Much has been made in the early stages of the 2011 MLB season about the uncharacteristic slump that Albert Pujols is currently stuck in. The game’s best player is struggling to an extreme extent, and the baseball world has quickly taken notice. It’s almost sickening that the slump of Mr. Pujols still dominates headlines even despite the fact that the Cardinals have gotten off to a 30-21 start, but I guess it is what it is.
Over the course of Albert’s remarkable 11-year career, one of the most impressive qualities of the three-time NL MVP has been his unwavering consistency. The nine-time all-star has won the Silver Slugger Award three years in a row and he is always at or near the top of most offensive categories by the end of the season. Mediocrity has never been a word used to describe Pujols, but so far this season, it may be fitting. After the jump, I’ll take an inside look at the current slump of Albert Pujols and what exactly it means for St. Louis moving forward.
Just to make things clear, Albert Pujols has never even come close to hitting below .300 in his entire career. He is a career.329 hitter, so his current .261 batting average is shocking to say the least. Just as shocking, however, have been Pujols’ pedestrian power numbers. Through the first 51 games, he has just eight home runs and a slugging percentage of .407. Albert just snapped a 105-at-bat homerless streak on Monday, which is the longest of his career. This effectively makes him one of the top five surprises one third of the way through the 2011 season.
Whenever a player of Pujols’ caliber goes through a serious slump, everyone speculates as to why things are going wrong. Obviously, it takes some deep searching to find a flaw or shortcoming of Albert’s, but believe it or not, these do exist. For one, Pujols might be having some trouble seeing the ball during day games. If he continues on his current pace, Albert will fail to even reach the 30 homer mark, and his RBI total will be right around 80. Maybe, just maybe, “The Machine” is human after all.
While I certainly understand the concern in St. Louis about their number one man, it is not even close to panic time. The Cardinals find themselves leading the NL Central by 2.5 games with the fourth best record in all of baseball. Looking on the bright side, which I always love to do, this essentially makes the Cards as a team all the more impressive. Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday have picked up the slack and helped St. Louis to a first place MLB ranking in batting average, runs, on-base percentage, hits, and total bases.
Think about it. How many other teams could endure a brutal slump from their best player and still have this much success? I know the Phillies are missing Utley and the Indians are missing Sizemore, but neither of those guys is on the same level as Albert Pujols. If you throw the injuries into the mix that have plagued the Redbirds in many ways, it’s scary to think about what this team is capable of at full strength.
At this point, it is just important that Albert continues to stick with it. His confidence is probably justifiably in the toilet right now, but as he’s said himself, he must focus on getting base hits right now. Given his history, you have to believe the power will come with time. Although it might not be an easy process for him to break out of this slump, I am confident he will find one way or another to get hot.
I refuse to believe that age is catching up with one of the most dominant players that this game has ever seen, so patience is the key for us fans right now. Maybe the upcoming free agency extravaganza is somewhat of a factor, but it really doesn’t matter. Believe it or not, slumps happen all of the time. It just so happens that when Albert Pujols is the victim, the entire situation is magnified. With a potential 10-year, $300 million contract in the works, expect things to turn around. However, even if this trend is not reversed, the balance of St. Louis in all phases of the game could legitimately be enough to keep their World Series dreams alive.