In Major League Baseball, a bad April means nothing and everything all at once. The first month of the 2012 season in the books, and there is no shortage of intrigue as May commences. Bryce Harper is in the majors. The Dodgers’ sale is final. Matt Kemp is playing like a future Hall of Famer.
And just across town from Kemp, Albert Pujols — the man who probably shouldn’t have been anything but the first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals — is floundering. Just months after he agreed to a $254 million deal to ply his trade with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the slugger has exactly zero home runs. That’s 12 fewer home runs than Kemp, but who’s counting?
Now, I’d like, for the sake of Prince Albert, to sit here and tell you that the Angels’ woeful 8-15 April record has something to do with the negative attention being heaped on Pujols at this juncture. And hey, it probaly would be a little bit easier for him if the Halos were, say, 15-8. But Albert Pujols having zero homers a month into the season is bigger than L.A.’s sluggish start as a whole — not something you often say in a league where star power is on the lighter side.
Pujols can speak in platitudes about how he’s just finding his swing and adjusting to the pitchers in a new league, but this is a big deal. It’s a big deal because of all the money he just had laid at his feet. It’s a big deal because he’s 32 — the downside of a baseball career for mere mortals not constantly injecting themselves with horse steroids. Mostly, though, it’s a big deal because this has never happened before.
This is Pujols’ 12th season in the major leagues. In his first 11, he never went through a calendar month where he didn’t hit a home run. Heck, counting June 2006, when he only played 10 games due to injury and hit just one homer, he only had three months to his name where he hit two or fewer dingers before this April. Numbers like that are both a tribute to Pujols’ sheer greatness — not just his hitting prowess, but his assembly-line consistency at the plate — and a troubling indictment of his first month in a different shade of red.
It’d be silly to think that Pujols has fallen off a cliff so suddenly. It just doesn’t happen like this; 32 isn’t that old, even for a big leaguer, and he’s coming off a .299/.366/.541 (AVG/OBP/SLG) season in 2011 that, while well below his norms, still made him one of the better hitters in the National League.
Pujols himself probably doesn’t need a confidence boost. Usually you don’t when you have 445 home runs and 1,333 RBI to your name. But Angels fans looking for reason to be optimistic, should cast their gaze to one of Pujols’ countrymen, David Ortiz, who just two years ago was hitting .143 with one home run and four RBI as April came to a close. He was 34 at the time — the two extra years in age resulting in a deafening cacophony from doubters ready to bury Big Papi. Ortiz, of course, is far from done even today; he finished April 2012 with two homers on the final day of the month and was hitting .405 entering play on Tuesday.
Now to shutter the blinds on that ray of sunshine: David Ortiz wasn’t due the better part of $254 million when he was struggling so mightily two Aprils ago.
That’s what is different here — why Pujols’ slump is really so unsettling. See, it’s not that anyone really believes that this is going to keep up in 2012. It’s that the Angels’ outlay for Pujols is so ill-advised when you look at things from the decade-long, bird’s-eye view that you can imagine a day long before the bill is paid in full where a scuffling Pujols is the new paradigm.