A couple of days into the season's second month, the biggest story around baseball remains Albert Pujols' slow start. Last winter's biggest free agent entered the Angels' series finale with the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday hitting just .208 with only five ribbies and a goose egg in the HR column through 24 games.
If Pujols doesn't break out vs. the Twins, he'll get a chance to begin to prove his worth on Thursday when the Angels open a 4-game weekend series with the Toronto Blue Jays. First pitch will be 10:05 p.m. (ET) when the Halos send Dan Haren to the hill against Toronto's Brandon Morrow.
Pujols' woes have paralleled the club's stumble out of the gate. Even after winning the first two from the Twins this week, Los Angeles was still six games below .500 (9-15) and had drained 12.4 units from bettors, far and away the most red ink in the majors. The Angels rank 13th in the American League scoring just 3.5 runs per game, and the lack of offense has overshadowed the poor effort from LA relievers whose 5.08 ERA was the third-highest in the majors.
Manager Mike Scioscia has taken at least one step to righting the ship in the bullpen by replacing Jordan Walden with Scott Downs in the closer's role.
Haren's first four starts of the campaign each went into the loss column for the Angels before he picked up a win his last time out. A $1.40 favorite in Cleveland, Haren worked eight innings and allowed the Tribe's only run in LA's 2-1 victory. He's 3-1 in his last four starts vs. the Blue Jays, splitting his two assignments in 2011 (both on the road).
Toronto has also had problems in the 'pen where the relief corps had blown six of the first 10 save opportunities heading into Wednesday's series finale vs. the Texas Rangers. But the Blue Jays have not been having much trouble on the offensive side where they rank fourth in the AL scoring 4.71 RPG. Edwin Encarnacion ranks among the league leaders in homers (8) and RBI (21) to pace the Toronto attack.
Morrow is coming off consecutive victories at Kansas City and home against the Seattle Mariners. He whiffed nine while not allowing a walk in six scoreless innings vs. Seattle. This will be his fourth career assignment vs. the Angels and the Jays have lost the previous three, including two played at the Big A in Anaheim.
The clubs split their 10 meetings in 2011, with seven of those 10 played north of the border. The Angels took two of the three played on their home turf.
Snakes & Nats Close Series In DC
While the Angels and Blue Jays are beginning their series, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Washington Nationals will be wrapping up a 3-game set in the nation's capital on Thursday (7:05 p.m. ET). Kirk Gibson will send Ian Kennedy to the mound for the visiting D-Backs while Davey Johnson counters with left-hander Ross Detwiler.
Game 1 of the series went to Arizona on Tuesday by a 5-1 count. The Diamondbacks were +125 underdogs and got 7-1/3 strong innings from Trevor Cahill in the victory, their third road win of the young season with Cahill on the bump. Wednesday's middle game pitted Arizona's Joe Saunders and Washington's Edwin Jackson on the mound with the Nationals priced at -120 to break their 5-game losing streak.
Kennedy is off to a 3-0 start (3.38 ERA) on his personal ledger, with the Snakes dropping both of his no-decisions. One of those defeats was Kennedy's most recent start, a 3-2 setback in Miami this past Saturday when the right-hander left the game in the bottom of the seventh with the Diamondbacks nursing a 2-1 lead.
He saw the Nats twice in his breakout 2011 campaign, combining for 14 innings in the two starts while allowing just one earned run. The bullpen took away his chance for a win in one of the assignments, but he did get the dubya in the contest at Nationals Park with seven shutout frames.
Detwiler suffered his first loss of the year last Friday in Los Angeles when he had the unfortunate luck of going against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. The Nats are 1-1 in the southpaw's two home starts (11 IP, 1 ER) this year, and also 1-1 in his two career starts vs. Arizona (4.22 ERA).