No hitter in baseball might need a big week more than Albert Pujols right now.
As we head into May, there are several big-name hitters and projected playoff contenders who continue to struggle.
In several divisions, the standings look upside-down from preseason predictions. And those unexpectedly poor records are due in large part to top hitters swinging feeble bats. Maybe it's the pressure to live up to huge contracts. Perhaps it's trying too hard to show that breakout success wasn't a fluke.
Whatever the reason, here are five batters who really need to get their performances turned in the right direction as the baseball season moves into its second month.
This is not the expression the Angels put on those "El Hombre" billboards.
Too obvious a choice here? But the longer Albert Pujols goes without hitting a home run, the louder the uproar becomes. Jeff Mathis has two more homers than Pujols at this point, which has to be a sign that the baseball gods have a wicked sense of humor.
Pujols actually needs to start hitting, period. Sunday's 0-for-4 dropped his season slash average to .216/.266/.295. Here's the Captain Obvious statement of the year: Pujols isn't being paid an average of $24 million to post an OPS of .545. The man hasn't driven in a run since April 15.
Maybe facing the Minnesota Twins' pitching staff to begin the week is exactly what Pujols needs for a jump start.
Monday's starter, Nick Blackburn, has a 7.53 ERA after his first three starts. He's followed on Tuesday by Francisco Liriano and his 11.03 ERA. And with Liam Hendriks starting on Wednesday, the Twins' three probable starters in this series have served up a total of nine homers in 10 games. If there's one staff Pujols should take deep, it's this one.
The Nationals were hoping Danny Espinosa would take a step forward from his rookie season.
Maybe you've heard that the Nats are desperate for some offense. If his lineup was scoring runs, general manager Mike Rizzo might not have hit the panic button to call up Bryce Harper and Tyler Moore over the weekend.
But the Nats need some of their incumbent batters to start producing as well. Second baseman Danny Espinosa wasn't a great hitter in his rookie season, batting .236/.323/.414, but he did slug 21 home runs with 66 RBI.
Thus far, Espinosa isn't anywhere near that kind of output, slugging just .286 to go with a .632 OPS. The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore points out that Espinosa has been victimized by some bad luck, with line drives going right at defenders. But he's also striking out a lot, whiffing 27 times in 21 games.
Jimmy Rollins wasn't a suitable replacement for Chase Utley in the middle of the Phillies' lineup.
The Phillies are another team struggling to score runs, and manager Charlie Manuel is shuffling his batting order around in hopes of generating some offense.
One move that didn't work was batting Jimmy Rollins in the No. 3 spot with the assumption that he could replace some of Chase Utley's production. However, Rollins has hit .216/.253/.243 with 15 strikeouts in 19 games.
That compelled Manuel to move Rollins to the leadoff spot. The move has paid off so far, with Rollins getting hits in his last two games. But he needs to start getting on base more frequently to help give the Phillies' middle of the order some runners to drive in.
Andres Torres hasn't played for the Mets since getting hurt on opening day.
Maybe it's unfair to say Andres Torres needs a great week when he'll be playing his first game since opening day on Monday.
But in his absence, rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis has been playing well in center field. Spectacular catches aren't an indication of a good outfielder, but Nieuwenhuis has made some highlight-worthy grabs in recent games.
Most importantly for the Mets, however, he's hitting. Nieuwenhuis' .316/.381/.474 is the best average in Terry Collins' lineup from anyone not named David Wright. He's also come through with key hits, as demonstrated in Thursday's win over the Miami Marlins.
Torres needs to show that he should be the Mets' center fielder when Jason Bay returns from his rib injury. Otherwise, Collins could very well decide that his lineup is better with Nieuwenhuis in it, leaving Torres on the outside looking in.
Jose Reyes was briefly moved out of the Marlins' leadoff spot because of his recent struggles.
Pujols isn't the only big-name free agent not living up to his contract early in the season. Jose Reyes enters Monday's play with a .205/.276/.321 average.
Reyes has been bad enough that Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen moved him to second in the batting order, pushing Emilio Bonifacio up to the leadoff spot. Bonifacio batting leadoff is something no one in the Marlins organization envisioned after signing Reyes as a free agent (well, maybe Bonifacio fantasized about it).
Guillen insisted to reporters that this is a temporary move and that he'll put Reyes back in his customary leadoff spot once he starts hitting again. In fact, according to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, Reyes is leading off in Monday's lineup versus the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Will the two-game "demotion" make any difference for Reyes? He's admittedly gotten himself into trouble by swinging at bad pitches, but did he get any different pitches to look at while batting in the No. 2 spot?
Reyes may benefit from the Marlins having no other suitable leadoff candidates, now that Bonifacio didn't perform well in that role. But if Reyes doesn't start hitting and getting on base, Miami is going to find it increasingly difficult to climb out of their current last-place standing.
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