With 162 regular season games and now four rounds of playoffs spreading across seven months of the calendar year, the Major League Baseball season is the most arduous marathon in existence. For that very reason, it is rather fruitless for fans to jump to any conclusions after just six games into the 2012 campaign. Still, there are diehard fans and pundits alike that will read into every last grain of information available. And as one of those diehard fans, one of those questions has been chewing at my mind over the last week and a half:
Where is Albert Pujols?
You’d think after a 1-5 start, the Red Sox would be my first priority, but I’m realistic enough to not have the highest of expectations for the boys in Boston this year. However, I can name 254 million reasons why despite only six games being played, Albert Pujols is already a disappointment in Anaheim.
10-year, $254 million contracts are not handed out every day (although they seem to be for first baseman), so when they are, fans expect the players who carry them to explode like gang-busters out of the gate. When they don’t, you begin to question if the player can step up to the pressure that accompanies such a deal. 5 hits in his first 23 at-bats with Anaheim and only a pair of RBI to his name thus far. And does the most dangerous hitter in baseball frighten the opposing pitchers with a .304 slugging percentage that screams more of Nyjer Morgan than it does Babe Ruth?
Prince Fielder scored a similar deal, yet slightly smaller deal, with Detroit. He has responded by hitting .333 with a pair of home runs, 4 RBI, and 5 runs scored. Granted, those two home runs were rung out against the unimpressive and aforementioned Red Sox pitching staff, but he has returned to his home roots in Detroit and ignited the team, fans, and city around him.
Pujols hasn’t done anything of the sort. The Angels take the field and they look beatable. They squander six-run leads in the latter innings of a game against the light-hitting Twins line-up. They drop 2 of 3 against the upstart Royals in their home-opening series. This isn’t a team rallying around the beacon of light brought in to win them a championship.
What was more telling was how Fielder came to Detroit under a last minute windfall and proclaimed that it was always his dream to follow his father’s footsteps and wear the Tigers uniform. On the other foot, the first proclamation from Pujols was that he didn’t like the billboards placed around town. Sure, that was supposedly because he still pays homage to Stan Musial, but that’s more understandable in the Cardinals uniform, when you are identifying with your home town fans.
Like it or not Albert, you are now El Hombre in that clubhouse. You are the leader that this team is looking to. Albert, you are the guy that needs to take this weekend series in New York and put on a hitting exhibition in a ballpark built for your power. The expectations that come with the money the Angels gave you aren’t going to go away, so it is better to step up now and just take over.
The Angels aren’t paying for a brooding, slow-starting Pujols. They are paying for the home runs, the hits, the RBI’s. They made a 10-year commitment because they want the 3000 hits and they want the 763 or more career home runs. That investment relies on a certain investment of fortitude on your part too, Albert. You have to want it to make it happen. They are paying for the best hitter in baseball, and only six-games or not, it is time to start producing like it.
Otherwise they can start hanging billboards with the nickname “Albertross” strewn across them.
- – I questioned the Minnesota Twins decision to let Michael Cuddyer go and replace him with what I viewed as a step down in Josh Willingham. So far in 2012, I’m eating those thoughts, as Willingham is perhaps the hottest hitter in the game, posting a .409 batting average with 4 home runs and 7 RBI. Granted, this is a hitter that has never batted higher than .277 or struck out less than 104 times in a full major league season. However, if he can put that .277 average up this season and accompany it with 25-30 home runs, the Twins could be a surprise contender in 2012, especially if they can manage to keep Mauer, Morneau, or both healthy all season.
- – Speaking of Albert Pujols, is anyone shocked that the Cardinals don’t appear to miss him on bit? At 5-2, they appear to be fully capable of making another run at the World Series, and they can thank World Series MVP David Freese for that. Freese is tied with Andre Ethier for the Major League lead with 10 RBI on the young season and looks more than ready to pick up where he left off, even if it means picking up the Pujols slack.
- – Everyone was worried about Roy Halladay coming out of Spring Training. Doc had lost velocity and he was struggling mightily. All he’s done is be the Halladay of old, throwing 15.0 innings across two starts with a 0.62 ERA. Granted, the competition has been the light hitting Pirates and Marlins, but he has surrendered just 7 hits on the season. I think we can put those worries aside.