Rays won’t underestimate struggling Angels

The Albert Pujols Power Show has been a conspicuous no-show

this season — and the same holds true for his new team, the slumping Los

Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

But that doesn’t mean the Rays can rest any easier with a three-game series

starting Tuesday night at 7:10 ET inside the Trop.

The fact that the 32-year-old, three-time NL MVP with 445 career homers hasn’t

hit a single one so far for the Angels is a double-edged sword. The Rays are

delighted that Pujols comes to town on a cold streak, but they are highly aware

that he could break out of it any moment — and they’d prefer it not be against

them.

So far, Pujols hasn’t come close to delivering on his 10-year, $240 million

contract. He’s batting just .246, well below his career average of .328, and

seems to be pressing at the plate in search of his first LA dinger. The Angels

appear to be struggling, too, unable to find their groove after an avalanche of

offseason hype from the mega-signing of Pujols and the $77 million, five-year

deal given free agent pitcher C.J. Wilson of Rangers fame.

Through Sunday, LA is in last place in the AL West with a record of 6-10, seven

games back of first-place Texas.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating. Yeah, it’s rough, but that’s why you play 162

games,” Pujols told reporters last week after a 4-2 loss to Oakland, a

game in which he missed his first LA homer by inches. “We can get a good streak

going and forget about what happened in April. There’s things that you wish

would have gone better, but there’s nothing you can do.

“To be a championship ball club, you have to go through some

tough times. We have good talent and quality players here. We know that things

could be better, but they’re not, and it’s not because we’re not trying.”

The Rays, meanwhile, roll into the series having won four of five games to

raise their record to 9-7, at worst a game out of first place depending on the

Monday night outcomes of the Yankees-Texas and Toronto-Kansas City games.

The job of keeping the pace going — while keeping Pujols and the Angels at bay — falls Tuesday to David Price. In his last start, the lanky lefty earned his

second win (2-1, 4.20) but still hasn’t pitched with the consistency that

marked his career season of 2010 when he finished as an Cy Young finalist.

Price went 5 2/3 innings, yielding two runs on eight hits, while tossing 106

pitches.

Against the Angels, Price has posted a career mark of 2-2 with a 4.37 ERA in

six starts. The Angels counter with right-hander Ervin Santana, who brings an

0-3 record and a 6.75 ERA into the game. Wednesday night’s 7:10 matchup pits

Jeremy Hellickson  (2-0, 3.26) against Wilson (2-1, 2.37), and the series

concludes Thursday with a 1:10 p.m. contest featuring Matt Moore (0-1, 5.12)

vs. Jerome Williams (1-1, 7.71).

The Rays and Angels have played each other closely in recent years, though Los

Angeles holds a 78-49 edge all time. Last year, they split the season series

4-4, with the Angels winning four of five at the Trop and Tampa Bay sweeping

three in Anaheim. In 2010, the Rays won five of nine meetings.

Then there’s Pujols, poised to play for the first time in the Trop (he wasn’t

in the St. Louis lineup last July during a three-game series in Tampa Bay due

to a forearm injury).

“He’s one of those guys that can have no home runs right now, and end the

season with 50,” James Shields said. “You can’t take him lightly,

that’s for sure.”

Five pitchers with the Rays know that from first-hand experience. Burke

Badenhop has faced Pujols in four at-bats, yielding two hits, a double and a

homer. J.P. Howell’s line: two at-bats, one hit — a homer; Joel Peralta: seven

at-bats, three hits — including a double and homer; Fernando Rodney: four

at-bats with two hits, one of them a double; and Kyle Farnsworth: 21 at-bats,

eight hits, four homers. If you add that up, Pujols’ career mark against

pitchers now with the Rays: 16 for 38 (.421) with eight homers and three

doubles.

The series once again reunites Rays manager Joe Maddon with his longtime

organization and his former skipper, Mike Scioscia. Despite the tough start,

Scioscia sounded an upbeat.

“We’re going to turn it around, there’s no doubt,” he said.

“These guys are talented. You want to do it sooner than later.”

The Rays would much prefer the latter.

More power to them?

Could Hideki Matsui be on deck for the Rays? According to Jack Curry of the YES

Network, 37-year-old designated hitter/outfielder Hideki Matsui may soon sign a

minor league contract with the Rays. Matsui played seven seasons with the

Yankees (2003-09), spent 2010 with the Angels and last season with Oakland. The

left-handed slugger has a career batting average of .285 with 173 homers, 248

doubles and 753 RBI. He was the World Series MVP in 2009 when the Yankees won.

Last year, he batted .251 with the A’s and hit 12 homers, though his batting

average in the second half was .295.

Matsui, who’ll turn 38 in June, was reportedly one of the DH candidates the

Rays considered prior to signing Luke Scott. How Matsui would fit into the Rays

lineup is unclear since he’s a left-handed DH like Scott. But the move could be

intriguing given Matsui’s history as a solid hitter with power, despite the

fact he can no longer play the field. If the move happens, Matsui likely would

report to Port Charlotte, Fla., for extended spring training to be evaluated

before being elevated to the active roster.