When last we checked in with the Pujols Panic meter, the worry was starting to heat up. At that time, Albert Pujols had a slash line of .232/.284/.333 through the first 17 games, was stuck at just 4 RBI and hadn’t hit a home run yet. Things haven’t turned around yet, and Pujols is still looking for his first home run of the season, has just one more RBI and his slash line has dipped to .202/.245/.279 and runs the risk of dropping his batting average down below .200 tonight as well as break his consecutive at-bats without a home run streak of 105. Not the kind of history Halos fans really want to tune in for. So…panic time?
Nobody can say that this was how things were supposed to happen for Pujols and the Angels. When the team signed the slugging first baseman to a 10-year $240 million deal this offseason, things were supposed to look a bit more…offensive. Everybody thought they’d be bringing in one of the best hitters of a generation who would pace this potent-on-paper offense and add to that career total of 445 home runs. So far, that hasn’t been what’s happening.
Instead, the Angels rank 21st in runs scored, 21st in batting average, 27th in on-base percentage, and 21st in slugging percentage. The team has been shut out five times, most in the majors this season. Instead of Pujols, it’s been Torii Hunter who’s been leading this offense. He shares the team lead in home runs with Howie Kendrick and Vernon Wells at four, leads the team in RBI with 14, and is tops among Angels in batting average and on-base percentage, hitting .309 and .369 respectively. Pujols, meanwhile, sits last among Angels’ starters (not counting Mike Trout) in RBI with just five. His batting average (.202) is the second worst of Angels starters playing in tonights game, better only than backup catcher Bobby Wilson‘s .176.
Pujols and the Angels, however, aren’t worried. The struggling slugger is the only player who has played in all 26 of the Angels’ games this season, so the team is confident that he’ll turn it around. Pujols seems confident that things will correct themselves, and vows not to change his swing or approach at the plate (not even a little maybe?). Last time, Torii Hunter came to Albert’s defense, saying that things would come together for Pujols and it was just a matter of time. Now, Dan Haren is voicing the same sentiment, saying this situation reminds him of Frank Thomas when the two played together on the A’s in 2006. Through April of that year, Thomas was hitting just .190 with five home runs, but ended up hitting .270 on the year with 39 homers, 114 RBI and finishing fourth in the AL MVP voting. This too shall pass, says Haren:
"“He’s obviously scuffling, everyone knows that,” Haren said of Pujols. “But I think he cares more than anybody else. The guy’s one of the first guys here, he’s constantly looking at video in the batting cage, and it’s definitely not for lack of effort because the guy’s an amazing worker. It’ll turn around. He’s one of the best players of all-time.”"
So Albert and his teammates haven’t lost the faith in the first baseman, but the fans are certainly growing restless. They have watched as Pujols hasn’t had a multi-hit game since April 19 and has only one RBI since April 15. He hasn’t even been able to draw a walk in eight straight games. If he struggles again tonight, Pujols could see his average drop below .200, which would be the latest in season over his entire career that his average had dipped that low. The deepest that’s happened up to now? April 20, back in 2007.
The team may still be sure about the turnaround of Pujols, but fans are starting to have some creeping doubts. We thought the team was getting the Albert Pujols, Prince Albert, best hitter in baseball. Instead, the team seems to have signed his pauper double. Having Pujols put together a couple of nice games in a row would be a nice way to assuage some of those doubts, but too many more 0-for-every-time-he’s-up-by-grounding-out-to-third, and the team is going to have some angry customers to answer to.
Something has to happen. Either Pujols needs to knock himself out of his funk, the team needs to sit him so he can can get his mind straight, or whatever alien race kidnapped the real Albert and replaced him with this carboard cutout needs to return him. Something. If you were Mike Scioscia, what would you do about the Amazing Albert and his Vanishing Bat?