Home MLBBST Game Guides Pujols booed and Rivera suffers from the closer curse

Pujols booed and Rivera suffers from the closer curse

by Matt Smith

It’s already been a dramatic week in MLB, from the high of Jered Weaver’s no-hitter to the low of Mariano Rivera’s knee injury.

Weaver’s no-no was a welcome positive news story for the Angels in what’s been an indifferent start to the season. Many had them pegged as a World Series contender following their off-season spending spree and there’s too much talent in Anaheim for them not to right the ship at some point, but a 10-17 win-loss record shows there is plenty of room for improvement.

They need a spark to get the team going and a no-hitter would seem to be exactly the sort of moment to provide it; however the Toronto Blue Jays have quickly stopped them from gaining any momentum thanks to Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez pitching back-to-back complete games.

Most notable in their loss on Friday was the the latest 0-for-4 performance by Albert Pujols and the subsequent booing of the first baseman that could be heard at Angel Stadium. Few players deserved a lucrative contract as much as Pujols this past offseason, but moving away from St. Louis was always going to create added pressure. He had built up such a great history with the Cardinals that any downturn in form during a new contract with them could be put into context with all he had achieved before.

Signing with a new team means he starts with a blank slate. He has been brought in as one of the game’s greatest players, is being paid accordingly, and can expect no settling-in period. The Angels expect him to play like a star from day one and quite simply he is not coming close to that.

With 108 at-bats in the books, he has only eight extra-base hits and all of them are doubles.  We can attach an endless stream of caveats to those figures and many will have merit (particularly that it’s only 108 at-bats and he’s still in his first go around the American League pitching staffs), but they don’t count for much when you’re a disappointed fan watching another at-bat go past in a losing effort.

$250m will buy you a lot of things, but it will not buy any sympathy. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The question for the Angels is not whether Pujols will carry on with a .505 OPS, because clearly he is scuffling a long, long way below his normal level. What matters is a) how quickly he gets out of his early season slump and b) if his form so far is an early indication of his Hall-of-Fame powers starting to wane. Every day I look at the boxscores and expect him to have broken out with a 5-for-5, 3 homer day and to start going on a brutal revenge mission against AL pitchers. I still expect that to happen, but I don’t know what to expect from him five or six, let alone eight or nine, years down the line.

The Angels won plenty of headlines, and a hefty TV contract, on the back of the Pujols signing; however they need to win a World Series or two for it to be seen as a success on the field and there may start to be a few concerns among the Angels’ Front Office that those triumphs will need to come early in Pujols’ ten-year contract if he is going to contribute significantly to them.

Mariano felled by the closer curse

Pujols can at least be thankful that he is fit and healthy.

Mariano Rivera is one of those rarest of things: a New York Yankee that fans of other teams can’t help but admire. Irrespective of personal team-supporting interests, few true baseball fans could fail to be saddened by the sight of the greatest closer of all time crumpled on the floor in pain from a serious knee injury that is likely to cost him the rest of the season.

Rivera strongly hinted during Spring Training that 2012 could be his final season before retiring, so the injury was initially seen as not simply season-ending, but potentially career-ending too. His emotional comments on Thursday added to those concerns, but on Friday we saw the return of the fighting character that has been so evident throughout his career.

As soon as I first read the news, my instinct told me that Rivera wouldn’t want to go out that way and if the operation and rehab both go well, then I suspect hitters who thought they had seen the last of that fearful cutter may find it diving in on their hands again in 2013.

One thing I do know for certain: it’s been a bad couple of months for closers.

Saturday’s early games

Neither the Angels or Yankees are in early game action on F.A. Cup Final Saturday, but there are six good games to enjoy nonetheless.  They include a home-game for the high-flying Washington Nationals. The Nats have won four in a row, have Bryce Harper creating plenty of interest in their team and Gio Gonzalez on the mound today against the Phillies.

All times are in BST.

18.05. LA Dodgers at Chicago Cubs (Capuano - Volstad)
18.05. Philadelphia at Washington (Worley - Gonzalez)
18.10. Baltimore at Boston (Hammel - Cook)

21.05. Chicago White Sox at Detroit (Floyd - Scherzer)
21.05. Arizona at NY Mets (Corbin - Santana)
21.05. Milwaukee at San Francisco (Wolf - Bumgarner)


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