Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols have traded places on the American League totem pole

There are few things that offer more twists, turns and storylines than the lengthy Major League Baseball season and one only need to look at the picture above for a reminder.

After all, it wasn't that long ago that we were writing posts about Josh Hamilton's greatness and future earnings power as he displayed an unbelievable surge of power for the running-away-with-it Texas Rangers. Those paeans came, of course, when we weren't publicly wondering what was wrong with Albert Pujols and his Los Angeles Angels. Was he really going to wilt under the pressure of that big money from the get-go?

Here's a comparison of the two players over the first month and a half of the season:

Opening day-May 14
Josh Hamilton: 33 games, .400/.456/.854, 18 HR, 44 RBI
Albert Pujols:  35 games, .197/.235/.275, 1 HR, 12 RBI

But a little over two months later, the two AL West superstars have switched positions in a manner that'd make for yet another trading-places script for Hollywood. Hamilton has fallen from his perch and is hearing boos from the faithful at Rangers Ballpark. Manager Ron Washington has hinted at deeper problems for Hamilton and the debate over the length and size of his next free-agency deal this winter has returned. People are searching for answers just like when Pujols went through his unexplained slump at the start of the season.

Pujols, meanwhile, has returned to being The Machine and much more deserving of that huge paper the Angels handed him last winter. He hit two homers in Wednesday's 11-10 loss to Texas and, as Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk points out, Pujols leads the American League in homers, RBI and OPS since May 15.

Here's a comparison of Hamilton and Pujols since that date:

May 15-August 1
Josh Hamilton: 62 games, .217/.293/.422, 11 HR, 40 RBI
Albert Pujols: 68 games, .332/.407/.653, 21 HR, 59 RBI

Their competing stories can go anywhere from here, of course. Both could finish strong. Both could struggle. Both could assume their early positions or both could stay the same. But the unknown makes a big part of the reason we watch baseball. All the projection systems in the world can't tell us exactly what's going to happen over the coming weeks.

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