Cheap Seats

Who is the "real" Albert Pujols these days?

I wonder what Albert Pujols sees these days when he looks in the mirror.

Despite turning in the worst two seasons of his career in his first two campaigns with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he chaffed during spring training when a reporter asked him if he felt pressure to produce like his young teammate Mike Trout.

It doesn't matter that he hit .275 with an average of 24 homers in 2012 and 2013. Pujols still thought of himself as the guy who hit .328 and averaged 40 homers a season for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2001 through 2011.

The Southern California media has gushed lately -- as evidenced by his .259 batting average and .322 on-base percentage so far this season and the fact that he has four home runs -- that Albert Pujols is in the middle of a career resurgence. His foot is healed, they say, and that means he has finally has a solid foundation from which to hit.

Sure, homers are exciting. But Jhonny Peralta, who has otherwise struggled in his start with St. Louis, has four homers, too.

Can we be excited about Albert's other statistics that, if they held up over the entire season, wouldn't reverse the half-decade long trend of Pujols' production numbers declining at a rapid rate? At best, they would stabilize them at a level which would have embarrassed the St. Louis version of Albert.

Could Pujols possibly be satisfied to be "pretty good" when he used to be the best? I ask this not to pick on Albert but because I imagine it must be tough on him, personally, to finally get the "respect" he craved in the form of being one of the games best-paid players -- only to realize he no longer holds that lofty status in the opinions of his peers and fans. Pujols certainly can't be accused of failing to give his all. We know better than that. But when you get to be a certain age, your body just doesn't respond like it used to.

It seems that hitting .300, a .400 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .600 aren't even considered to be realistic goals anymore. If this was 2006, I'd laugh at the people who backhandedly implied that those sorts of numbers would be alright. Because Pujols seemed to be motivated by nothing more than doubt and he certainly would unleash his wrath on opposing pitchers. He'd not only meet expectations. He would destroy them.

But does he even believe he can be an All-Star type player anymore, much less a Most Valuable Player Award candidate? Pujols seems to have become a Gary Gaetti type hitter: A guy with a mediocre average who can knock the ball out of the park if the pitcher makes a mistake.

While he has received so much negative press over the past two years thanks to the combination of his sagging stats and his $240 million contract, it would be easy to believe that he'd be happy to see love letters flowing from scribes and fans. But I just can't imagine that being applauded for hitting .100 points below his career best season and being part of a six-way tie for second in home runs (with Trout) in the middle of April are something for which Pujols wants to receive pats on the back.

But I suppose it could always be worse.

While Pujols has shown some signs of life lately, his one-time Cardinals teammate David Freese isn't doing well at all.

Freese is batting .170 with one home run and four RBIs through 52 plate appearances with the Angels.