Not so long ago, in a time back before the All-Star break, the Angels were a hitting-driven team. Their pitching was passable but not a core of the team's success.
In this second half of the season, the roles have reversed. The Angels are enduring their worst offensive stretch of the season. Over the past eight games since the break, they have scored only 24 runs. That has put pressure on the pitching staff.
The Angels' bats have sputtered, but somehow they've managed to stay afloat with a 4-4 record since the break. On Friday, they won again, defeating the Detroit Tigers, 2-1, behind a good pitching performance by left-hander Tyler Skaggs despite an offense that looked mystified for much of the game.
Their lineup seemingly is too deep to allow a complete power outage, but production has declined. Since the break, the team is averaging about two fewer runs per game than normal.
"We haven't, this week after the break, attacked the ball like we can in the batter's box," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said before the game. "You're going to have some stages when you're not swinging the bat to your capabilities. And I think these games it's obviously the situation. But these guys will break out."
The Angels are built around their potent lineup. They will go as far as their bats take them. They have scored more runs than anyone in baseball except the first-place Oakland Athletics. The pitching staff has performed well lately, but it ranks in the middle — 15th — in runs allowed. When the bats go quiet, the margin for error is razor thin.
Currently, the Angels have only two healthy reliable starters in Garrett Richards and Jered Weaver. C.J. Wilson, who has been sidelined with a right ankle sprain, was eligible to come off the disabled list Friday. Wilson threw about 60 pitches in a bullpen session Thursday, but Scioscia said there isn't yet a timetable for his return. The best-case scenario, he said, would be a rehab start next week.
There was no concern in the Angels clubhouse before Friday's game. Every team goes through its dry spells at the plate. Longtime baseball writer Roger Angell, who will be honored at the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown on Saturday, once wrote, "Hitting is the hovering central mystery of this sport, and continues to invite wonder." The Angels hitters figured this was their time to be befuddled.
If that's the case, it could be worse. In this most recent stretch, every game has been decided by two runs or fewer. The Angels have weathered the storm behind timely pitching performances. They even edged out the Mariners to take the first series after the break despite facing Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
“The thing is, we’re getting guys on base, and we’ve got those opportunities,” said Kole Calhoun, who drove in the tying run in the sixth inning “So they’ll come through. I don’t think anybody in this clubhouse is worried.”
Scioscia thought the Angels battled well against Detroit's Max Scherzer on Thursday. They put up three runs against the reigning Cy Young Award winner by moving runners and adding hits with runners on base.
On Friday, though, the Angels looked lost for much of the game against Detroit left-hander Drew Smyly. Eight of the first 10 Angels batters struck out. Smyly set a season high in strikeouts in less than four innings. He then set a career high in the sixth with 11.
The only starter who didn't strike out by the fourth inning was Josh Hamilton, who left the game after the third inning with left knee soreness.
But again, timely hitting salvaged a win. Hamilton's replacement, Efren Navarro, who had only 61 at-bats previously this year, singled in the winning run with two outs in the sixth inning.
In a way, the recent cold stretch emphasizes the force of the Angels lineup, which still scores runs even when it struggles. The team has averaged three runs per game over its worst eight-game stretch of the year. On the other end of the spectrum, the dismal San Diego Padres lineup has averaged about the same over the entire season.
"It's far too small of a sample to rewrite some things or rework some things on the offensive side," Scioscia said. "These guys get rolling, they showed that they can do in the first half, and we'll get it going again."