ANAHEIM, Calif. — Day after day, night after night, the Angels’ successes and failures this season can usually be summarized in one word: pitching.
When they win, it’s usually because their pitching has held steady. When they lose — and there’s been a little too much of that lately — it’s because their pitching has been frustratingly undependable.
But Jered Weaver? If he struggles, what hope is there for the Angels this season?
Their best pitcher, their Cy Young Award candidate, couldn’t retire a batter in the fourth inning Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rays at Angel Stadium. He faced seven batters, surrendered five hits, walked two and allowed seven runs.
Combined with the two home runs he allowed in the first two innings, Weaver gave up a career-high nine earned runs in the Angels 12-3 loss to the Rays, who have beaten them seven times in eight meetings this season.
Until Friday, Weaver had allowed just nine earned runs at home all season.
“There’s going to be times when this stuff happens,” he said. “It’s just not a good time of year for it. What do they say — you’re going to have about four of these a year? This is the second. It’s just a matter of how you bounce back.”
The Angels are beginning to run out of time to bounce back. A home stand that had so much promise has now spiraled into a deflating stretch. They are 3-5 against Seattle, Cleveland and Tampa Bay with two games left against the Rays before they go back on the road.
Pitching had been the one part of the game the Angels believed they could rely on this season, but both the bullpen and the rotation have endured their struggles. The ERA of the Angels’ starting rotation this month is a league-worst 6.54; by comparison, the Rays’ starting rotation’s ERA is a league-best 1.72.
“It’s been rare for our starters to pitch as poorly as they have,” manager Mike Scioscia said, “but we’ve seen a lot of it this year.”
It’s been Ervin Santana and CJ Wilson and Dan Haren, who was unable to escape the fourth inning Thursday night against the Rays. Right now, there isn’t one starter who can be considered a sure thing — not even Weaver, who was 15-1 at one point and had won nine consecutive starts. Now he’s lost two in a row.
“That’s the trouble with getting a lot of wins in a row,” he said. “Everybody expects it out of you every time out. That’s not the case. This is the major leagues. You’re going to have games like this. Those guys came out and swung the bats well and were able to get some key hits that found gaps.”
Weaver said his primary problem was his fastball command. The Rays hopped on every fat pitch they saw until Scioscia finally pulled the right-hander.
“It looked like he was going to settle down and keep us in the game, and then that one inning got away from him,” Scioscia said. “He was behind some hitters, and he had trouble putting some guys away. We just have to forget about this one.”
About the only good thing the Angels did was end their scoreless streak against the Rays at 34 innings. Erick Aybar’s leadoff home run in the third off right-hander James Shields broke the streak, but it was one of the rare moments of glee for the Angels.
They didn’t lose any ground on the first-place Texas Rangers, but the wild-card spot is slowly slipping away. The Rays, Baltimore and Detroit are essentially tied for the two play-in berths, with the Oakland A’s fourth and the Angels fifth, 2½ games behind.
“We’re at a time right now where it’s in front of us,” Scioscia said. “The way we play is going to dictate where we end up, and right now we’re not playing at the high level we need to be playing.
“When you’re down early, you’re handing it to the other team to set up their bullpen and making it tough for yourself. It’s where we’ve been for the last month far too often.”
Unless they figure out a way to turn it around, September may soon become meaningless to their chances.