Less than a month into the season, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim already sit in the cellar of the AL West, 8.5 games back. Sitting 8.5 games back after having played only 18 games is tough to do, and more than mildly disheartening for Angels fans. The team went out and spent big money this offseason in hopes of putting a championship-caliber team on the field. This team with the 6-12 record is not proving thus far to be worth the investment.
The Angels brought home the Holy Grail of the free-agent market this past offseason when they signed former St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols to a deal worth nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. Last night saw the Angels' newly acquired golden boy Pujols extend his hitless streak to five games, now going 19 at-bats without a hit.
This is only the second time in his career he has gone hitless in five straight games—the last being in 2001, his rookie year. Pujols, who averaged a homer every 14.3 at-bats in his 11 years with St. Louis, also has yet to put one in the seats during his tenure as an Angel.
These early numbers with the Angels may seem damning and have a lot of folks already questioning whether or not the Pujols signing was worth it at all. While the answer to that remains to be seen, one thing is certain: This is Albert Pujols we are talking about here. Eighteen games in a new stadium, wearing a new uniform and facing a slew of new pitchers is too small of a sample size to validate giving up on him.
Baseball is a long season, and a team's endurance matters far more than just getting a hot start. The 2011 season saw the Arizona Diamondbacks trailing by 6.5 games at the end of April, only to finish the season as division champions by an eight-game margin over the reigning world champion San Francisco Giants. Pujols has averaged 156 of 162 games for the duration of his career. The man has the evidence to back his lasting endurance.
It may be called into question as to whether or not Pujols is past his prime at the age of 32. The slow start is doing nothing to benefit his cause, but great players do not just descend from greatness into benchable players from one year to the next without a significant injury.
Last year was the worst of Pujols' career thus far, and he still ended with a .299 batting average and 37 home runs. Spring training numbers may not mean much, but he still put up six homers during that time. It may count for very little, but it is proof positive that Pujols has not forgotten how to swing the bat.
Ask yourself this: how glaringly obvious would this slump be if it occurred in mid-July? It is not to say a player of Pujols' caliber would play this poorly and have it go entirely unnoticed, but having it happen at the begging of his tenure in Anaheim has drawn far greater attention to it. There is not a player, superstar or otherwise, who does not go through the occasional slump. Pujols has earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt.