2012 has been the year of surprises thus far.
Teams like the Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles are all looking like completely different teams than the squads we have become accustomed to watching lose recently. Players like Derek Jeter and David Ortiz are turning back the clock and playing like they are in their prime instead of in their late 30s. Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton are putting up such incredible numbers that it's starting to bring up memories of the Sosa/McGwire and Mantle/Maris races.
Could one of these guys potentially "break" Maris's technically-already-broken single-season record of 61 home runs, but this time do it without the aid of PEDs?
It's definitely not outside the realm of possibilities.
Albert Pujols hitting that many home runs this season is, however. "The Machine" was out of order in April, hitting a weak .217 with no home runs and just four RBI over 23 games. This is by far the worst month of his career, which has to have the Angels organization and their fans panicking by now. When you give a player a 10-year, $254 million contract, certain expectations go along with that investment, and thus far, Pujols has not met a single one of them.
However, should we all start assuming that the Albert Pujols we've seen so far in 2012 is the Albert Pujols that the Angels will be stuck with for the next 10 years? Absolutely not, and I think anyone would agree that it would be unfair to do so. After all, this is a guy who has been a model of consistency ever since making his MLB debut back in 2001. Pujols hit .328 with 445 home runs and 1,329 RBI over 11 seasons for the Cardinals in the National League—a sparkling track record that already makes him a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
What people need to remember is that Pujols, at the age of 32, is playing his first season in the American League. He knows very little about most of the pitchers he is currently facing, having only faced them a handful of times during the couple weeks' worth of interleague play each year. That adjustment takes time; it's not something that's going to come to him overnight.
Pujols is also adjusting to a new home after spending his entire baseball career in St. Louis. L.A. isn't some small cozy town—it's a huge market that can be intimidating to even the best players.
Pujols finally hit his first home run of the year on May 6. That first bomb is a sign that things are finally starting to come around for the slugger. In fact, Pujols already has seven RBI in eight May games, three more than he had in all of April. The production has arrived, and soon the batting average will follow suit (one that is currently hovering around the Mendoza line).
2012 is not going to be one of Pujols's best seasons—we all might as well accept that right now. However, by the end of the year, we should all expect to see Pujols with a batting average approaching—if not surpassing—.290, 30 or more home runs and around 100 RBI. Will he have enough to throw his name into the MVP discussion? Probably not, but what he can do is give the Angels enough to push them into playoff contention—something that they have clearly shown they can't do without him.
Pujols is too good of a player to suffer a drop-off as drastic as he's suffered thus far without turning it around. This is also a guy who is going to work and work and work until he gets it right.
Pujols has experienced nothing but success in his career thus far, so he's not about to start accepting failure now.
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