The starters have been so effective and pitched so deep into games, and closer Jordan Walden and setup man Scott Downs have been so reliable that a glaring Angels weakness — middle relief — has rarely been exposed the last three weeks.
It was Wednesday.
Hisanori Takahashi issued a leadoff walk to Austin Jackson and a run-scoring single to Andy Dirks, and Michael Kohn gave up a two-run home run to Miguel Cabrera as the Detroit Tigers rallied for three runs in the seventh inning of a 5-4 victory in Angel Stadium.
The Tigers avoided a three-game sweep, and the Angels, who got a shaky but game effort by under-the-weather starter Tyler Chatwood, lost for the third time in 13 games.
"Our starters have been doing a good job of getting past the middle innings and getting to Downs and Walden," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "The rest of the group has had flashes of brilliance, but we do need some consistency there."
A rotation led by Jered Weaver and Dan Haren has held opponents to three earned runs or fewer in 18 of 21 games, and starters rank second in the American League with 5732/3 innings, an average of 62/3 innings per start.
But there are still games like Wednesday's, when Chatwood, recovering from strep throat, pitched 51/3 innings, giving up two unearned runs, four hits and five walks, and the Angels had to hold a 3-2 lead in the sixth and seventh innings.
With setup man Fernando Rodney out since June 9 because of an upper-back strain and projected setup man Kevin Jepsen trying to regain his form at triple A, the Angels have pieced together those innings with a variety of relievers.
Right-hander Rich Thompson looked as if he might seize a prominent role when he was 1-1 with a 1.86 earned-run average in 13 games through May 11, but has given up seven earned runs and 14 hits in 14 innings of his last 14 games.
Takahashi gave up one earned run, six hits and one walk in 13 innings of his previous 10 games, but the left-hander walked two in one inning Wednesday, and one of the free passes hurt.
Kohn's stuff has looked dynamic at times — the 25-year-old right-hander blew a 95-mph fastball by Alex Avila to end the Angels' 5-1 win Monday night — but he missed his spot Wednesday to Cabrera, who crushed his 18th home run to left field to give Detroit a 5-3 lead.
"It was a fastball that was supposed to be away, and it ran back over the middle," Kohn said. "Everybody's human. You're going to miss. You don't want to miss to a guy like Cabrera."
Mark Trumbo's home run, his team-leading 14th, pulled the Angels to within 5-4 in the seventh inning, but relievers David Purcey, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde (21st save) got the final eight outs.
That preserved the win for Brad Penny (6-6), who gave up three runs and four hits, including Vernon Wells' run-scoring double and Howie Kendrick's two-run single, in the first inning but gave up only one more hit before Trumbo's home run.
The Tigers took advantage of Alberto Callaspo's throwing error to score two unearned runs in the third inning on Victor Martinez's bases-loaded single.
"You're not going to give that team over there eight walks and make an error that gives the middle of the lineup a chance to hit and give yourself a chance to win," Scioscia said. "We shot ourselves in the foot a bit today."