Angels must focus on winning a wild card
The conclusion of the Angels' weeklong road trip to Boston and Detroit has made two truths virtually indisputable.
One, winning four of six games against the Red Sox and Tigers sounds good, but it did nothing to help the Angels' chances in the American League West.
Two, winning the West is no longer a reality. They're playing for a wild card.
It's a hard fact to swallow. Friday night, the Angels were riding a four-game winning streak and looked prepared to begin a playoff push. But two weekend losses to the Detroit Tigers, including a 5-2 defeat Sunday, was something of a reality check.
The Angels aren't conceding anything, and they shouldn't, but with 34 games left, expectations need to be reset.
Barring an epic swoon by the Texas Rangers, the likelihood of winning the division is remote. Even the wild card is no sure thing; there are four teams ahead of the Angels, and they have games against two of those teams: seven against the Oakland A's and three against the Tigers. But they're finished playing Baltimore and Tampa Bay, so leaping over them will require help.
Not that it can't be done, but the more teams that stand in their way, the more difficult the job. It's that simple.
You figure the Angels would have returned home on a high after going 4-2, but in fact, they gained no ground on first place and remain fourth in the wild card pursuit. They were four outs from winning Friday night before the bullpen blew a 3-2 lead, and on Sunday, starter Ervin Santana was tied 1-1 in the sixth before a leadoff walk to Andy Dirks and back-to-back homers to Prince Fielder and Delmon Young put the Tigers ahead 4-1.
Santana also gave up a two-out single in the third inning to Dirks that was preceded by a walk to Omar Infante.
"The walks were more damaging" than some other things that happened in the game, manager Mike Scioscia told FOX Sports West after the game. "(Santana) had deep counts to Infante and Dirks and walked them both, and both of those guys ended up scoring."
Two-out hits were also damaging. Of the 30 runs Angels pitchers gave up on the six-game trip, 23 were scored with two outs.
The Angels didn't have Albert Pujols in the lineup for a fourth consecutive game, although he's expected back for Tuesday night's three-game home series against the Red Sox. The first baseman reported feeling better from tightness in his right calf suffered Wednesday in Boston, but Scioscia preferred to give him one more day, plus Monday's off day, to recover.
The Angels could have used him. They didn't have a hit between the second and ninth innings and were virtually shut down by Tigers starter Max Scherzer, who retired 17 of the last 18 batters he faced. Mike Trout was 1 for 13 in the series and struck out three times Sunday, and Mark Trumbo was 5 for 24 (.208) on the trip with 12 strikeouts.
But it's going to come down to pitching over the last month. While Santana appears to on the right track, walks and home runs can be killers. At this point in the season, every hit and every run count.
In order to make themselves relevant in the wild card race, the Angels need some winning streaks down the stretch. As they just found out, winning two of three probably won't be enough.