Angels bullpen falling apart after break
This is no time to panic. But it might be getting close.
The Angels came out of the All-Star break believing they had one of the best bullpens in the American League -- and they did. So what's happening now?
Their strength has become a glaring weakness. The relievers can't maintain leads, can't keep opposing hitters off base, can't close out games.
They struggled again Monday night in Detroit, where a 5-2 lead suddenly dissolved into an 8-6 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park.
The Angels are now 1-3 on their seven-game trip, and relief pitchers -- Scott Downs on Friday night in New York and LaTroy Hawkins on Monday -- have two of the losses. In the four games, relievers have worked seven innings and allowed 11 runs, all earned, and 11 walks.
This is the same bullpen that went into the break with a collective 3.16 ERA. Ernesto Frieri hadn't given up a run in 26 appearances; Downs' ERA was 0.30. Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen were superb as set-up men. Hisanori Takahashi was reliable.
So what happened? Was their good fortune bound to run its course at some point? Is the bullpen overworked? Is this just the natural order of things?
"We used a lot of innings in our bullpen just before the break and a lot in New York and obviously some innings tonight," manager Mike Scioscia told FOX Sports West. "Those guys have been pitching a lot, and we need some things to stabilize and get back into some roles that were defined. Hopefully, we'll get there."
They'll have to. With the starting rotation still in a state of uncertainty -- Dan Haren is expected to have a rehab start in the minors, and Garrett Richards will be called up from Triple-A Salt Lake to start Tuesday -- the Angels need a stable bullpen to keep games close or protect leads.
Offensively, they aren't hurting. They totaled 11 hits against the Tigers, including seven for extra bases. Mark Trumbo hit his 25th home run (and fifth in seven games), and Torii Hunter came back from a groin injury to go 4 for 5 with three RBIs.
Even their starter, Ervin Santana, wasn't all bad. He was certainly better than recent starts and left with a 5-4 lead after six innings, with two of the runs unearned. Still, it was deflating to watch him give up two runs in the bottom of the fifth after the Angels had put him in front by three.
"You can't give a team as deep as they are offensively that many outs and that many opportunities," Scioscia said of the Tigers, who are 9-3 in July. "Two unearned runs make it tough for you."
It was made even tougher by the bullpen. First, Takahashi couldn't retire left-handed-hitting Quintin Berry, giving up a leadoff single in the seventh. He was pulled in favor of Hawkins, but Berry successfully stole second and third. Hawkins got Miguel Cabrera on a ground ball and intentionally walked Prince Fielder, setting up a double play, but Delmon Young's sacrifice fly brought home Berry and tied the game.
Brennan Boesch followed with a tie-breaking homer, and the Tigers added another run in the eighth when Angels right-hander David Carpenter walked two batters before Berry's RBI single.
Scioscia kept Downs and Frieri in the bullpen and relied on Takahashi and Hawkins to keep the team out of trouble. But they struggled just as the others have -- and just as the bullpen did earlier in the season, before the arrival of Frieri in late May.
"I don't think you ever say you're due for a stretch," Scioscia said of the sudden collapse. "Scotty Downs and Ernie were not giving up anything for a long time. You knew there were going to be some nicks, but the depth of our bullpen, although it's improved, it needs to stay there."