Talk of his demise certainly appears to be premature, but is it too early to declare that Albert Pujols is back to his MVP-caliber form based on a 22-game sample?
After collecting two more hits in a 13-1 victory over the New York Yankees on Friday night, including his ninth homer of the young season against only eight strikeouts, Pujols has a 1.008 OPS—coincidentally, that's also his career OPS—and is on pace to crack the 50-homer mark and top his career-best 49 homers in 2006.
While there was no definitive way of knowing whether his declining numbers in 2013 were due to the injuries he was playing through—he was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis in April and also battled soreness throughout the season on his surgically repaired knee—the general feeling around the baseball world was that his skills were deteriorating as he approached his mid-30s.
Healthy or not, Pujols wasn't near the player he was before the Los Angeles Angels rewarded him for 11 years of greatness (with the St. Louis Cardinals) by giving him a 10-year contract that would pay him $240 million through his age-41 season.
Or so it seemed.
Through his first 22 games of 2014, the 34-year-old doesn't look to be much different from the guy who posted a 1.115 OPS while hitting 37 homers, 44 doubles and knocking in 116 runs en route to winning his last NL MVP award back in 2009.
It's not uncommon for an average player to string together two to three weeks of greatness at least once during his career. The difference here is that this kind of production has always been the norm for Pujols. The longer he keeps it up, the more his disappointing 2013 season will look like the outlier and quickly be forgotten.
Asked about his recent success after belting his 499th and 500th career homers, Pujols sounded like a hitter who was in the zone.
"Last couple years have been really tough, but I feel that I'm getting my swing right where I want it to be," Pujols said after the game.
That sounds about right, considering he was confident enough to tell teammates before Tuesday's game that he'd be hitting a pair of homers that night.
If you were paying attention to Pujols this spring, maybe his strong start shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Despite the rough beginning to his Angels stint, he was upbeat and confident when he reported to spring training in February.
"As long as I stay healthy, I'm going to hit," said the nine-time All-Star when he reported to camp early on Feb. 13. "I'm going to play as hard as I can and try to put some big smiles on faces and try to help this organization win a championship," said Pujols, per Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.
He wasn't lying.
It turns out that Mike Trout isn't the only reason to go see a ballgame at Angels Stadium these days. Right now, a healthy Albert Pujols is earning every dollar of his $23 million salary for 2014, and he's helping to put fans in the seats as he continues to pile up historic numbers.