No players, even the great ones, are immune to lengthy slumps, as Mike Trout showed in August, when the Angels center fielder and 2014 American League most valuable player hit .218 with one homer and seven runs batted in.
Joe Smith’s struggles have lasted half as long, but considering the Angels setup man’s reputation as one of baseball’s most reliable relievers for the last five years, they are almost as surprising.
The sidearm-throwing Smith had a 4-3 record and 2.61 earned-run average in 54 appearances through Aug. 22. In eight games since, he is 0-2 with a 14.21 ERA, giving up 10 runs and 17 hits, including two homers, striking out seven, walking five and allowing opponents to hit .486 with a .537 slugging percentage.
The only worse eight-game stretch for Smith was in 2008, his second season in the big leagues, when he had a 14.54 ERA (seven earned runs in 4 1/3 innings) from July 26-Aug. 9.
“I have to keep grinding; there’s nothing else I can do,” Smith said. “I’m not doubting myself. I’m not doubting my stuff. Sometimes you need that one thing, that one ball to bounce your way, that one call to go your way, to get you back on that roll.”
Smith’s slump began on Aug. 23, when he gave up two runs and four hits in an inning of a 12-5 loss to Toronto, but that didn’t seem unusual. Just about every Angels pitcher got pounded in that series, in which the Blue Jays scored 36 runs.
Smith had two scoreless outings in Detroit on Aug. 27 and 29 but suffered the worst beating of his nine-year career on Aug. 29 in Cleveland, entering a 3-3 game in the eighth inning and giving up three hits, a walk and a grand slam to Yan Gomes.
He appeared to right himself with a clean inning against Texas on Friday night but was nicked for a run and two hits by the Rangers on Saturday night and another run, two hits and two walks against the Dodgers on Monday night.
The Angels, hoping to keep their fading playoff hopes alive—they’re 4 1/2 games behind Texas for the second AL wild-card spot—and the Dodgers play the finale of a three-game series in Angel Stadium on Wednesday night.
“The Cleveland thing, I got beat, but my stuff the last three games was as good as I’ve had all year,” said Smith, whose ERA jumped to 3.88. “That’s what ticks me off the most. When everything is clicking and you’re still giving up runs, it gets to you more. But I’ll be all right. I’ll come out of it.
“Right now, it’s about putting up zeros. The stats go out the window. We’re trying to get to the playoffs, so I just have to get out of these innings any way I can.”