Mike Scioscia left Albert Pujols out of the lineup today, a common Scioscia tool to give a struggling player a day away from the grind to mentally refresh for, hopefully, a new approach. So I don’t think I can avoid it any longer. Apparently it’s high time for the obligatory what’s wrong with Albert Pujols post. Well, I do blog about the Angels, after all, so you know that tackling this topic is practically a contractual obligation. 😉
As you may or may not have noticed, although I do comment on Pujols from time to time, I’ve pretty much avoided arm chair batting coaching, ranting, raving, advising, foaming at the mouth, begging, pleading and/or keeping a running lack of homerun tally anywhere even remotely in his general direction. It’s not that I don’t care, far from it. It’s just that I am absolutely certain he’ll come around eventually, though I am coming to realize that eventually may be a lot later than I originally thought, and while his slumbering bat is certainly a problem, fixating on it fixes nothing and ignores a whole host of other problems that have been far thornier for going on three seasons now.
As for what’s wrong with Albert? Well, there’s the new league/new ball parks/new opposing pitchers theory. At least in the short term that was probably part of it. Angels blogger True Grich suggests that moving away from his wife and children, who are remaining in St. Louis for the time being might have a lot to do with things. I can’t say I disagree. I mean going for long periods of time without…companionship, someone to lighten up your off time, hugs from the kidlets, comfort, laughing together, someone to talk through the bad stuff with and anything else that one might add after those ellipses, when one was used to enjoying those things on a regular basis would throw anyone for a loop, especially when things aren’t going well. MLB Network recently compared the dimensions of Angels stadium to Busch stadium, pointing out that Pujols’ Angels stadium on the warning track fly outs would simply have been out of the ballpark at Busch stadium. Well, honestly, I’d been wondering about this very thing and given that many of Pujols’ homeruns weren’t of the tape measure variety, I can see how this would seriously mess up a person’s swing for a while.
I think all three of these things are part of the problem, but I actually think that the main problem is the homeruns, or rather that homeruns have become the fixation. When he is more himself, Pujols hits for average and for power, which means that he hits a lot of singles and doubles and those figure heavily into his RBI and run totals. He keeps saying he isn’t a homerun hitter that he’s more of a doubles guy and this is true in the same sense that Jered Weaver says he’s not really a strikeout pitcher. Strikeouts aren’t Weaver’s primary goal, they just happen a lot when he’s on his game. Ditto for Pujols and the homeruns. When he’s on his game and hitting well, the homeruns just come along with all of other hits.
But ever since the Angels signed Pujols, the fixation has been on his eventual homerun total and when he was going to hit the first one. This wouldn’t be a problem if Albert himself wasn’t also fixated on that first homerun and obviously swinging for the fences. Which came first, the Angels’ expectations or Pujols’ pressure on himself? I don’t even think it matters but somehow he needs to start believing his own words again and just focus on hitting the ball and the rest will come. Heck, homeruns are a wonderful, highly productive tool in the lineup, but if Pujols gives us an around .300 batting average and high RBI and run total, I personally wouldn’t care about how many of those hits were specifically homeruns.
I really hope that taking a day off has helped Pujols clear his head…or reach the point where he’s frustrated enough to brute force stubborn his way through his problems. But I don’t think it would hurt to also arrange a visit from his family, wipe the homerun thoughts completely from his mind and watch a tape of that MLBN segment, you know, just in case.
In the meantime, it’s sad to hear everyone on the team talking about Pujols in terms that are the very definition of Mendoza line – Yes, he’s struggling at the plate, but he’ll come around and in the mean time look at that defense. – but I’m afraid that’s just the way it’s going to have to be until he figures it out and comes around. The fact of the matter is that his defense is out of sight and do we really want to be the team who decided after less than two months that a.326 lifetime batting average over 11 seasons and one+ month (even after all of this ick) is somehow a fluke? Because even if takes most of this season for Pujols to get back to his usual form, it will be worth it in the long run…that said, if it does take most of the season, I may have to rethink my no ranting, raving, whining and/or foaming at the mouth policy. I’m just saying’.
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Now, on to something happier. After two games in a row that made me think temper tantrums are seriously wasted on the young, the Angels offense finally showed back up, thanks primarily to a significant youth uprising. Mike Trout sent his first homerun of the season sailing over the wall. Mark Trumbo hit a Trumbomb that may just now have landed, I mean we’re talking into right into Big Papi 2010 Homerun Derby territory. C.J. Wilson pitched a good game tonight, the defense was on and the Angels offense pushed and pushed again, forcing and then taking advantage of several Blue Jay errors. It was like watching Friday’s game but in reverse and, you know, fun! 😉 If Trumbo, Trout and Kendrys Morales (who also had a big night) aren’t all in the lineup tomorrow after the night they had then I truly will think, love Scioscia though I do, that there is an evil Magic 8 Ball making all too many of the lineup decisions.
In an interview prior to this evening’s game, Dan Haren was asked about Jered Weaver’s stellar, personal single game strikeout record breaking performance on Sunday. He laughed and responded in an affectionate sounding tone that it was getting harder and harder to follow Weaver in the rotation. How do you follow a performance like that? Well, if you’re Dan Haren, you stride out to the mound, throw first pitch breaking ball strikes and other nasty stuff and pitch a one-hit complete game shutout! Boys? This one-upmanship thing? It’s seriously working for me. You can keep that right on up all season. Please!
This evening’s 2 – 0 win over the Indians was, quite simply, one of the best games I have been privileged enough to attend. I am absolutely euphoric as I sit here typing this and, at the beginning of the evening (Hey, I haven’t gone to bed yet, so it’s still the same evening!), I had no reason to believe I would even be in a good mood. I never leave work when I intend to and this evening was no exception. Still, I was making good enough time plop into my seat next to Seth more or less when the teams were delivering their lineup cards…until the freeway came to a dead halt a mere two offramps from my destination around a five car fender bender, roughly 15 minutes before first pitch.
Near the end of the second inning, and in quite a foul mood at this point, I finally set off across the parking lot toward the Big A. Thirty feet from the stadium gate, my ticket flew out of my hand, well out of my reach and looked ready to disappear entirely before I could do anything about it, when a tall gentleman in an Indians jersey reached out with long arms, snagged the runaway ticket and handed it back to me. I could have hugged him. I burst into the biggest grin and literally exclaimed My hero! Thank you!! I finally arrived at my seats, mood much improved but still bummed that I had missed two full innings plus an additional batter. But all it took to bring my mood full circle to excitement was a glimpse of that glorious field and the pitching display going on in front of me…that and the fact that my husband already bought us dinner so I didn’t have to miss another pitch, even though it was easily my turn to do this. What a guy!
Fortunately my comedy of errors getting to the game did not extend to the field. What. A. Game! Dan Haren! Peter Bourjos’ first homerun of the season. Dan Haren! Mark Trumbo’s first major league homerun ever! Oh, and did I mention Dan Haren? 😉 And then, just when it looked like the Indians were going to get a solid extra bases hit with the potential to bust the game wide open, who should come flying from right to center and seemingly straight up the high part of the wall but Spiderman himself, Torii Hunter. No lie, in the middle of one of the best pitching performances I have seen live at the stadium, this was one of the best catches I have ever seen live at the stadium. You will surely see it on the end of the week highlight reels. But even with that play, this was entirely Dan Haren’s show. He never let a runner get to second the entire game. He got the leadoff hitter out in all nine innings. He struck out eight batters. And it looked like he was able to throw all of his pitches for strikes tonight. It was a masterful performance.
The other fun thing about this game was we wound up having some of the best seats possible to appreciate it from. I am kind of a ticket snob, though economics have tempered this tendency considerably, and I had never sat in the upper deck before. But I really wanted to go to this game, I just had a feeling about it, and the tickets that met my strict price limits were in the front row of the lowest part of the upper deck, a section and a half behind third base. I have sat much closer before, but this was one of the clearest views I have ever enjoyed of the ball sailing over home plate…that and I had a great vantage for Torii’s catch and both homeruns. Really, especially considering how it started, I could not have asked for a better evening. We were even surrounded by enthusiastic fans, not as much a given as you might like to think. I cheered and yelled and cheered some more pretty much the entire game. I was happily quite hoarse by the time Haren fielded one last grounder and tossed it to Mark Trumbo at first for the final out…almost looking like he was going to run it over and get the out himself.
I can see myself at work tomorrow with a big giant grin on my face, and that, dear coworkers, is why I sound like Kathleen Turner today. Ha ha, I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way. Sorry, couldn’t resist. 😉
Dan Haren, sitting ’em down one by one (Our view was not quite as far away as this photo would lead one to believe):
Look past the big screen with Haren’s post game interview and the note the Halo in it’s happiest natural state, all light up like Christmas: