Albert Pujols still searching in vain

May, 3, 2012
5/03/12
10:52
PM PT
Albert Pujols sounded like the Defensive Player of the Year on Thursday night.

After virtually every question someone asked, he sounded defensive.

Did he shave his goatee to switch up his luck?

"I don't believe in luck, man. Sorry about that. That's not who I am. I believe in God. Luck is for people who are desperate, and I'm not desperate. I'm blessed. And I probably do it three or four times a year, so if you watch over my 11- or 12-year career, you'll see that. Maybe go back and see some videos."

OK, are you frustrated?

"Frustrated? Pffsh. I don't use that word. This is the big leagues, man, and anybody out there out of this locker room wishes they could have this opportunity to wear this uniform."

You're hitting some balls hard, but you don't seem to be getting as much lift on the ball. Do you know why?

"I don't know where you're trying to go with that question, but I never try to get lift in my swing. I try to keep it simple, keep it short. If I get through the baseball, I know it's going to carry no matter what ballpark I play in."

OK, but he's played in five ballparks so far this season, and he still hasn't gotten enough lift to hit a ball over the fence. Pujols now has gone 104 at-bats without hitting a home run, one shy of the longest drought in his career, and it seems like a reasonable question: Can this team compete if he keeps hitting like this?

The amazing part is Pujols still sounds as confident as ever. Maybe he is. Maybe it's simply a matter of brilliant pitching against him or a lot of balls going straight into gloves. Clearly, they are pounding him inside with fastballs, and, yes, he has had more than his share of tough-break outs.

But the sample size at this point suggests it's something a little beyond that.

This Angels season just might hinge on the depths of this Pujols slump. If it's a spiraling, disastrous, season-long kind -- such as the one Vernon Wells endured a year ago -- there's no telling how far it could drag them. If it's just a bad month or even six weeks, order could be quickly restored and the goals won't need to be recalibrated.

But this is deep. Pujols is one of only six No. 3 hitters in the majors without a home run. He's got the second-lowest batting average (.202) after Jose Bautista and second-lowest OPS (.539) after Jimmy Rollins of any No. 3 hitter in the majors.

He might want to consider changing his number from "5" to "53" in honor of all the ground balls he's hitting to the third baseman.

The Angels, not to mention the baseball-watching world, are fairly stumped at this point.

"He's obviously scuffling; I mean, everyone knows that," pitcher Dan Haren said. "I think he cares more than anybody else. He's one of the first guys here. He's constantly looking at video, in the batting cage. It's definitely not for a lack of effort. The guy's an amazing worker. It'll turn around. He's one of the greatest players of all time."

The second part is impossible to argue. The first part is probable. But when and how it turns around is starting to feel like the fulcrum of this 2012 Angels season.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Mike Trout
BA HR RBI R
.291 30 94 91
OTHER LEADERS
HRM. Trout 30
RBIM. Trout 94
RM. Trout 91
OPSM. Trout .943
WJ. Weaver 14
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOG. Richards 164