What's with Albert? - Misery Loves Company

The Cardinals' Albert Pujols is struggling with the bat in 2007. He is not alone, though.

Here we are, exactly two weeks into the 2007 Major League Baseball regular season. The St. Louis Cardinals have continued their Spring Training mode of operation – strong pitching and anemic hitting, and as a result they have managed to post only a .500 record through ten games.

The Cardinals' brightest star, the man many consider the best player in the game – Albert Pujols - is struggling unlike in any other period over his stellar six-year-plus career. The frustration has almost reached its boiling point as Albert hung another o-fer against former teammate Jeff Suppan and the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday night in St. Louis.

As a result, whether fans or writers, more and more of the masses are asking the question, "What's wrong with Albert?"

Sorry, but you won't find the answer here. I'll leave it to the others to analyze Pujols at the plate. Is his elevator-timing motion stuck between floors? Is he thinking too much or trying too hard to compensate for his struggling teammates? Is the cold getting to him? Did his wife, his best hitting coach, give him some bad advice or maybe some bad cornflakes? Who knows?

Given his accomplishments, if any player deserves to be cut a little slack, it is Pujols. 251 home runs, a .330 career batting mark, an MVP award and a World Championship didn't accrue overnight, after all.

"What is this story about, then?" you might ask.

Just take a look around Major League Baseball. There are plenty of very fine hitters having trouble at the plate early in the 2007 campaign. Like Pujols, who is currently batting .158 with one home run and two RBI, many of them are unfamiliar with long stretches of adversity and also like Pujols, they will be just fine soon enough. Here are but a few examples.

"The Big Hurt", Toronto's Frank Thomas, is batting .190 with ten strikeouts in 42 at-bats. His lone home run is his only extra-base knock so far in 2007.

Detroit's Gary Sheffield is batting .132 with a single extra-base hit, a double. His manager, Jim Leyland, is going to give the career .297 hitter some work in the outfield to try to break the routine.

Lance Berkman, the Astros' most consistent power threat, is hitting .188 with a lone extra-base hit, a home run. He has fanned 12 times in 32 at-bats.

Battling a sore shoulder and in his contract walk year, the Braves' Andruw Jones has struck out 14 times in 37 times up and is batting just .189.

San Diego's Mike Cameron is hitting .194 with no extra-base hits and no RBI. He has struck out 11 times in just 34 at-bats.

Boston's Manny Ramirez says this will be his last year in Beantown. He is not making it memorable at the start by hitting .194 with no home runs to-date. His only extra-base hit is a double.

On Saturday, Texas' Mark Teixeira lined a ground-rule double down the right-field line. It was his first extra-base hit of the season. Teixeira is hitting .233 with one RBI.

Alfonso Soriano grabbed headlines with his eight-year, $136 million contract in the off-season. The Cubs' centerfielder posted his first multi-hit game and first RBI of the season on Saturday, raising his batting average to .233.

Closer to home, look into the other dugout on Sunday and you will probably see the Brewers' Bill Hall. The shortstop-turned centerfielder slugged 35 home runs last season, but is currently batting just .194 with one home run and hasn't been in the lineup for four days.

Other proven run producers currently hovering within a bad day or two from the Mendoza Line include Richie Sexson (.182), Jason Giambi (.200), Jermaine Dye (.219), Paul Konerko (.229), Jason Bay (.231), Travis Hafner (.233) and Ryan Howard (.237).

It isn't just the stars, either. Take a look at the aggregate stats in each league, comparing the start of the 2007 season to the 2006 year in total. Batting averages are down 15 to 24 points year-to-year and slugging is down over 40. That should change with the weather, though.






















I could continue, but I hope you get the message by now. And if not, go ahead and keep asking the questions about Pujols. But at a minimum, also include a dozen or two other stars while you are at it.

Like most all of these proven hitters, Albert Pujols should warm up soon enough. Pitchers, beware!

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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