Angels find it difficult to explain their troubles

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
12:07
AM PT
Adrian BeltreAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillAdrian Beltre smacks a ninth-inning home run that sent the Angels tumbling to a tough loss.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Like most pitchers coming off a tough loss like the Los Angeles Angels' 3-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Thursday night, Zack Greinke only wanted to do this once. One group interview session by his locker. Say it once, explain it once, frame it once.

So Greinke waited patiently while the two other men who had a larger role in deciding this game had their say.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia explained why for the second time in a week the Angels were on the losing end of a game where Greinke gave them eight strong innings of one-run ball. Or really, why he keeps taking Greinke out for the ninth inning?

"It's not worth anyone extending themselves or getting them to a point where they're setting themselves back with injury," Scioscia said. "I don't know if it's 110 pitches, but I think it's a certain point of the game. If we're going to stretch him to 115, 120, we're going to start to push him for not only what he's going to do bouncing back but for his career."

Closer Ernesto Frieri was left to answer for why, for the second time in a week, he'd blown a game in the ninth inning that Greinke had pitched well enough to win. This time because he threw a hanging slider to a notorious breaking-ball hitter, Adrian Beltre, who promptly deposited said breaking ball into the left-field stands.

"Maybe I didn't execute the pitch the way I wanted, but I wanted to throw that pitch," Frieri said. "I am the same guy [as when he was more successful]. I was being aggressive throwing the fastball. I made only one bad pitch and that's what happened. When I was doing good I was throwing bad pitches, too. I was missing fastballs right down the middle and they would pop it up. This is the game. You need to be professional and just deal with it."

Both good, honest answers, even if they couldn't change the result of the game.

But when the microphone finally came around to the one guy who should have nothing to answer for, Greinke was stumped.

How can the Angels be playing good baseball, winning 15 of their last 22 games even including Thursday's loss and the heartbreaking 3-2 loss Frieri blew in relief of Greinke in Kansas City five days ago, and still be falling back in the wild-card chase?

"It's tough," Greinke said, shaking his head and searching for an answer. "We've been playing good. It's just, the other teams have been playing good, too.

"We can do better, but we can't do much better. I guess you have to give Baltimore and Oakland credit. You keep waiting for one of them to stumble, but they're not. It's making it tough."

Across the way, right fielder Torii Hunter was lamenting the same thing.

"We just need a little luck," said Hunter, who drove in the Angels only run Thursday in the sixth inning. "Even when we were winning, we won like eight or nine in a row and we still only gained like one game. So we need that break outside of what we can control.

"You hope that it happens, but it doesn't have to happen. Baseball is what it is."

Baseball being what it is would suggest a team like the Angels with two Cy Young-caliber pitchers (Greinke and staff ace Jered Weaver), an MVP candidate in Mike Trout, a starting rotation that has stayed relatively healthy all season, and a guy by the name of Albert Pujols who should finish with some very Pujolsian numbers [30 home runs, 100 RBIs], should be talented enough to make their own breaks.

But for some reason it hasn't happened. And after Thursday night's loss dropped them 4 1/2 games back of the A's for the second wild-card berth in the American League, you have to wonder if the Angels are about to run out of rope before the season just ends.

If that happens, a lot else might happen around these parts. This would be the third straight season the Angels would miss the playoffs. Disappointing in any year. Flat-out depressing after the team went out and spent more than $330 million on Pujols and left-hander C.J. Wilson in the offseason.

Scioscia could take the fall. So could pitching coach Mike Butcher. Any number of heads could roll based on how upset owner Arte Moreno might be.

Those are all questions for another day. A day that may never come if the Angels get on the kind of roll they're capable of getting on and either Oakland or Baltimore fall off in the final few weeks.

But before any decisions are made, you would hope someone could figure out just why this team is where it is right now.

Did the Angels simply dig themselves too deep of a hole with their wretched April? Does it take a year for a team this talented to learn to play together? Is Scioscia still the right voice for this team? Will it be enough to just upgrade the bullpen?

Is the pressure of chasing down other teams with lesser expectations on them simply too much to bear?

"We've been chasing for three years," Hunter said. "I hate to say it, but it ain't nothing new. I want to be chased."

After losses like Thursday, it's easy to look for small answers. Why didn't Scioscia leave Greinke in? Why did Frieri throw a slider to a breaking-ball hitter? Why did Scioscia call for a hit-and-run with Trout in the bottom of the third?

The answers to those questions are easier to come by but are forgotten tomorrow.

No, the Angels need to answer the kind of questions that stumped Greinke. And right now, they don't have them.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jered Weaver
WINS ERA SO IP
15 3.57 137 181
OTHER LEADERS
BAM. Trout .287
HRM. Trout 31
RBIM. Trout 97
RM. Trout 92
OPSM. Trout .927
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOG. Richards 164