Tonight, Albert Pujols will step up to the plate in Angel Stadium as he always does, but this time former teammate Yadier Molina will be the catcher standing behind him. Pujols hasn’t faced the Cardinals since he left St. Louis for Los Angeles back in 2011. This isn’t a homecoming, but Pujols is going to be seeing some of his former teammates and coaches for the first time in two years, and something tells me that they don’t miss him as much as you might think.
Pujols played the first 11 years of his career in St. Louis. He batted over .300 with 30+ home runs and 100+ RBIs in his first 10 seasons. For all intents and purposes, he was the Cardinals’ next Stan “The Man” Musial. He went to nine All-Star Games as a Cardinal, won six Silver Sluggers, two Gold gloves, was Rookie of the Year, a two-time home run champion, a batting champion, and a three-time MVP.
But in 2011, after winning his second World Series in St. Louis, his contract expired. The Cardinals, Marlins, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim all pursued him as a free agent. The Angels offered the most money, signing him to a 10-year, $254 million offer that Pujols eventually accepted.
Cardinals fans were initially upset to see their star slugger leave, but it now seems that the Cardinals losing out on Pujols has been for the better. The Cardinals made the playoffs in the first season after losing Pujols, winning one series.
The Angels missed the playoffs and Pujols struggled immensely early in the season before turning it around. He finished the season with a .285 average, his lowest ever. His 30 home runs were also the lowest number of his career. These are solid numbers, but are supbar for Pujols standards.
So far this season, the Cardinals are 49-32 and don’t feel any void in the lineup without Pujols. The Angels are doing well statistically at the plate, but they’re 39-43 and in third place in their division as a result of poor pitching.
Pujols isn’t to thank for the Angels’ success batting this season though. He’s hitting .249 this year with 13 home runs and 49 RBIs. He’s on pace to surpass the career low he set in home runs last season and the career high he set in strikeouts. His on-base percentage is a very pedestrian .323 and his slugging percentage is at .323.
If you look back to his last season in St. Louis in 2011, Pujols had his worst statistical season in the majors. He fell short of a .300 average for the first time ever. He fell short of 100 RBIs for the first time ever. His home run numbers had declined from 47 in 2009 to 37 in 2011. Pujols had over 100 walks for three seasons straight before only walking 61 times in 2011.
Looking back at the race for Pujols, it seems that it was a race to the loser’s line, although nobody knew it at the time.
So when the Cardinals and Angels face off tonight and Pujols sees his former teammates, they’ll probably be happy to see him. But they’ll also be happy that he isn’t in a red, white, and navy Cardinals jersey draining away at their payroll every year as he inevitably settles into mediocrity. I wonder if their fans feel the same way.