His season totals are still way below his usual standards, but Albert Pujols is back to being one of the best hitters in baseball and has been for more than a month now.
Pujols had a .194 batting average and zero homers through 27 games. Then he homered against the Blue Jays on May 6 and since then he’s hit .308 with nine homers, eight doubles, 31 RBIs, nearly as many walks (14) as strikeouts (15), and a .942 OPS in 33 games.
Pujols hit .328 with a 1.037 OPS in 11 seasons for the Cardinals, so even his post-May 6 production hasn’t quite been at that level, but switching from the NL to the AL and offense being down across baseball makes the gap seem wider than it probably is.
Last year, for instance, Pujols hit .299 with a .906 OPS and those were both career-worst marks. Because of his terrible first six weeks he’ll have an extremely hard time reaching even those season totals, but with the Angels winning 14 of their last 18 games and Pujols being his usual self again we’ve probably seen the last of those “is Albert Pujols washed up?” stories.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.