The Angels were the epitome of mediocrity as they took the field Monday night, their overall record standing at 50-50, their home and road records an identical 25-25 and their mark in their previous 18 games an even 9-9.
Average would have been an upgrade in a 5-3 loss to the lowly Chicago White Sox, the Angels following Sunday’s 14-run, 15-hit thrashing of the defending World Series champion Houston Astros with a seven-hit effort against a team with the third-worst record in baseball.
David Fletcher and Kole Calhoun doubled in a two-run third inning, and Fletcher had three hits. Mike Trout walked four times and hit a sacrifice fly in the third, and Shohei Ohtani crushed a 435-foot homer to dead center in the fourth.
That was the extent of the highlights for the Angels, who went one for 10 with runners in scoring position in a 3-hour 46-minute game that featured seven mid-inning pitching changes, 11 walks and 18 strikeouts.
White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito, a former Harvard-Westlake School standout who was a first-round pick of the Washington Nationals in 2012, earned the win in his first Southern California appearance as a major leaguer, giving up three runs and five hits in six innings, striking out five and walking four.
A 3-2 Angels lead evaporated in the sixth inning when Chicago rallied for three runs on two singles, one that left the infield, three walks and a hit batsman.
Angels starter Jaime Barria walked Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez to open the inning and was replaced by hard-throwing right-hander Hansel Robles, who had not been charged with a run in 10 of 11 appearances and had stranded nine of 11 inherited runners since joining the Angels.
Robles, claimed off waivers from the New York Mets on June 23, was not on point. Jose Abreu, who hit a solo homer in the first, singled to left to score Moncada and tie the score at 3-3. Daniel Palka struck out on a slider. Matt Davidson walked to load the bases, Robles missing with a full-count fastball that was just outside.
Albert Pujols had a rough night back after a 10-day stint on the disabled list, striking out on an elevated fastball with runners on first and third to end the first and grounding out with the bases loaded to end the fifth before singling to left against reliever Juan Minaya to lead off the eighth.
It was at this point that a playoff game broke out, with both managers matching up as if the American League pennant were on the line. Left-hander Jace Fry replaced Minaya and struck out Ohtani. Right-hander Jeanmar Gomez replaced Fry and got Ian Kinsler to pop out to third.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia sent the left-handed-hitting Luis Valbuena up to hit for Martin Maldonado. White Sox manager Rick Renteria countered with left-hander Luis Avilan. Scioscia pulled Valbuena in favor of right-handed-hitting Jefry Marte, who struck out looking to end the inning.
White Sox closer Joakim Soria struck out Justin Upton looking at a 75-mph curve with two on to end the game.
Fletcher got a rare start at third base against a right-handed pitcher, as Scioscia benched the slumping Valbuena, who is in a two-for-25 skid that dropped his average to .202 and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage to .589. Valbuena has nine homers and 31 RBIs but hasn’t hit a homer since June 23.
Valbuena had a rigorous early workout Monday in an effort to “get a little more continuity in his swing,” Scioscia said.
With left-hander Carlos Rondon starting for the White Sox on Tuesday night, Valbuena is not expected to start.