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Angels Look Just Average

They lose the final game of series to Red Sox, 5-3, and drop back to .500.

May 19, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — As the afterglow of the World Series fades, the Angels are playing less like champions and more like the mediocre team Orange County has known for so many years. The Angels are not a bad team, certainly. But they flew home Sunday night as a .500 team.

After a 5-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox, the Angels fell a season-high 6- 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West. Their inconsistency is reflected in their 21-21 record, and they're tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for the seventh-best record among the 14 teams in the league.

"I don't think anything says we're happy," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "In some ways, we're probably fortunate to be where we are."

For those chanting "it's early," well, it's not. The Angels stumbled to the worst start in franchise history last year, but after 42 games they were 25-17, including twin eight-game winning streaks. This year, the Angels never have been more than two games over .500. A slow spring usually heralds a long summer, not a red October.

"You can't say, OK, that's how it happened last year, so it will happen that way for us this year," outfielder Darin Erstad said.

The primary issues that concern them were on display Sunday, depth and starting pitching. With Erstad idled by a hamstring injury and his return still measured in weeks rather than days, and with Tim Salmon weak from what he suspects was food poisoning, the Angels started Eric Owens in center and Jeff DaVanon in right -- batting eighth and ninth, respectively. They still got 11 hits, including two from Owens and one from DaVanon.

John Lackey, with the highest earned-run average and the most hits allowed of any starter in the league, gave up five runs and nine hits in six innings. Three of the runs were unearned, in an inning in which first baseman Scott Spiezio booted what could have been a 3-6-3 double play but in which Lackey compounded the damage by hitting the next batter and giving up an 0-and-2 single to the one that followed. Spiezio has three errors at first base, matching his total of a year ago.

The Angels, dependent upon quality starting pitching, are keeping hope alive. Jarrod Washburn is hot, Kevin Appier and Aaron Sele are back, and Lackey's earned-run average is 4.63 in May, not good but better than his 7.76 in April.

Said Scioscia: "I can't imagine our starting pitchers pitching the way they did the first three weeks of the season," when the starters had an ERA above 6.00.

"By and large, the thing that's affected us the most in keeping us around .500 was the starting pitching," General Manager Bill Stoneman said. "But that's coming around.

"We should be better than a .500 team. The talent this year is every bit as good as the talent was last year. It's pretty much the same talent."

Might the Angels need some more talent?

"At this point, I don't feel an urgency to do something," Stoneman said.

At some point, shortstop David Eckstein said, just hanging around .500 will condemn the Angels to the bummer of a .500 summer. But he refused to say when.

"We've got to be close enough that when we finally get hot, we'll be right where we want to be," Eckstein said.

Erstad suggested the focus on 162 games, or on the .500 record, is too broad. If the Angels focus on winning each series, as they did in New York and Boston on this trip, he said they should be fine.

Said Spiezio: "I don't think there's anyone who believes we're a .500 team."

This would be a good time to prove that. The Angels play their next 12 games against the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

"Hopefully, we can carry this momentum over," Lackey said, "and get over the .500 hump."

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