It is not cruel, but it is an unusual sort of punishment Mike Trout is experiencing. While he was hurt, the Angels played better than anyone expected. Now that he is healthy, they have returned to their mediocre ways. More and more, it appears their improbable playoff hopes are on the verge of collapse.
It is not Trout’s fault, of course, but when the team goes down, so will he, still absent a playoff victory as a major leaguer.
Another insufficient offensive effort on Saturday night at Angel Stadium meant another loss, 6-3 to Tampa Bay. Alex Cobb, the Rays’ patiently twisting right-hander, proved too deceptive for the Angels to decipher. Wielding his unusually slow, leg-kicking delivery, he held them to six hits and one run over 72/3 innings.
Trout reached base three times. Among them, his eight teammates managed eight visits to the basepaths. Angels manager Mike Scioscia framed the effort as both unlucky and representative of larger trends ailing his club.
“I know we hit our share of balls hard, and we had nothing to show for it,” Scioscia said. “We need to get a lot more continuity offensively.”
The Angels started JC Ramirez, the Nicaraguan right-hander they thrust into their rotation in April after a half-decade of relief work. At first, he impressed with his easy velocity and surprising stamina. Lately, his results have dramatically tapered. Major league scouts have come to a consensus: On a traditional team with established starting pitchers, he fits best in the bullpen.
The 2017 Angels are a nontraditional team with little healthy pitching depth, so Ramirez was their choice to start the second game of the second half. His struggles continued, as he surrendered two singles in Saturday’s first inning and two more in the second. The second pair netted the Rays one run.
Come the third, Tampa Bay struck for more. Logan Morrison hammered his 25th home run of the season on a 3-and-2 fastball from Ramirez. It wasn’t a bad pitch, hugging the outside edge of home plate, but Morrison had just fouled off a curveball. He anticipated a faster-paced pitch, as Ramirez realized later.
While Yusmeiro Petit warmed behind him in the fourth, Ramirez gave up another run. Tampa Bay’s Nos. 8 and 9 hitters passed on balls and pounced on strikes. A double and a single meant a run.
Ramirez lasted through the sixth. Petit gave up a run in the seventh, hampered by a rare mistake from Trout. Playing his fourth game in center field since his May 28 injury, Trout could not locate a routine fly ball amid the twilight sky. He held up his hands one second before the baseball landed 10 feet from him.
Not charged as an error, that flub provided the Rays runners on the corners, and Evan Longoria next knocked a sacrifice fly to score their fifth run.
Valbuena moved the deficit back to four by clubbing a solo shot to center in the bottom of the inning. The veteran first baseman who entered the night hitting .181 made it three runs with another homer in the ninth and pronounced his year anew afterward.
“I forgot the first half,” Valbuena said. “The new season started today.”
The Angels expressed excitement about his emergence, as halting as it might prove to be. They still envision the 31-year-old in the middle of their lineup.
“His last two at-bats,” Scioscia said, “he was where we expect him to be.”
The Angels (45-49) had not fallen as far as four games below .500 since April 23. They moved four games behind American League wild-card qualification, their largest deficit in some time. Four teams, too, sit between them and the second spot. And only one dozen games remain until the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura