Albert Pujols’ discomfort was mild, but it was enough to cause serious concern. 

When the future-Hall of Fame first baseman grabbed his left hamstring Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Angels’ panic needle moved, even if they would not admit it publicly. And when he had to be removed from that game and missed the following two, it undoubtedly brought on worry.

With Josh Hamilton removed from the Angels’ current situation and with their offense showing only whimpers of life, Pujols’ health is now essential to any success the team might have, and, in turn, their postseason hopes.

Even though he is struggling to find an offensive groove, Pujols’ presence in the fat part of the Angels’ lineup is still critical, since it appears the team’s silent offseason will spill over into the July trade deadline. That means outside help is not on the way for a team that is 11-14 partly because of a roster that sits near the bottom of the majors in several offensive categories.

“We didn’t have a good series offensively …,” manager Mike Scioscia told reporters after the San Francisco Giants swept the Angels over the weekend, a series in which they hit .168. “We’re still trying to get some groupings that work. Seems like couple guys show some signs, then slide back a little bit, but we’re going to find it.”

Pujols is clearly not alone on the list of the team’s struggling hitters. The Angels are 28th in the majors in batting average (.224), 27th in OBP (.289), 28th in slugging percentage (.339), 29th in OPS (.628) and 27th in doubles (32). They also have scored three or fewer runs in 14 of their 25 games, including being shut out Sunday. 

This coming from an offense that led the majors in runs last season, and from a team that won a major league-best 98 games last year.

While the pitching has not helped much—the rotation’s 4.26 ERA is 20th in the majors—the offense has been bad over a large enough sample that it has to be a major concern by now.

“It’s just a stretch where we haven’t hit to our capability,” catcher Chris Iannetta said to Jeff Fletcher of The Orange County Register. “I don’t think it’s going to last all year… I think it’s going to turn around. Get in a groove, catch fire. We’ll start swinging it better.”

Pujols has also had enough plate appearances that his numbers show more significance than just a brief slump. He is hitting .212/.287/.388 with a .675 OPS in 94 plate appearances. Since returning from the hamstring discomfort, Pujols is 2-for-8 with a mammoth home run.

Going into Monday, Pujols’ line-drive rate was 13.9 percent, the worst of his storied career. The American League average was 20.7 percent before the start of Monday’s games, according to FanGraphs.

Pujols went into Monday seeing 40.1 percent of pitches thrown to him ending up within the strike zone, according to Baseball Info Solutions (via FanGraphs). That number would by far be a career low. Also, Pujols was swinging at 44.6 percent of all pitches, his lowest mark since 2010.

Common sense would tell us line drives are more likely to fall for hits. It also says it is more difficult for a hitter to smack a line drive if the pitch is out of the zone. So far, it appears that is one of Pujols’ negative trends through the season’s first month.

Despite those troubling tendencies, the Angels still need him healthy and in the lineup. As the team’s No 3 hitter, he has been sandwiched between No. 2 hitter Mike Trout and a flurry of ineffective cleanup hitters. However, Pujols’ brief injury caused Scioscia to move leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun into the No. 4 spot, and he has remained there for the two games since Pujols returned. 

Calhoun is hitting .309/.385/.469 with an .854 OPS. Aside from Trout, he has been the team’s best hitter. Because of that, Calhoun could stay in that new place as long as Erick Aybar can produce from the leadoff spot, although he’s hit .148/.207/.185 from there in seven games this season.

“If the whole lineup makes more sense with Kole out of the leadoff position, we’ll do it, but I don’t know if we’re at that point right now,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday.

Calhoun’s spot in the order would matter much less if the rest of the lineup remembered how to reach base, and that includes Pujols. When he is producing, he is capable of masking the non-production of others because of his ability to draw walks and club extra-base hits.

Pujols showed last season he is still able to do those things, albeit at a declining level from what he was before signing with the Angles four seasons ago. Regardless of where he is at in his career, Pujols is still a big enough piece to the Angels’ puzzle that he has to be healthy and productive for them to accomplish their goals.

If neither happens, the Angles might find themselves home for the playoffs for the third time in Pujols’ four years with the club.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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