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
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
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
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.