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The former Cardinals star had a rough start in Anaheim, but he's hit close to his previous levels for the last four-and-a-half months. Will it be enough to bring the Angels to the postseason?
The next day, the Angels fired hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. There had been rumors of discord between Hatcher and Pujols, though no one would say anything publicly. Pujols had three hits that night, and including that game is hitting .317/.379/.605 in 122 games since Hatcher's firing. The .984 OPS thus posted is a bit below, but not too far below, the 1.037 OPS he had compiled in his 11 years as a Cardinal. He'll likely wind up with overall numbers very close to last season's, his last in St. Louis.
Perhaps also not coincidentally, the Angels have the best record in the American League since May 14: 71-48. They were seven games out of first place and left for dead by many, and although they still could miss the postseason, they are at least in the hunt, with seven games left.
Besides Pujols' reduced walk rate -- which was in evidence in 2011, too -- Pujols has been mostly Pujolsian in the first year of his Angels contract. A contract, incidentally, which his former manager wouldn't have given him:
"I don't think 10 years was a smart move for the Cardinals," La Russa said, adding that he couldn't second-guess the Angels' decision to sign Pujols (for $254 million) because "he is a great franchise player, so it makes sense for them.
"I think Albert is perfect -- I call him Albert P. Pujols for Albert Perfect Pujols -- but I don't think that I would ever endorse a contract beyond six years, tops."
If Pujols is a "great franchise player", why wouldn't he be worth that money in St. Louis, where he was a franchise icon? La Russa is perfectly entitled to his opinion, and Cardinals first basemen have hit .292/.349/.490 this year with 21 home runs and 106 RBI -- not so different from Pujols's numbers in Anaheim. One can't help thinking, though, that with Pujols manning first base in St. Louis all year, rather than the collection of players who replaced him, the Cardinals might be closer to first place.
And that might be the rub for the Angels. Pujols has been the center of a good lineup since May, and he'll need to continue to do that for the next week. It's obviously not just his performance that will make or break the Angels, but the huge contract does put pressure on him to be that franchise player. He's been essentially that since mid-May; it might be that poor start that will mean his new team staying home in October, while his old club plays on.