BOSTON — Seeing is believing, and the Angels are firmly convinced that what they saw during a 61-game stretch from May 22-July 31, when they went 39-22 to surge back into the American League West race, was real.
This was not a brief period when the Angels got hot, when starting pitchers suddenly hit their stride, relievers went into temporary lock-down mode and hitters morphed into the Big Red Machine.
This was an extended run of more than two months, when all phases of the game — starting pitching, relief, hitting, defense — clicked and the Angels were among the best teams in baseball.
Which is why, despite a horrendous August in which the pitching collapsed and the Angels have lost 13 of 18 to fall nine games back in the division and 4 1/2 games back in the wild-card race, they remain hopeful they can regain that confidence and dominance to make a playoff push.
"Sometimes we don't have faith, sometimes people don't have faith, because faith requires believing in something that you don't see," right fielder Torii Hunter said. "But the way we played in June and July, you saw it, you saw what we were capable of doing, so that gives me a belief that it's going to turn around for us … now."
There is no time to waste. There are 40 games left, beginning with Tuesday night's game here against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, and while the division title is probably out of reach, a wild-card spot is not.
That would saddle the Angels with a one-game playoff to get into the division series, but considering this team's $159-million payroll and World Series expectations, that would be more palatable than the abject failure of missing the playoffs for a third straight season.
"Right now, this team is fighting for its life," said David Eckstein, the former Angels shortstop who was honored with the 2002 World Series champions Saturday.
"All these games are very big. They just have to find a way to get into the playoffs. With the second wild card, if they get in, they're going to be dangerous."
They will only get in if the pitching staff, especially a rotation that has nose-dived in August, rights itself.
Offense isn't the problem. The Angels, with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols leading the way, hit .285 and averaged 5.3 runs a game from May 22-July 31.
The August numbers — .281 average, 5.2 runs a game — remain strong.
But the pitchers have flopped, beginning with an Aug. 1 debacle in which they blew a six-run, third-inning lead and gave up four runs in the bottom of the 10th inning of an 11-10 loss in Texas.
The Angels have a major league-worst 6.76 earned-run average in August, and opponents are hitting .290 against them. From May 22-July 31, the Angels had a 3.82 ERA and .253 average against.
A rotation many thought would be the best in baseball has gone 3-7 with a 6.53 ERA this month, giving up 75 runs and 22 homers in 103 1/3 innings.
While the Angels were being swept in a four-game series by Tampa Bay, Jered Weaver gave up a career-high nine earned runs Friday, C.J. Wilson coughed up seven runs of an eight-run lead Saturday and Zack Greinke was tagged for six runs in six innings Sunday.
There is hope for a bullpen that was torched for 32 earned runs in 27 1/3 innings, five losses and four blown saves on the last 10-game trip to Texas, Chicago and Oakland.
Veteran left-hander Scott Downs and hard-throwing right-hander Jordan Walden returned from injuries over the weekend, and Walden looked sharp, his fastball hitting 97 mph while striking out three of the four Sunday.
But the rotation isn't changing. The starters need to pitch a lot better, or the Angels are doomed.
"We have some good pitchers who are not performing to their capabilities," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's our job to get them to play to their potential, and right now, we're not getting it out of some players."
Weaver's last start could be an aberration. He was 15-2 with a 2.22 ERA before getting shellacked by the Rays. But Wilson, signed to a five-year, $77.5-million deal, is 0-5 with a 5.70 ERA in 10 starts since his last win on June 26, and Greinke, acquired from Milwaukee on July 27, is 1-2 with a 6.19 ERA in five starts.
Ervin Santana has righted himself after an awful July, pitching well enough for the Angels to win his last four starts. But Dan Haren, slowed by lower-back stiffness, was tagged for 10 earned runs in seven innings of his last two starts and was skipped in the rotation this week.
"The inability to command counts has been the fly in the ointment for our starters," Scioscia said. "If you can't get to some of your put-away pitches, you're always trying to get back into counts, and hitters are going to get better looks at you."
The pitching struggles have put the burden on the offense. Four times this month, the Angels scored eight runs or more in a game and lost.
"I think our pitching is going to be there when we need it, and I truly expect us to go on a tear," outfielder Mark Trumbo said. "Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, but I feel we're going to get on a hot streak and start playing like we were around the All-Star break."
The schedule is manageable. The Angels have 22 games against teams with winning records and 18 against teams with losing records, 19 at home, 21 on the road.
"Everyone understands the situation we're in," Trumbo said. "This is no time to be taking things lightly. It's crunch time. This is when you really hone in and leave the individual numbers behind and play for the aspirations of the postseason."