It’s not news that Albert Pujols has had a strange season, but it has probably been stranger than you think.
Albert Pujols was absolutely awful for about 22 games, a stretch that began April 20th and ended with three infield hits on May 15th. He batted .136 and had two extra base hits in 80 at-bats. The Angels went 10-12 and dropped as far as nine games behind the Rangers. To say things got a little uptight in the Angels clubhouse would be an understatement of the highest order.
Pujols got real tired of questions about his performance. General manager Jerry Dipoto axed hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. Rightly or wrongly, that decision was seen as a shot at Mike Scioscia, who is extremely close to Hatcher and had never fired a coach. Speaking of that move, the Angels were scoring 3.6 runs per game while Hatcher was the hitting coach. Since letting him go, they’re scoring 3.4 runs per game. However, since Hatcher was let go, the staff ERA has gone from 3.93 with him as hitting coach to 1.59 with him gone. That man must have had some influence.
Anyway, when Pujols was in the depths of his slump, some of us who’d watched him his entire career stopped recognizing the player we’d always known as one of the most disciplined, patient hitters of his generation. He was one of the rare birds who controlled an at-bat the moment he stepped into the batter’s box. He did not swing at pitches out of the strike zone. He almost never looked off balance. His swing was so consistent and generated such power it could be compared to any of the great hitters in the history of the game.
That Albert Pujols disappeared. This new Albert Pujols has getting pounded inside with fastballs, and unlike previous years, he was unable to get around on them. He lunged at curve balls, too. He seemed so screwed up that it was easy to wonder if he might need an entire off-season to gather himself and start over in 2012. It seemed so much worse because expectations had been insanely high and also because the Angels were just 4-9.
Just about the time some of us had stopped waiting on Pujols to go on one of his amazing tears, he legged out three infield singles. Something apparently clicked. In 10 games since, he’s hitting .325 with four home runs and a double. His OPS is 1.028. Best of all, the Angels are 6-4. They’ve cut only a half-game off the Rangers’ lead in the AL West, but before they could even begin to worry about the standings, they had to deal with their own issues.
At the moment, they look a lot like the team we expected them to be. They’re getting terrific starting pitching, and with Pujols hitting, it transforms the way opposing teams will deal with that deal. The thing is, Pujols was only terrible for those three weeks in late April and early May. Now that the ball is flying out of the park again, he looks like the same old Albert.