WASHINGTON -- Nationals Park could see some history made over the next few nights with the Angels and Albert Pujols in town for a three-game series starting on Monday night. Pujols entered the series with 498 career home runs, two shy of the 500 milestone.
Nats manager Matt Williams, whose playing career overlapped with Pujols', called the Angels' first baseman "one of the great hitters of this generation," but not because of his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark.
"What sticks out is his ability to hit, so I would refer to him as a well-over-.300 hitter with power," Williams said. "Those guys are unique, really unique, because generally your sluggers, the guys who have the ability to hit the ball over the fence, are more free swingers. But Albert's been, since the day he got to the big leagues, the consummate hitter, first and foremost."
When Pujols burst on to the Major League scene in 2001 with the Cardinals, taking National League Rookie of the Year Award honors, Williams was in his third-to-last season and on his way to a World Series title with the D-backs. In fact, Arizona beat St. Louis, 3-2, in that year's NL Division Series.
Even at that early stage in Pujols' career, Williams knew he was seeing something special.
"The ability to drive the ball the other way with power, that's huge," he said. "I think, for me, Albert sat in the middle of that Cardinals lineup, and that kind of became their identity, how Albert went about it. I think it still continues to today. You look at the Cardinals lineup, and their ability to drive in runs and hit with runners in scoring position is off the charts. I think it started with [Pujols] and the ability to go about doing it."
After a difficult 2013, Pujols is off to a hot start in his third year with the Angels, entering the series opener batting .280/.349/.587 and tying for the league lead with six home runs to put him on the doorstep of the big 500. So even though Mike Trout has been the Angels' most potent producer for the past few years, Williams still looks at Pujols as a huge threat.
"His track record dictates that he is that guy," Williams said. "They also have another guy [Trout], so it doesn't make it easy to make those types of decisions. You just hope that he hits with the bases empty all the time. That's the best-case scenario. He's one of the best hitters of this generation, and he will go down in the history books as that."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also can be found on Twitter @WashingNats. Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.