Fans at Angel Stadium filled the air with boos Sunday as Mike Trout trotted toward first base.
The Angels had runners on second base and third base with two outs in the third inning, so Dodgers manager Dave Roberts elected to intentionally walk Trout and take his chances with cleanup hitter Justin Upton.
Upton would be facing Alex Wood and the outfielder’s batting average against left-handers this season was .215. He was also hitting .160 (four for 25) in July. And he had not hit a home run since June 24. Conversely, Trout had three hits, including a home run, against the Dodgers on Saturday.
Upton worked the count to 2 and 0, so Wood tried to frame a strike on the outside corner. Upton lined the fastball into right-center field to drive in two runs and pull the Angels to within 3-2.
“It was a big hit,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Got us right back in the game.”
It was also a relief for a team that has struggled to generate any offense in July.
Since the start of the month, the Angels rank last in the majors in runs with 19, 37 fewer than the top-ranked Boston Red Sox. The Angels also rank last with 17 runs batted in and a .195 batting average.
Scioscia is well aware of it, but believes things are starting to turn around. Especially after Upton’s hit, which helped counter another of the Angels’ weaknesses — hitting against left-handers.
“Justin was in a little bit of a down cycle, but his process is good,” Scioscia said. “When he starts squaring baseballs up, that’s when he gives us a big lift.”
Upton is a right-handed hitter, just like most of the Angels lineup. The only left-handed bats who play consistently are right fielder Kole Calhoun, third baseman Luis Valbuena and designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, who sometimes rests against left-handed starters.
That leaves Trout, Upton, Albert Pujols, Andrelton Simmons and Ian Kinsler. Theoretically, right-handed hitters should be better against left-handed pitchers. But not this group.
The Angels’ .224 average against left-handers was the second-worst in the majors entering Monday, ahead only of the New York Mets’ .217.
The Angels also struggle with runners in scoring position, ranking 21st with a .243 batting average.
“If you look at some of the internals, most of it’s been positive as far as the process you’d like to see,” Scioscia said before Sunday’s game. “The results have obviously not been there. There’s not one sugar pill you give to the whole offense.”
But Upton’s successful at-bat was a start. So was Pujols’ home run against Wood in the sixth inning that tied the score 3-3.
“They’re working very, very hard,” Scioscia said. “These guys are all working toward that end where they start to get the production we’re looking for. So hopefully we’re gonna start to see that.”
The Angels (46-45) need it to happen soon to stay in contention. Their odds already aren’t great despite their winning record because of the success of this year’s American League West, where the third-place Oakland Athletics are 11 games over .500 and nine games out of first place. The Angels are also 11 games out of a wild-card spot.
The team has shown in spurts what it’s capable of offensively, like Sunday. Pujols homered against a left-hander. Upton drove in two runs after catcher Martin Maldonado and third baseman David Fletcher singled, all three hits coming against Wood. And Ohtani launched his seventh home run, this one as a pinch-hitter, in the seventh inning to lift the Angels.
Scioscia knows that’s only a start and that the Angels need to hit consistently.
Trout, who appears immune from the hitting woes that have plagued the team, agrees.
“We’re getting chances. Just coming up short lately,” Trout said. “But it’ll turn. We just have to stay positive.”