When Albert Pujols limped out of the Angels’ lineup two games ago, fans had to be saying, “Uh, oh.” With Albert the Angels had been struggling. Without Albert the season could slip away.
Pujols left in the middle of a game, his boo-boo being announced as tightness in a calf muscle. He was a little bit hurt and it was a little bit precautionary, though he did not play in the next game either. Better to have tightness than a pull. It’s hard to know just what this means for a team that had some of the grandest aspirations in the sport before the season began, but at the moment is hoping for a wild card spot in the playoffs.
As the richest of free agency signings, and with a resume more than a decade long that labeled him the best player in baseball, Pujols was supposed to put the Angels over the top as a division winner that could out-play the Texas Rangers and propel the team into the World Series. However, both Pujols and the Angels got off to embarrassingly slow starts, while the Rangers got out of the starting blocks like Usain Bolt.
Not even the arrival of the most precociously talented position player in the game in Mike Trout, and the emergence of Mark Trumbo, was enough to prevent the Angels from being reduced to treading water in April. Pujols got off to the worst start of his career, was actually being booed, and had fans wondering why the team spent so much money on him. Then Pujols got hot and began playing like Pujols. End of questions.
Concurrent with the team hitting on all cylinders and Jered Weaver putting together a Cy Young Award-like year on the mound, the Angels made their move. They went on a nice little tear, and while it wasn’t good enough to flag down the Rangers, it sent a message that come playoff time the California boys were going to be a threat. Until the calendar page flipped to August.
August has not been so much fun for the Angels. They lost two straight to Texas, lost two out of three to the White Sox, and then lost two out of three to the Oakland A’s. They also lost two out of three to Seattle and in the most painful series of the month suffered a four-game sweep by Tampa Bay.
Sweeping three straight from the Red Sox (a team pennant contenders can get well against these days) probably prevented the Angels from panicking as they head into Friday night’s play. Still, clocking in at 65-60 at this stage of the season is not what people expected from the Angels. If Pujols jumps right back into the lineup and resumes his first-rate play, then the leg scare won’t amount to much. But if Pujols has to remain on the sidelines for long getting massages instead of swinging his bat, then the pain in his calf could morph into a team-wide pain in the neck.