It’s hard to fathom when you think about it.
The Angels signed one of the game’s top sluggers in Albert Pujols and the top free-agent starting pitcher in C.J. Wilson last winter. They returned a 25-homer threat in Kendrys Morales, who missed 1 1/2 years because of injury.
They added dynamic, multi-tooled, most-valuable-player award candidate Mike Trout in late April and snagged 2009 Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke to bolster a rotation led by a Cy Young candidate — Jered Weaver — in late July.
Yet, 130 games into the season, even after Wednesday night’s 10-3 win over the Boston Red Sox, the Angels are considerably worse off now than they were at this point in 2011, when they had no Pujols, no Wilson, no Morales, no Greinke, only a taste of Trout, and underachieving Vernon Wells starting in left field.
Despite a record $159-million payroll and a much-improved offense, the Angels are 68-62 and nine games behind Texas in the American League West. With 32 games left, the Angels have almost no chance of catching the Rangers, who are well-positioned to win their third straight division title.
The Angels are also 4 1/2 games behind wild-card leader Oakland and 3 1/2 games behind Baltimore for the second wild-card spot. And they are no sure bet to reach that one-game wild-card playoff because they have to climb over two very good teams — Tampa Bay and Detroit — just to reach the Orioles and A’s.
And just where were the Angels through 130 games in 2011, when they had Tony Reagins as their general manager and much-maligned Mickey Hatcher, who was fired this May, as their hitting coach? They were 71-59 and only 2 1/2 games out in the AL West.
“That’s mind-boggling — I would have never thought that was true,” right fielder Torii Hunter said. “You look at all the guys we acquired, it was almost a lock that we’d be 20 games over .500 right about now. It’s not working out that way.
“Everyone in here is disappointed. The fans are disappointed. But that’s baseball.”
Instead of using September to gear up for a World Series run, the Angels will have to scratch and claw to win a wild-card spot, with virtually every game a “must-win,” Hunter said.
They are in this predicament because they couldn’t hit for the first six weeks of the season and got off to an 18-25 start. They combined solid pitching with a robust offense to go 39-22 from May 22-July 31 and push to within three games of Texas.
But their relievers faltered in mid-July — they had a 5.95 ERA in 42 games since the All-Star break entering Wednesday — and their starters tanked in August, going 6-9 with a 5.79 ERA entering Wednesday. The result is an unsightly 11-15 record this month.
“An important area of our club has underperformed,” Manager Mike Scioscia said, referring to the pitching. “But you can’t sit and lament what’s going on. You need to focus on getting things moving in the right direction.
“Our challenge is in front of us. We’re going to have an opportunity if we can bring the type of play that’s in this club on the field every game. We saw it for three months after a tough start. Unfortunately, it’s been hit or miss lately.”
Hunter, who spent nine years in small-market Minnesota, has another theory as to why the Angels have underachieved. It has to do with opponents overachieving.
“Because we added all those guys, and on paper we looked like we could be one of the best teams in baseball, I think more teams, when they play us, dig a little deeper, they play us very hard,” Hunter said. “I was on the other side of that when I was on the Twins.
“When we played teams that were supposed to be the best, we came with it. We wanted to prove that this little small-market team could beat down the monster, the giants, which was the Yankees or Red Sox, whoever was spending money at the time. We were the team you didn’t want to see.”