The Angels keep telling themselves it’s early, that the offense will come around, especially when injured slugger Shohei Ohtani returns in early May, that the rotation, which former manager Mike Scioscia always called “the heartbeat of the club,” will pump out quality starts and the wins will follow.
“It’ll turn,” pitcher Matt Harvey said. “We’re good here in the locker room. Everybody is positive and staying focused on the task at hand. We’ll be fine.”
The Angels are not fine. In fact, they are a six-game win streak short of mediocrity after Tuesday night’s 7-5 loss to the New York Yankees before 38,016 in Angel Stadium.
The Angels have lost nine of 11 games since they won six straight from April 5 to 10. They’re 9-15 and in last place in the American League West, six games behind Seattle.
“We don’t really notice [the division deficit],” first baseman Justin Bour said. “Our main focus is playing every day and winning. We’re not even through the first month yet. You focus on each day and move on from there. As soon as you focus on the big picture, you get lost in it.”
The Angels have shown plenty of fight. They trimmed a 7-1 deficit to 7-5 in the eighth inning Tuesday when Bour crushed his fourth career grand slam, a 435-foot shot to right-center field, and put two on with no outs when Andrelton Simmons doubled and Albert Pujols walked.
Nine of the Angels’ 15 losses have been by two runs or fewer. They erased all of an eight-run deficit against Seattle last Thursday but lost 11-10. They tied the Mariners last Friday on Mike Trout’s two-run homer in the eighth but lost 5-3. They scored off Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman in the 12th inning Monday night but lost 4-3 in 14 innings.
“It would be nice to jump on a team early, but it’s a good sign they’re not giving up,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said.
“They’re fighting. In the big picture they should remember that as well. Because it’s been a slow start to the season, so it’s not just in a game you can fight back, but fight back overall.”
The Yankees racked up 14 hits Tuesday, including a triple, double and two singles by Brett Gardner and two solo homers by Luke Voit, to extend their win streak to five.
Right-hander Domingo German was dominant through 62/3 innings, allowing one unearned run and four hits, striking out five and walking one to improve to 4-1 with a 1.75 ERA.
After Monday night’s loss, in which the Angels needed eight innings from relievers, it was important starter Chris Stratton not only pitched effectively but deep into the game.
He did neither, lasting five innings in which he gave up four runs and nine hits, including two homers, struck out six and walked one. He fell to 0-2 with a 7.04 ERA.
“It’s been a frustrating start for me,” said Stratton, who was acquired from San Francisco on March 25. “I feel like I’m a lot better than the product I’m putting out on the field. I’m definitely putting in all the work in between starts. I’m ready for the results.”
Stratton put the Angels in a hole when he hung a 77-mph curve to Voit, who drove his second homer in two nights over the center-field wall in the first.
New York made it 2-0in the second on Tyler Wade’s run-scoring grounder and 4-0 in the fifth when Mike Ford drove a 3-and-1 fastball down the middle 419 feet to right for a two-run homer.
“I can’t give in there, 3-1 with the game semi-close,” Stratton said. “It kind of ended up being the nail in the coffin. We would have tied it if it wasn’t for that. It was down the middle, kind of in the sweet spot. I didn’t want to walk him. In hindsight, it’s probably better to take a chance with an off-speed pitch there.”