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Angels' pennant chances appear to be flagging

A night after being outplayed in New York, Angels and their slumping lineup are shut down in Boston, 4-1, casting more doubt on their credibility as AL pennant contenders.

September 16, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | ON THE ANGELS

BOSTON — Two games into a measuring stick of a road trip against potential playoff opponents, the Angels are hardly looking like American League pennant contenders.

After being outplayed by the AL East-leading New York Yankees on Monday, the Angels were shut down by Daisuke Matsuzaka and the wild card-leading Boston Red Sox in a 4-1 loss at Fenway Park on Tuesday night.

And the way the suddenly punchless Angels are hitting, the Yankees and the Red Sox are the least of their concerns.

"We've got to figure out a way to score runs against these guys, let's be honest," said John Lackey, who took the loss Tuesday night. "We're going to face great pitchers. To even get to the playoffs, we're going to have to play better baseball than we are now."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, September 17, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Angels: In Wednesday's Sports section, the Angels game story said that in the first 14 games in September, the team had 12 home runs. They had five in that stretch.

The Angels are finally getting superb starting pitching in September after spackling and pasting their injury-plagued rotation for four months, but the offense -- the most potent in baseball in July and August -- has gone into sleep mode.

The Angels hit .306 with 76 homers in 55 games in July and August and scored a major league-high 365 runs, an average of 6.6 a game. Their on-base (.379 in July, .360 in August) and slugging (.495 in July, .473 in August) percentages were off the charts, and they hit better than .300 with runners in scoring position.

After Tuesday night's six-hit effort, the Angels are batting .242 with a league-low 44 runs in 14 September games, an average of 3.1 a game. They have 12 homers, and they entered Tuesday with a .334 on-base percentage and a .347 slugging percentage for the month.

The Angels went one for 11 with runners in scoring position Tuesday, with Erick Aybar's two-out RBI double off closer Jonathan Papelbon giving them their only run.

They went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position Monday night and are 54 for 233 in those situations, an average of .232, in their last 26 games.

"We've been facing good pitching, but it can also be fatigue," center fielder Torii Hunter said when asked if a grueling schedule -- the Angels close the season with 50 games in 52 days -- was a factor in the offensive struggles.

"I don't know for sure, but we've been traveling a lot the last few weeks. Guys get fatigued mentally more than they do physically."

Outside of catcher Mike Napoli, who is mired in a four-for-50 slump, no player's average has dropped precipitously. But the power numbers are way down.

Bobby Abreu has one homer in his last 20 games. Kendry Morales has no home runs in 15 games. Vladimir Guerrero has three homers in 22 games. Juan Rivera has one in 12 games.

But fatigue? Mike Scioscia thinks not.

"There's not a player in a major league clubhouse who doesn't have some form of physical or mental fatigue this time of year," the Angels' manager said. "That's something you play through. We've got a strong club, and I think guys play hard.

"I don't know if you can pick one magic pill for our club right now and say hey, it's mental fatigue for everybody. Yeah, some guys in that room are tired. Some guys in Boston's clubhouse and New York's clubhouse are tired. That's baseball."

The Rangers lost again, so the Angels maintained a six-game AL West lead, but if they don't start hitting -- and executing -- better, the Angels could be bound for another early October exit.

Lackey's throwing error on Dustin Pedroia's bunt led to an unearned run in Boston's two-run sixth Tuesday night, and the Red Sox scored two in the eighth on J.D. Drew's triple and Jason Bay's RBI single off Lackey and David Ortiz's solo homer off Jose Arredondo after Bay was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double.

The Angels didn't get a hit off Matsuzaka until the fifth, an inning that ended with Jeff Mathis and Chone Figgins striking out with runners on second and third.

Matsuzaka looked sharp in his return from a shoulder strain, giving up three hits in six scoreless innings in his first start in almost three months. The Angels did not.

"Am I frustrated? No," Hunter said. "Am I irritated? Yeah."


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