ANAHEIM, Calif. – Closed-door meetings tend to have little impact on players, but if the one Angels manager Mike Scioscia called Sunday afternoon doesn’t help, it’s doubtful anything will.
Scioscia’s message: It’s not over yet.
Although he wouldn’t talk specifics, it was clear that’s what Scioscia told his players in the wake of a 4-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners that sometimes looked like the Angels were going through the motions.
They certainly can’t afford to. The defeat, their eighth in 11 games, pushed them eight games behind the Texas Rangers in the American League West and two games behind Tampa Bay and Baltimore for the wild-card spots.
It’s not time to panic, but it’s certainly time to be concerned. And although Scioscia insisted their goals are still within reach, the fact he had to remind his players of that means some might be losing their focus.
“Sometimes there’s a tendency, when you’re frustrated and maybe you’ve had not only a tough week but a tough month, to think you’re buried,” he said. “We are absolutely not.
“We’re going to be within striking distance of our goal with one good week of what we need to do. It’s going to start tomorrow with the first pitch and we’re going to build momentum. It’s just a matter of putting together the pitching to match the offense we’ve gotten the last month to make up the ground we need.”
Ever since they resumed play after the All-Star break, the Angels essentially have been struggling to stay afloat. They’re 12-17 since the break, and although their offense looks fine, their pitching has been unreliable.
Even sure-thing Jered Weaver struggled just enough Sunday against the Mariners, giving up two home runs to catcher Jesus Montero and seeing his streak of nine wins in nine starts end. It was Weaver’s first loss since May 13 and left him with a 15-2 record and 2.22 ERA.
Weaver appeared to be getting squeezed on his strike zone by plate umpire Mike Estabrook, although he wouldn’t say so afterward. But pitching coach Mike Butcher was tossed in the first inning by Estabrook, and Weaver seemed visibly perturbed at several points in the game.
He thought he had John Jaso struck out in the sixth, but he didn’t get the call on what would have been the third out. Jaso then singled, and Montero’s second homer of the game made it 3-1.
“I thought I made a pretty good pitch there but what are you going to do?” Weaver said. “He called it a ball and that’s where it stands. There’s no excuse for giving them a home run there.”
A bigger concern is how quickly the Angels can put themselves back on track. Since taking two of three from the Kansas City Royals in late July, they’ve lost two of three to Tampa Bay, the Chicago White Sox, Oakland and Seattle and split a four-game series with the Rangers.
Now they face the Cleveland Indians, losers of 13 of their past 16 games, for three games starting Monday at Angel Stadium. If Scioscia is looking for a turnaround week, this could be it.
“This is where we need to step it up and get some wins and get some momentum going,” Weaver said. “There’s not much of the season left and we’re kind of back there. We’re obviously a couple of wins away from getting back to where we want to be. It’s just a matter of getting back to the Angel baseball we were playing earlier in the (first) half of the season.
That seems so long ago, but Scioscia believes the momentum can shift quickly. One good streak can keep their hopes alive.
“Whatever setbacks we’ve had in the last road trip or last month or however you want to count the games, has not destroyed our season,” he said. “We can turn this thing around with one good week.”
They’ll have to do it soon or risk sliding too far back to even contend for one of the two wild-card slots. Scioscia’s job will be to keep his players focused and not allow them to think their chances are drifting away.
“We’re not frustrated,” outfielder Torii Hunter said. “We understand this is baseball. We’ve been playing pretty good baseball for the last two months. The last 10 days or so have been rough for us, but we’re going to turn it around.”