Sports Angels

Entering the season's final turn, Angels are sticking to 'our model'

The Angels must get consistent starting pitching and stout relief from a deep bullpen
The Angels also need enough offense to out-hit any pitching deficiencies
High-end free-agent pitching won't be pursued after an elbow injury that sidelined left-hander Tyler Skaggs

Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto stressed the importance of sticking to "our model" as the reason he won't pursue high-end free-agent pitching in the wake of an elbow injury that will sideline left-hander Tyler Skaggs through 2015.

Though it took several months and some key trades to bolster the bullpen, that blueprint for success is very clear as the Angels enter the final turn of a season that looked so promising in mid-July but has lost some sheen in recent weeks.

To reach the postseason and play deep into October, the Angels must get consistent — though not necessarily overpowering — starting pitching, stout relief from a deep and dominant bullpen and enough offense to out-hit any pitching deficiencies.

The rotation, despite Hector Santiago's early-season struggles and C.J. Wilson's current woes, has delivered for the most part, ranking sixth in the American League in earned-run average (3.76), second in opponents' average (.236), third in strikeouts (623) and fifth in innings (710 2/3).

The bullpen, despite Joe Smith's Sunday blip, when he gave up a three-run home run to Boston's Yoenis Cespedes in the eighth inning of a 3-1 loss, has been outstanding since July 1, sporting a 1.96 ERA, third-best in baseball in that span, and converting 14 of 15 save opportunities.

But the offense, prolific for 31/2 months despite injuries that sidelined Josh Hamilton, Kole Calhoun and David Freese for much of April and May, has been inadequate since the All-Star break and is the primary reason the Angels' once-firm grip on a playoff spot has loosened.

The Angels led the major leagues in runs and on-base percentage at the All-Star break, but in 23 games since, a stretch in which they are 11-12, they're hitting an AL-worst .223 with 73 runs, an average of 3.17 a game. They're three for 33 with runners in scoring position (.091) in their last five games.

Even productive outs have been elusive. The Angels had runners on first and third with no outs in the fourth inning Sunday, and the Red Sox infield was at double-play depth, conceding a run.

But Efren Navarro flied to shallow left, with the runners holding. Chris Iannetta then struck out and Collin Cowgill popped out. Howie Kendrick also grounded into a bases-loaded double play to end the first.

"When you're not swinging the bats, every category will show as a negative, whether it's hitting with runners in scoring position or situational hitting," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "A lot of this is cyclical.

"We have a lot of guys who are obviously struggling right now. We need to keep pushing forward, get some hits to fall in and maybe try to do a little less. We've been grinding. These guys are playing hard. No doubt, they feel it."

There were some encouraging signs over the weekend, as Mike Trout snapped an 0-for-10 skid with four hits, including two homers, in two games against Boston, and Albert Pujols hit a two-run double and game-winning homer in the 19th inning Saturday night.

But Hamilton, the team's cleanup batter, is in deep slump, with one hit in 24 at-bats, 10 strikeouts and no walks in six games, his average falling from .288 to .265.

Middle-of-the-order mainstays Erick Aybar, who is nine for 55 (.164) in 13 games, and Kendrick, who is eight for 48 (.167) in 12 games, have cooled, and Freese, Iannetta, Hank Conger, Navarro and C.J. Cron haven't provided much at the bottom of the order.

"There's not one magic pill that will get it going," Scioscia said. "Some guys need to work extra, some guys maybe need to not pick up a bat and just refresh, and some guys need to change the concept of what they're doing."

Hitting coaches Don Baylor and Dave Hansen "are doing a good job of not junking things that are working for some guys just because you get into a little funk," Scioscia added. "We're going to score runs. Right now, we're not as deep as we need to be. But these guys will respond."

Up next

Left-hander C.J. Wilson (8-8, 4.83 ERA) will oppose Philadelphia right-hander Jerome Williams (2-5, 6.71 ERA) at Angel Stadium at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. On the air: TV: FS West. Radio: 710, 830, 1330.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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