In the moments after losing to the Minnesota Twins 8-7 on Wednesday afternoon, Angels manager Brad Ausmus sat in his office at Target Field and took stock of his team.
Shohei Ohtani, fresh off a game Tuesday in which he made two crucial baserunning mistakes, had minutes earlier smoked a ground ball up the middle but right where shortstop Ehire Adrianza was positioned behind second base. With the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning, Ohtani made the final out of the Angels’ four-city, 11-game trip.
They’d lost a one-run game for a second day in a row. The outcome was again decided by inches.
Ausmus could take heart in the Angels’ late rally, which allowed them to push across three runs on five hits and Mike Trout getting plunked in the shoulder with the bases loaded.
But the defeat revealed defining flaws, especially once it registered that the Angels had stranded a season-high 17 runners — nine by Ohtani — and lost six of the 11 away from home.
The Angels were 15-17 when they embarked on a pilgrimage that began in Monterrey, Mexico, and proceeded to three-game stops in Detroit, Baltimore and Minneapolis. The journey tested endurance and called into question the depth of the Angels’ starting rotation, which saw Matt Harvey and Wednesday’s starter Trevor Cahill give up a combined 11 earned runs when the Angels were swept by the Houston Astros south of the border.
But the dour mood did not last. The Angels got tantalizingly close to .500 by winning two of three against both the struggling Tigers and Orioles. They also scraped out an encouraging win Monday over the Twins, whose 27-15 record is one of the best in baseball.
“We could have easily won the series here too,” Albert Pujols said.
But timely hits eluded the Angels. They return Friday to Angel Stadium at 20-23 for a three-game series against the lowly Kansas City Royals.
The trip lasted so long, Cahill, an Oceanside native, paused in the middle of his post-game interview Wednesday to remind himself how long it had been since he was last home.
“We were in Mexico like what, two weeks ago?” he said after being charged six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. “I mean, it’s tough. But if anything I think this will help us in the long run.”
Now just past the quarter-mark of the season, the Angels are fighting for second place in the American League West. And there’s an opening for them — the rebuilding Seattle Mariners, owners of a 16-8 record April 20, are now 22-23.
The Angels can build on trends that emerged during the trip.
- Pujols, who is in the twilight of his career, collected his 2,000th RBI on a home run in Detroit and hit two more in Baltimore.
- Ohtani, the two-way player who had offseason Tommy John surgery and is limited to designated hitting this season, rejoined the team in Detroit and started four for 21. But he broke out in Minneapolis. He collected six hits, including a home run, against the Twins. He didn’t come through for the Angels in their last two games, but he appears poised to regain the form he had when he won the American League rookie of the year award last season.
- The bullpen has continued to receive boosts from rookies Ty Buttrey, Luke Bard and second-year reliever Justin Anderson. Buttrey extended his scoreless streak to eight innings. Anderson has struck out 10 of the last 15 batters he’s faced. Before Bard surrendered a two-run homer in the sixth inning Wednesday, the right-hander had not allowed any runs in his last 9 1/3 innings.
- The lines Cahill put up in his three starts, all on the road, have not looked great. He gave up 14 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings and continued to struggle suppressing homers. However, Cahill and the Angels remain confident he can rediscover success by relying on an improved changeup.
- The offense is heating up. The Angels have averaged 6.5 runs in eight games with Ohtani in the lineup.
“We’re swinging the bat well,” Pujols said. “Our bullpen, too, is pitching well. I think our starting pitchers have been keeping us in the game besides that first series against Houston. For us to win series and to win games, those things are going to have to go together. I think that’s what you saw on this road trip.”