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Losing Is Now Second Nature

Times Staff Writer

The Angels can only hope this was the low point of their season, because if they burrow any deeper than they did Sunday, when they were shut down by one of baseball’s least decorated pitchers, they will never see the light of October.

Despite having the highest earned-run average (6.58) and second-highest opponents’ batting average (.330) among major league starters, Tampa Bay left-hander Mark Hendrickson limited the Angels to one run and five hits in 7 2/3 innings of the Devil Rays’ 2-1 victory in Tropicana Field.

That completed the first series sweep of the Angels by the Devil Rays, who have hit their stride offensively and have baseball’s third-best record (27-15) since the All-Star break but still are mired in last place in the American League East with a 55-76 record.

It also extended the Angels’ losing streak to four, matching their longest skid of the season, knocked them into second place in the AL West, half a game behind Oakland, and into second in the wild-card race, half a game behind the New York Yankees.

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Which means if the playoffs were to start today, the Angels, who open a three-game series Tuesday night in Anaheim against an Oakland team that has won five straight, would be left out.

“Really?” pitcher Jarrod Washburn said, surprised at how quickly the Angels’ fortunes had turned. “But our season isn’t over today, so I don’t care.”

If the Angels, who are 21-25 since July 7, don’t snap out of their offensive rut soon, their season will be over before the playoffs begin. Washburn made only one mistake Sunday, a hanging slider that Aubrey Huff belted for a two-run home run in the second inning, and that cost the Angels the game.

The left-hander, who fell to 7-8 after giving up two runs and five hits and striking out five in seven innings, had virtually no margin for error because the Angels did virtually nothing against Hendrickson, a tall 31-year-old who doesn’t throw particularly hard or have any really nasty breaking pitches.

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The Angels turned the lazy fly ball to right field into an art form, sending eight of them to Huff, only one of which the stocky Devil Ray right fielder had to exert any real effort to catch.

They Angels put only two runners in scoring position against Hendrickson and relievers Joe Borowski and Danys Baez. Garret Anderson doubled with two outs in the fourth and was stranded when center fielder Damon Hollins made a nice running catch of Bengie Molina’s long fly ball to the gap in left-center.

Maicer Izturis led off the eighth with a single, took second on Adam Kennedy’s bunt and third on Chone Figgins’ grounder to second. But Orlando Cabrera, who had lined a solo home run into the left-field seats in the sixth inning, sent a liner right to first baseman Eduardo Perez, and the inning was over.

The Angels, hardly known for their patience, walked once Sunday and have drawn five unintentional walks in the last four games.

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“Right now we’re in one of those funks we were in at the beginning of the season,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Hopefully, this one is not as prolonged. Everything is magnified at the end of the season, but we’re a good club. We’ll get it back.”

The Angels have been telling themselves this all season, that they’re a better hitting team than they’ve shown, but outside of a three-week stretch in June, when they supported their solid pitching with consistent offense, and a recent 24-game stretch in which they averaged 5.7 runs, the Angels haven’t been very convincing.

And it’s starting to wear on them.

“There’s a level of frustration when you’re not performing to a certain level, but this thing can turn quickly,” Scioscia said. “We need to grind it out, get a couple of hits to fall. This team has the talent.”

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Whether the Angels truly have that talent and are underachieving, or they’re simply not as good as they think they are, they’ve put a heavy burden on the pitching staff. A good example: The Angels have scored one run in four of Washburn’s last six starts.

“I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a little frustrating,” Washburn said of the lack of support. “But these guys are more frustrated than I am. ... We’ve had teams in the past where there’s been too much of a burden on the hitters. We need to find that balance. These guys are way too talented to continue to struggle for this long.”


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