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Who Are You, And What Have You Done With Albert?

I won’t lie to you – picking on the Angels comes as naturally to me as breathing. Raised a Dodger fan, I learned early that the Angels are like that bratty little sister that wants to tag along with you and your friends. And quite honestly, that whole “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” BS is every bit as bush as the worst of the McCourt regime.

Winners and losers ...

This year, though, it’s almost like they’re trying to make it even easier for me. As long time MB followers know, my heart beats true to the teal of the Florida Marlins. When they made the call to rebrand the team I was on the fence about whether to stay a fan, but I saw how hard they were working to improve and stuck it out. At the top of their shopping list – slugging first baseman Albert Pujols. A decade of play with the St. Louis Cardinals brought personal fame and team success, and he was the biggest free agent to hit the market in years. The Fish seemed to be in pretty good position and looked very much like the only team with any real chance to convince him to switch uniforms – until the Angels swooped in and nabbed not only Pujols but another almost-Marlin, C. J. Wilson. Clearly, the hated Angels were in line for an amazing season. Clearly …

As I write this, Pujols and his Halo teammates are playing in their 26th game of the season, and Albert is still waiting for his first American League home run. Worst still, it’s not just a power thing – he’s just not hitting, period. Pujols, a career .327 hitter is hitting a miserable .206 – barely above the Mendoza – and is only getting on base 1 in 4 times by any method at all. Tonight, the game is only in the second inning and the mighty Albert has already hit into a double play. It’s the worst possible scenario for a guy making $12M a season – not to mention the guys writing the checks. Forced to carry the load not being toted by Pujols, the Angels are 10 and 15 for the season, and the chatter has already started.

I’ll be honest – I figured of all the free agent movement during the off-season, nothing was as automatic as the fact that Pujols would hit the crap out of the American League West. In Miami, we’re tearing our hair out watching Heath Bell blow save after save, but the idea that Pujols could look this confused at the plate is simply shocking. Long considered one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, it’s clear that pitchers simply do not fear him now. Watching a game last week with Pujols up in late innings, I saw a relief pitcher mow Pujols down on three pitches. The guy didn’t even bother nibbling the corners or trying to get Albert to swing at a bad pitch – he just threw the ball past him three straight times. It was as amazing as anything I’d seen.

As a Cardinal, one of the things that always set Albert Pujols apart from his peers was his mental approach to the game. Nicknamed “The Machine” by the media, you just couldn’t get into his head. In a way, it was reminiscent of another elite athlete known for his mental toughness, Tiger Woods. Woods seemed invincible until his carefully crafted world crashed around him; for years he couldn’t find his ass with both hands. St. Louis is well-known as the best place in baseball to play, with knowledgable fans who understand the ups and downs of the game – and knew that even if The Machine got into a rare slump, the old Albert would soon be back punishing the ball. Now, he’s in a new league, a new town and the only support he has is a freaking Rally Monkey.

One wonders just which direction this story will go …

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