The 2012 season has not started well for the Los Angeles Angels. An 11-17 record, last place in the AL West, shutout six times and their quarter-billion dollar first baseman is in the worst slump of his career.
Los Angeles had been shutout in back-to-back games against the Toronto Blue Jays when they made the decision to bench Albert Pujols yesterday. The offseason's biggest prize free agent, Pujols has been terrible in the early going. An 0-for-4 game on Friday night saw his average fall to .194 and he is yet to hit a home run in 108 at-bats.
It was the first time all season the three-time NL MVP had not featured in Mike Scioscia's lineup, and coincided nicely with the Angels' second-highest run total in 20 games. They emerged 6-2 winners behind a great performance from C.J. Wilson, the offseason signing who has actually lived up to expectations this year.
The lineup has been lethargic in 2012 and only two AL teams, Minnesota and Oakland, have scored fewer runs than Anaheim's 99. Pujols has been a real problem, yes, but he has not been the only culprit.
Mike Trout's go-ahead home run in the fifth inning yesterday was the first long ball the team has had from the leadoff spot. Only three qualifying batters have an average above .230, three are in double-digits in RBI and only Mark Trumbo has a better than .500 slugging percentage.
They have good talent, though. Trumbo, who ironically homered while filling in for Pujols at first base, is a great young player and the Angels are right to expect good production from the likes of Kendrys Morales, Howie Kendrick and Torii Hunter.
One gets the feeling that a decent little run of wins will be enough to light a fire beneath this lineup. A batting order sans Pujols led to one of them and if the game off helps him get back in form, he could be the key to them getting on a winning streak.
It needs to happen soon because the Texas Rangers already have a 7.5-game lead in the division.