The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim came into this season full of expectations that nothing short of a World Series appearance would be a failure. There is a long way to go, but no one in the organization could have imagined them being where they are today, which is last place in the American League West at 7-15, only one game better than baseball’s worst record.
There was good reason for Las Vegas sports books to feel the Angels should be a contender and one of the favorites to win the World Series at 7/1 odds. The Angels established last season that they had one of the best starting rotations in baseball, which is the starting point in every baseball odds making formula. Then they added 16-game winner C.J. Wilson from last season’s AL champions.
But the major key in the Angels perception of moving to that next level in 2012 was acquiring Albert Pujols for $240 million from the Cardinals, a team he helped win a second title for last season. Despite his age, the price seemed appropriate for the Angels to get them to the promise land, but so far, Pujols has not produced.
Through Sunday’s game, Pujols is batting only .216 with no home runs, only 4 RBI’s and a meager ,216 slugging percentage. He’s currently mired in a career worse hitless streak of 21 at-bats. And this is coming from a player who has hit .327 and slugged .612 over his entire career?
Perhaps the pressure of living up to big contract has made him press a bit more while also still learning the AL pitchers, but whatever it is, it’s spilling over onto his teammates performance. Or maybe, it’s his teammates performance that is spilling over on to him.
The big shocker, though, is no home runs. That’s what he was paid to do, but Pujols is taking it all in stride and knows the hits will come.
"I don't try to hit home runs," Pujols said after Sunday's loss at Cleveland. "I know I can hit home runs. Whenever they come, they're going to come. I'm trying to have good, quality at-bats. I'll leave you guys (to) play the little game about how many at-bats I have without hitting a home run. It's part of the game. I don't care about that. It's a long season. At the end, my numbers are going to be there and nobody's going to talk about what happened in April."
That’s where Pujols is wrong. April is what we’ll be talking about all season with whatever path the Angels take from here on out. It's an extraordinary story just because of the expectations.
The LVH Super Book has adjusted their odds conservatively at 12/1 just because it is April and a lot can happen, but the underlying theme all season long will be the poor start they got off to and Pujols not hitting a home run.
If the Angels eventually get to the World Series, the talk will always start with “Despite a poor April”. Should the Angels finish in the second division, it will be, “They just couldn’t get over that April slump.”
Before giving too much of the blame to Pujols for the Angels slow start, let’s also dish some out to the quiet Halo bats who are hitting .235 collectively, bad enough for second worst in the AL.
Despite having a great rotation, their bullpen can’t close the door on anyone. Collectively, the Anaheim bullpen is 0-6 with a 5.26 ERA and has converted only two of their eight save opportunities.
So while Pujols gets much of the blame for the slow start because of all the cash given to him, let’s not forget about the rest of the weak hitters on the team not producing like Howie Kendrick (.250), Vernon Wells (.221) and Peter Bourjos (.167). Jordan Walden also get low marks for his inability to close out games and having no confidence, which is half of the game for any closer.
In an attempt to spice things up in the lineup, the Angels released Bobby Abreu, sat Bourjos and called up phenom outfielder Mike Trout from the minors. Trout went 0-for-7 in his first at-bats, but that should change soon along with the fortunes of the Angels.
The best thing for the Angels to do is quit looking at the Rangers, who are nine games ahead, and start trying to get back to .500. Texas looks like a formidable opponent in all facets which makes the Angels looking like their best shot to make the playoffs might be advancing in the wild card game. But like Pujols said, it’s still early.
Fortunately for the Angels, they place the Twins (6-15) six times in the next 10 days.