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Pujols, Guillen among biggest April storylines

Associated Press Modified: May 3, 2012 at 8:33 am •  Published: May 3, 2012

CHICAGO (AP) — Albert Pujols is homerless, and that's just one of many concerns for the Los Angeles Angels. There are no such problems for the nearby Dodgers, who are off to a great start — on and off the field.

There were politics in Miami, power in Texas and perfection for the White Sox in Seattle. There were a handful of surprises in the standings — at the top and the bottom.

Baseball's first month of the season sure provided plenty to talk about.

"I know I can hit home runs," Pujols said during the longest regular-season power outage of his career. "When it's going to happen, I don't know."

No one knows, and that's making Angels fans a little antsy after beginning the season with high expectations.

Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson signed with Los Angeles during the offseason, making the Angels one of the favorites to stop Texas' run atop the AL West. Then Mike Scioscia's club dropped 14 of its first 20 games and began May in last place in the division, leaving the Rally Monkey with plenty of room on the Angels' bandwagon.

Pujols' career-worst homerless drought was at 31 games and 125 at-bats heading into Wednesday night's game against Minnesota. But he had plenty of help in Los Angeles' slow start. The bullpen blew six save opportunities in April alone, and the staff had a middling 4.06 ERA.

"Everybody wants to win in anything you do," outfielder Torii Hunter said after a particularly difficult loss in Cleveland. "I don't think you get frustrated in baseball because failure is the game. If you get frustrated in baseball, you can go home. You've got to have amnesia because you play tomorrow."

While the Angels are searching for answers, it's nothing but sunshine and smiles for their SoCal neighbors these days.

Powered by Matt Kemp, the Dodgers won 17 of their first 24 games to grab control of the NL West. The tumultuous era of Frank McCourt also came to an end when the owner agreed to sell the team to a group that includes former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson.

This is shaping up as quite the L.A. story.

"I think the fans of L.A. are pretty excited about the new ownership and what it's bringing," said Kemp, who had 12 homers and 25 RBIs in April. "As long as L.A. is happy, I'm happy."

It was hard to find any happy fans in Miami after new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen told Time magazine he admired Fidel Castro, sparking anger within the Cuban community in South Florida.

The Marlins acted quickly, suspending Guillen for five games, and the loquacious manager called it the biggest mistake of his life during a tearful, public apology. The tension had eased a bit by the time April ended, but then the talk switched to Guillen's struggling team.

"You don't win the pennant race in April, but you will lose it," Guillen said Tuesday. "Now April is over. It's another month. Hopefully this month is going to be good for the Marlins."

Miami signed three high-profile free agents over the winter, but the results were mixed early on. Jose Reyes, the reigning NL batting champion, hit .220 in April and Heath Bell blew his first two save opportunities with his new team. Mark Buehrle pitched well, but had only one win to show for it.

"I'd rather have a team that struggles early and finishes strong," Bell said. "I feel like this team is going to turn it around, like I did in spring training."

The opening of Marlins Ballpark was among several lasting images in April. Another memorable picture was Philip Humber falling to his knees near the mound at Safeco Field, a mixture of shock and joy after throwing a perfect game for the White Sox.

He crashed back to earth in his following start against Boston, but perfect games last forever.

"I don't know what Philip Humber is doing in this list," he said moments after his gem. "No idea what my name is doing there, but I'm thankful it's there."

The Red Sox also provided one of the biggest moments of April when they celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park with a star-studded ceremony that included many of the best players from their storied history. Unfortunately for Bobby Valentine, the afternoon ended with a loss to the New York Yankees, part of a rough stretch for the veteran manager in his first year in Boston.

Valentine's team is one of several traditional powers hoping for a better May. The Yankees' rotation has been shaky and Philadelphia's lineup is lacking its usual punch with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard sidelined by injuries.

On the other side, there is hope in the nation's capital, where a promising core of young players put the Nationals in contention in the NL East.

"We've got a locker room full of good character ballplayers that want to win," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "They're hungry."

The hunger is still there in Texas, too. The two-time defending AL champions hit 36 homers while jumping out to the lead in the AL West. World Series champion St. Louis also was in front of its division on May 1.

The Rangers and Cardinals provided a bit of normalcy during an otherwise topsy-turvy month. And if you think that was fun, Johnny Damon made his season debut with Cleveland on Wednesday night, and Hideki Matsui and Manny Ramirez could return later this month, making May another wild one.

"We're a month into the season and everybody is floundering around like they do every year," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Who knows what's going to happen?"


AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley in San Francisco, David Ginsburg in Washington and Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.


Jay Cohen can be reached at