 average, 4 RBIs, a 21 at-bat hitless stretch and an embarrassing .295 slugging percentage.

Watching him at the plate is painful. One of the greatest hitters in history now looks like a nervous newcomer visiting the big leagues for the first time. Against every pitcher he seems over matched. Yes he's new to the American League and has to learn the pitchers, but this?

At the plate King Kong has turned into Peter Rabbit. His batting eye, once crystal clear, has turned foggy. He's become tentative, watching strikes whiz by, the kind he used to clobber. Worse, he's constantly chasing bad balls, something the old Albert rarely did. On Sunday, in a 4-0 drubbing by the Cleveland Indians, Pujos looked totally lost, stumbling to 0 for 4. Usually he can hit pitcher Derek Lowe. But on Sunday, Lowe had Pujols in his hip pocket.

Pujols was supposed to lead the Angels to the playoffs. So far he's just been an anchor. They're gasping for air in the American League West cellar, off to a miserable 7-15 start. If Pujols were having a normal year, at least four of those losses would be wins. Of course, he knows this. No question he feels the weight of the team's crummy start on his shoulders, which is making him press even more.

He's had bad starts before, but nothing like this. Last year, for instance, he didn't really start hitting, Pujols style, til late May. Ultimately he helped the Cards win the World Series. So there's hope. Pujols is bound to snap out this slump. But when?

The Angels need him--desperately. If he continues to slump, so will the Angels. But he's not their only problem. The pathetic bullpen may hurt worse than the Pujols slump. For sure, the Angels need a strong May to wash away the April mess, or they can kiss the playoffs goodbye.