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Struggling Angels in it for the long haul

Team is far behind in the standings, and they know they can't make up deficit in one day, or even a week. Right now, they're the second-worst team in the American League.

June 13, 2013|By Mike DiGiovanna

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The Angels look like a lost cause, with a 28-38 record, an 11 1/2-game American League West deficit and 9 1/2-game wild-card deficit entering Thursday, and their marquee free-agent addition muddling his way through a dismal season.

They haven't lost their cause, though. They're not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. There are plenty of games against Oakland and Texas to make up ground in the division. They have 96 games left to make a run.

But what motivated them April 1 might not drive them today, and that's not necessarily a bad thing entering Friday night's game against the New York Yankees in Angel Stadium.

"At this point, it's about trying to do the small things right and understanding that even if we do a lot of them, we're not going to be in first place for a while," utility man Mark Trumbo said. "It's a pride thing. Everyone wants to be part of a winning organization, to be labeled a winner, a player people can count on.

"You always want to win the World Series, but at the same time, there are lots of other motivators. Being a resilient team, one others don't want to play, is equally important, not only for now but down the road."

Manager Mike Scioscia speaks often about "focusing on the process." The Angels can't look at the deficit; it's too large, too overwhelming. What they can control is the pitch they're about to throw, the at-bat they're in.

"We're a veteran group, we're hungry, we all want to be in first place, but you can't win 11 games in one day," first baseman Albert Pujols said. ""It's like when you're 0 for 10, you can't make up for that in one at-bat. You lose a game, you have to rebound and get ready for the next day."

The Angels have underachieved in every phase of the game — starting pitching, relief, offense, defense — and injuries haven't helped.

Pujols and Josh Hamilton, signed to a combined $365 million in contracts, are hitting well below their career averages, Pujols batting .249 with 11 home runs and 40 runs batted in and Hamilton hitting .217 with nine homers, 21 RBIs and 67 strikeouts.

The Angels have been overmatched in many games, and they often play just well enough to lose, which explains their 10-14 record in one-run games. At times, they don't seem to have much fight, that scratch-and-claw mentality needed to beat tough pitchers and good teams.

They've played some brutal baseball too, such as when they were swept in a four-game series at home by lowly Houston.

"The effort is definitely there," Trumbo said. "There have just been some situations that have gotten away from us, where we haven't capitalized. It's very difficult to hit, but it seems like the teams that are doing a lot of damage are getting more of those key hits."

Scioscia was asked before Wednesday's game in Baltimore if the Angels might benefit from a brawl like the Dodgers and Diamondbacks had Tuesday, if such an incident might light a fire under his team.

"We need to play the way we were two weeks ago," Scioscia said, referring to an eight-game win streak. "Our hope is that will come in the form of a well-played game or a good comeback win."

A few hours later, the Angels put together one of their best rallies of the season, a six-run seventh inning that featured Erick Aybar's three-run triple, Pujols' two-run homer and led to a 9-5 come-from-behind victory over the Orioles.

But those have been the exception, not the norm. More common have been games like Monday, when the Angels had the bases loaded in the seventh, one out and Hamilton, Pujols and Trumbo coming up. All they managed was one run on Hamilton's dribbler to the infield, and they lost, 4-3.

The Angels were in the middle of the pack in most offensive statistics entering Thursday, ranking sixth in the AL in average (.259), seventh in runs (292), seventh in homers (74), eighth in on-base percentage (.322), seventh in slugging (.422) and eighth in average with runners in scoring position (.255).

Yet, they had the second-worst record in the league.

"I'll look at teams that are doing really well, and they have comparable numbers to us, but their bottom line is a lot better," Trumbo said. "What are these guys doing that we may not be doing? It's not that easy to pinpoint, but maybe they're a little better at sustaining rallies, getting the big hits we haven't been getting."

Those teams are probably getting better pitching too, but this Angels club was supposed to bludgeon opponents with its bats, and the hitters believe it is incumbent on them to lead the way out of this season-long funk.

"We had one good stretch and some moments where we looked like the team we're supposed to be, but by and large, we've underachieved," Trumbo said. "We're in month three; it would be nice to start seeing the consistency we need. Maybe not huge winning streaks, but some sustained momentum and big hits. Some more clutch performances, especially late in the game."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

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