ANAHEIM, Calif. — After the Los Angeles Angels stumbled to their ninth loss in 10 games Wednesday, manager Mike Scioscia held a closed-door meeting before they packed up and flew to Boston.
Although everybody described the meeting as relatively upbeat, the Angels didn’t emerge with any big ideas on how to slow a season going south. With too many injured players and not enough big hitters, the Angels (32-47) are on pace for the worst record in franchise history.
”We know we’ve seen some guys performing at their absolute worst for the first half, and we know they’re better than that,” Scioscia said. ”That’s going to be our goal, to get those guys going in the right direction … I don’t think these guys are taking losing in stride. I think that’s a positive.”
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If so, it’s one of the few positives in Anaheim these days.
Houston completed a three-game sweep of the Angels on Wednesday, outscoring its AL West rivals by a combined 21-7. The Angels been swept in seven series already this season, and their 8-19 record in June was their worst in the month since 1980.
Those 1980 Angels lost 95 games. The current Angels are on pace for 96 defeats, less than two years after they won 98 games for the majors’ best record.
Mike Trout is still performing brilliantly, going 18 for 30 with three homers during their six-game homestand. Just about everybody else in an Angels uniform is struggling to some degree — when they’re healthy enough to put on the uniform, that is.
”Our team has to be more than Mike,” Scioscia said. ”We’ve been struggling to get our lineup a little deeper. … We’re looking forward to getting some guys back, but the guys that are in that room should be playing better than we are, and that’s what we’re going to focus on. We’re all looking in the mirror and trying to get us going in the right direction. We all need to get better.”
Injuries are the most obvious cause for the Angels’ woes, particularly on the mound. Few teams could thrive after the loss of three top-of-the-rotation starters — in the Angels’ case, Garrett Richards, C.J. Wilson and Andrew Heaney, who will undergo Tommy John surgery and likely be sidelined until 2018. Several key regulars also have missed extended time, from shortstop Andrelton Simmons and third baseman Yunel Escobar to top reliever Joe Smith.
The Angels have used 43 players in their first 79 games.
”The injuries are something I’ve never been a part of,” said Jered Weaver, who dropped to 6-7 with a 5.51 ERA after losing to Houston. ”There’s been a lot of people going down, a lot of people getting called up and back and forth. But it’s no excuse. It’s nothing that any other team hasn’t gone through. No one is going to feel sorry for us.”
Yet the Angels’ slide also is rooted in decisions made years ago.
Their depleted farm system has produced very few candidates to replace those injured players, and owner Arte Moreno already devoted a huge chunk of the Angels’ payroll to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton this season and into the future. Combined with Moreno’s unwillingness to spend past the luxury tax threshold, even this big-budget club can’t buy its way out of trouble now.
The Angels have some salary relief in sight: Weaver and Wilson, who are making $20 million apiece, will be off the books this winter. But Hamilton is owed another $17 million in 2017 while he plays for Texas, and Pujols will make $140 million over the next five years while he jogs well past his 40th birthday.
At least Pujols plays every day and keeps things interesting by climbing the career homers list, passing Harmon Killebrew for 11th place last week with his 574th. The three-time NL MVP is second on the team with 50 RBIs, but is batting .247 with a meager .417 slugging percentage.
General manager Billy Eppler hasn’t had much early luck in his first year on the job. Eppler said this week that Scioscia’s job isn’t in jeopardy during his 17th season, acknowledging that the Angels’ injuries and depth problems can hardly be solved by the longest-tenured manager in baseball.
Eppler said the Angels have too many financial resources to be forced to enter a rebuilding phase. He won’t trade Trout, but it’s possible the Yankees’ former professional scouting director could restock his largely barren cupboard by trading the Angels’ few valuable assets once this hard-luck season officially becomes lost.
”There is no doubt we want to be a contending team, year in and year out,” Eppler said. ”Every move that we are going to make, whether it’s in July or the offseason, is for the betterment of the team.”