Pujols, Angels struggling early this season

BY foxsports • April 13, 2012

NEW YORK -- Six months from now, this matchup might still be the one that decides the American League championship. But right now, it's no contest.

The Angels have lost three games in a row and five of seven already on the season. Their pitching has been erratic, their hitting lacks punch and collectively, they're pressing.

Even on the grand stage that is Yankee Stadium, they can't seem to measure up.

Paired against the Yankees, a team that might be their opponent in the ALCS this fall, the Angels failed to put up a fight. They were shut out 5-0 by former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched into the ninth inning and walked off to a standing ovation from a sellout crowd of 49,386.

The season is still barely a week old, but all the strengths the Angels were supposed to display -- strong starting pitching, a robust lineup of speed and power -- has hardly been visible. Except for superb showings from starting pitchers Jered Weaver in the season opener and C.J. Wilson last Monday in Minnesota, there has been little to enjoy.

As a team, the Angels are hitting .260 with just three home runs, fewer than any AL team but the Boston Red Sox. Albert Pujols has a .222 average and just two RBI; Kendrys Morales has yet to drive in a run. Howie Kendrick is batting .208.

That lack of production isn't going to last, but right now it's a concern.

"We have a great lineup," Pujols said. "Our offense hasn't clicked the way we want it to, but you know what, man? It's still a long season. I bet you at the end we're going to be right where we want to be."

Pujols has no complaints, although he went 1 for 4 and grounded into a double play in the ninth after Bobby Abreu led off with a single. He said he's seeing the ball well, and he insisted the double play was the hardest ball he's hit this season.

The Angels didn't get more than one hit in any inning off Kuroda, and the one time they had two base runners -- in the fifth -- Erick Aybar ended the inning with a ground out to second base.

"That's the way it goes," Pujols said. "This game is tough, and when you don't get breaks, it's even tougher. I think the main thing is to flip the page and be ready to go tomorrow, even up the series and see if we can take the series away on Sunday."

At the moment, that's thinking too far ahead. The Angels need just one win of any kind to make themselves believe they can reverse their trend.

Their starter on Friday, Ervin Santana, struck out the first two batters of the first inning, then gave up a single to Alex Rodriguez and walks to Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira before Nick Swisher followed with a bases-clearing double to center.

Santana said he felt he wasn't getting calls from plate umpire Mike DiMuro, but manager Mike Scioscia said it was a case of trying to be too fine with his pitches.

"After the base hit, he picked around the zone a little bit, and Swisher got a big two-out hit for them," he said.

The Angels haven't played well from behind or in front (they blew two leads in Minneapolis against the Twins), so this had the makings of another disaster. Rodriguez hit his first home run of the season in the third, and Curtis Granderson added another in the fifth.

"We haven't really given ourselves an opportunity, both on the mound and probably with the bats, too, trying to get some early runs together for our guys," Scioscia said. "But our rotation is good. These guys can pitch, and they'll be there for us in the end. We just have to start executing better on the mound."

Early leads help, though, and the Angels haven't done that. They got a single from Aybar to open the game and a walk to Mark Trumbo to start the second. Both were stranded.

Although it's unreasonable to expect Pujols to ignite this team by himself, those are the expectations when a team signs a player to a 10-year contract worth $240 million.

"You have 25 guys," Pujols said. "It's not one player. There's nine players out there and four more players on the bench rooting for everybody that's out there. The wrong thing to do is put extra pressure on yourself and think you have to carry everything. That's not going to happen, believe me."

He's right, but while the Angels struggle to sort out their problems, everyone waits for Pujols to get started. It's the reason he's here.

"He will," Scioscia said. "It will happen. Obviously, sooner is better than later, but this isn't about Albert. This is about our team doing some things better on the mound and playing a little more fundamentally better sound baseball.

"Albert's going to be there, but we have to be more than Albert, and we are."

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