Is Pujols finally ‘locked in’? …
OK, so the Angels have won three in a row for the third time this season, moving to 6 1/2 games back of the idle Rangers and, for just the eighth day this season, moving out of the cellar in the American League West.
The starting pitching has been great for most of the year (3.31 ERA, four complete games and 32 quality starts after Dan Haren‘s masterpiece), and the bullpen has been outstanding recently (three earned runs in the last 26 1/3 innings, dropping the collective ERA from 4.70 to 3.81). It’s the offense that’s still playing a little catch-up.
Sure, many are under performing there. Howie Kendrick is hitting .250 with 41 strikeouts; Erick Aybar has a .247 on-base percentage; Kendrys Morales‘ OPS is .730; Angels catchers are collectively hitting .199; Peter Bourjos (.200 batting average), Maicer Izturis (.242) and Alberto Callaspo (.231) have been about as inconsistent as their playing time; and the Angels still rank 13th in the AL in runs. But it’s all about Albert Pujols. It’s Pujols (.225/.268/.357, five homers, 22 RBIs) who changes everything from the No. 3 spot if he’s truly “locked in,” as they say — the pitches guys in front of him get to hit, the amount of times those behind him hit with runners on base and, ultimately, the mindset of a lineup that won’t be taxed with doing too much if Albert gets going.
With that in mind, is he finally back to being the guy we’re all used to seeing?
It was hard not to think that after a three-hit night against the Mariners on Thursday, which saw him hit his 450th career homer and rip two singles to left field. It was the kind of night that made you think he’s finally feeling comfortable at the plate. But, we also thought that after his three-double game on April 19 (before he went 5-for-54 over his next 14 games), after he hit his first homer on May 6 (but then it took him nine games to hit another), and after hitting two homers to center field in as many days May 16 and 17 (until he went 3-for-his-next-16).
Is it different now?
Only time will tell, of course. But here are some signs things might be turning in his favor, beyond Thursday’s line score …
- 4 homers, 10 RBIs over his last 10 games (which averages out to 65 HRs and 162 RBIs over 162, if you care)
- 18 RBIs in 22 May games, after just 4 in 23 April games (he’s currently on pace for 77)
- 16-for-52 (.308 batting average) since May 12.
- And since the end of April, the percentage of pitches Pujols has swung at outside the strike zone has gone from 40.3 to 35.2 (still a career high, but better)
That’s the big change Pujols will tell you he’s made.
“I was probably expanding the strike zone a little bit more if you look at it, and my walks can tell you everything,” Pujols said when asked about the amount of balls he’s pulled to left field. “Probably that. I’m not going to lie, because there’s 40,000 people watching you and there’s millions of people on TV watching you. I expanded the strike zone, which I’m not doing right now. Right now, I’m putting good swings.”