The curse of the elephant

The Angels can't seem to figure out why they struggle in Oakland, but Joel Pineiro's guess had to do with a pachyderm. AP Photo/Eric Risberg

OAKLAND -- The Oakland Athletics have been stuck near the bottom of the division standings all year, play in a charmless football stadium dotted with a few scattered pockets of fans most nights, and might be about to stomp out the Angels' playoff hopes.

The Angels are getting used to unhappy trips to the East Bay.

Monday night was their saddest day here in a while, with more of the clutch hitting woes that have plagued them lately and some shoddy early pitching setting a bad tone for this crucial road trip. The 6-3 loss, with Texas idle, pushed the Angels to three games back in the AL West.

Losing in Oakland has become a yearly tradition for the Angels -- they're 2-10 here in their most recent games at whatever they're calling the Coliseum nowadays. It would be an interesting anomaly if it didn't threaten to make this season meaningless.

Joel Pineiro understands it as well as anybody and he doesn't understand it at all. Pitching to one of the worst lineups in the American League, Pineiro has been awful. He is 0-2 with a 29.70 ERA in his last two starts here. For the season, Pineiro is 0-3 with a 10.80 ERA against the A's.

"It's the curse of the elephant or something," Pineiro said. "I don't know really. I wish I knew, so I could turn it around."

The Angels wish they knew why they are 5-9 against Oakland this season. Their search for answers is about to intensify or there could be trouble, because five of their remaining 15 games are against these A's. Those three games against Texas won't be worth watching if the Angels don't take care of the Oakland problem first.

In addition to the Oakland problem, the Angels now have an OK problem. As in, "OK, shouldn't you be able to get in a runner from third base with less than two outs?" In six at-bats the last two days in which a well-placed ground ball or medium-deep fly would have driven in a run, the Angels instead struck out or popped up.

Monday it was a couple of youngsters who made those fundamental lapses, just as young players had fumbled away Sunday's loss to the New York Yankees. Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, along with veteran Vernon Wells, failed to get the runner in. Trumbo, Trout and Peter Bourjos -- all in their first full seasons -- might be feeling some of the pressure of this race. Bourjos dropped the fly ball that handed the Yankees the win and those three combined to go 0-for-12 with eight strikeouts Monday.

"They're young guys," Torii Hunter said. "If you know the game and you look around, they've never been to the postseason, never been in a playoff race and also the league is going to make adjustments, especially during crunch time like this. Now, they have to make adjustments, simplify things. In a pennant race, you don't try to do too much, just simplify.

"It's easier said than done, though. I'd be good if I practiced what I preach."