Prince Albert in a slump

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 10:  Albert Pujols wear...

Is Albert Pujols a $240 million mistake?

The big news around baseball so far has been the performance of Albert Pujols. Much was expected after he signed a $240 million contract with the Angels. So far, Pujols has managed exactly zero homers. As a point of references, that’s exactly how many homers I have this year.

I caution those who would write off Albert as a washed-up has been. Players have bad months all the time. Look at the early season struggles of David Ortiz in recent years as an example. It’s also important to realize that Pujols is learning the tendencies of an entire league’s worth of pitchers, whereas the opposing pitchers have a relatively smaller pool of league-crossers to study. Remember how Matt Holliday struggled early in 2009 after being traded to the A’s? Then you probably also remember that his May OPS was 250 points higher than his April OPS that year. No? Don’t remember that? It’s true.

Harper, Trout called up

SEATTLE - AUGUST 30:  Mike Trout #27 of the Lo...

Is Mike Trout better than Bryce Harper?

Over the weekend, top prospects Bryce Harper of the Nationals and Mike Trout of the Angels were called up. 19 year old Harper would likely have spend more time in AAA, but injuries gave decimated the Nationals lineup and they needed another bat in the fray. 20 year old Trout was expected to compete for a roster spot in spring training, but was sidelined by illness and really never got his legs under him.

Trout struggled a bit in a call-up last year, but the organization believes that he will be a great player. It’s probably to his benefit that Harper was called up on the same day. Harper is the most hyped hitting prospects in a decade or so, and this should allow Trout to fly under the radar a bit and feel much less pressure that he otherwise would.

Yu and the Rangers

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 20:  Pitcher Yu Darvis...

Yu Darvish is living up to the hype.

In the off-season, the Rangers watched the Angels snap up Albert Pujols in free agency – and also saw them nab C.J. Wilson. This was the second straight year they lost a star pitcher to free agency – Cliff Lee bolted to Phillies after the 2010 season. The Rangers didn’t skip a beat, signing Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish to a deal. While many people didn’t think it made sense to essentially trade a known quantity (Wilson) for an unknown one (Darvish), I personally think the move was brilliant. Darvish cost them only money – no draft pick compensation. On the other hand, having the Angels sign Wilson gave the Rangers two draft pick – one of them coming at the expense of the Angels.

The move has paid off in spades, at least in April. While Wilson has put up stellar numbers (3-2, 2.70 ERA) Darvish has been even better (4-0, 2.18 ERA) and seems to be improving with each start. After allowing 13 walks in his first 17 2/3 innings, Darvish has allowed just 4 in his last 15 1/3 innings.

The “surprising rise” of the Nationals

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Stephen Strasbur...

Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg

The Nationals spent a good chunk of April in first place in the NL East. Their rise has seeming caught many observers by surprise. I’m really not sure why this is the case, when the Nats have been building toward this for a number of year, with some smart free agent moves and by obtaining excellent talent in the draft. And while the front office is getting a lot of credit for building the team, it’s important to note that the reason why they have the cornerstone pieces – Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman – is because they were consistent losers for a long period of time and were able to stockpile draft top draft picks. It didn’t take any sort of brilliant scouting to figure out that Strasburg and Harper were the guys to pick in the draft – they were the most highly touted pitching and hitting prospects in a generation. It simply required the Nationals to lose more games than anyone else. So while it’s true that the Washington front office has made some good decision, it might be prudent to mute the praise just a bit.

Around baseball

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp is off to an otherworldly start, batting .409 with 12 homers and 25 RBI. As a result, the Dodgers are 17-7 and hold a 4 game lead in the NL West. It would seem that the Dodgers, now free from the shadow of Frank McCourt, are positioned for a playoff run. As a fan of the Rockies, I’m operating under the assumption that Kemp is going to cool off at some point, and that the Dodgers will face off their pace at that point.

The Angels are eight games out of first place. I can’t imagine that too many people expected that. It’s still very early in the season, but L.A. can’t afford to have the Rangers stretch out their lead much more.

The Red Sox and Phillies were buried deep in the standings after the first few weeks, but have started to make up some ground recently. The Phillies are now within 2 1/2 games of the Nationals, while the Red Sox are 4 games back in the AL East.

The Devil Rays recently pushed their way into first place, pushing past the … Baltimore Orioles. I have to believe that the 15-9 record of the Orioles is a mirage at this point.

The most competitive division so far has been the AL East, where the Indians, White Sox, and Tigers are effectively tied for the lead. The Indians are percentage points ahead, with a record of 11-10. The division also features the two teams with the worst records in baseball – the Royals and Twins.

Tim Beckham

Tim Beckham

The Cardinals have managed to hang on to first place in the NL Central, even after losing Albert Pujols. The Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran as a free agent in the off-season, which allowed them to shift Berkman to Pujols’s old position. Beltran’s numbers have been solid – a .378 on base percentage and 5 homers so far. He’s not likely to match Pujols’s season numbers, but his addition allowed the Cardinals to at least patch the hole.

2008 #1 overall pick Tim Beckam (Devil Rays) has been suspended 50 games for a second violation of baseball’s drug policy.

 

 

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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