By Steve Ginsburg
BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Albert Pujols gazed at the reporters assembled at his locker and took a deep breath, knowing the tenor of the questions about to be tossed his way.
The future Hall of Famer has been asked so often why the Los Angeles Angles were underperforming, he could be forgiven if his answer seemed a bit scripted.
"We have to chase the clubs that are in front of us," he said. "We still have a lot of games. We need to start sooner than later. We just have to get ourselves ready and try.
"That's all we can do."
Everyone seems to have a theory on why a club with a $128 million payroll and a host of big-time sluggers like Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Mike Trout is closer to last place in the American West than first.
Trout believes injuries are the chief culprit. Manager Mike Scioscia blames a lack of offense.
The Angels (27-37) have dropped eight of their last 10 games, making their eight-game winning streak last month nothing more than a footnote to what is rapidly becoming a season to forget.
On Monday, the Baltimore Orioles stopped the Angels 4-3 despite a home run and two runs batted in by Hamilton, a five-time All-Star who lifted his anemic batting average to .216.
"It's a matter of playing better," said Scioscia, the team's skipper since the 2000 season. "Every team is going to be banged up. We had some guys banged up early but I don't that's the reason for us being in our predicament.
"Ours is really a function of some guys trying to get comfortable in the batter's box, some pitchers trying to get comfortable in their game."
Starter Jered Weaver, slowed by an elbow injury in April, is just 1-2. Closer Ryan Madson, recovering from Tommy John elbow ligament surgery, has not pitched this season. Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $240 million deal in 2011, has some nagging injuries.
As players return from the disabled list, Trout sees hope.
"This is the first time since Opening Day that we've had a full line-up, with injuries and stuff," said Trout, last season's Rookie of the Year who is batting .304 in 2013. "We've got to play our own game, can't try to do too much.
"When one player tries to do too much, it puts a lot of pressure on themselves. We've all got to do our role. If we do that, and pitch well, we should do OK."
Injuries aside, some players are just underperforming.
Hamilton, who inked a five-year, $125 million deal over the winter, has struck out 65 times this year. C.J. Wilson, signed as a free agent in late 2011 after a 16-7 campaign with the Texas Rangers, is 4-5 with a 4.02 earned run average.
The fourth-place Angels are 11.5 games behind front-running Texas in the A.L. West and Trout said "it's definitely frustrating when you lose a lot.
"We're just not getting that big hit, that big pitch. We're not going to give up, obviously."
(Editing by Julian Linden)