HOUSTON -- It all seems so grim for the Angels now, not long after it all seemed so pleasant. They were swept in a three-game series at Minute Maid Park on Thursday night, Jason Castro's two-out, three-run walk-off homer serving as the final blow in a 3-0 loss. Now the Angels trail the Astros by two games in the American League West, a division the Angels led by two games as recently as eight days ago.
"This series could have gone either way," Angels first baseman Albert Pujols said. "We could have won three. I don't think there's any momentum. There's still a lot of season left. They pitched well, caught a couple of breaks and beat us, but it's not like we're 10 games out. Last year, we were worse than what we are now, and we won the division by 10 games."
It was around this time last year when the A's made the big moves before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, bolstering their rotation with Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija only to see the Angels run away with the division. Now it's the Astros who have stolen the headlines in late July, acquiring center fielder Carlos Gomez on Thursday and then watching their other addition, Scott Kazmir, shut out his former team through 7 2/3 innings.
"Look, there's a lot of baseball left," Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said. "There's teams that get hot. We got hot in the middle of August [last year]. If they sustain the way that they're playing the last couple weeks over the next two and a half months, I tip my cap to them. But it's going to be up-and-down, it's going to be a back-and-forth."
The Angels spent the first three months of the season as a perpetually .500 team and then suddenly took off, winning 17 of 20 games to vault into first place.
Rather than splurge on a premium bat in a tough buyers' market, they have made subtle upgrades to their lineup before Friday's Deadline, adding David Murphy, David DeJesus and Shane Victorino for platoon advantages in left field and designated hitter. They'd still like to add a reliever before the Deadline -- Friday at 1 p.m. PT -- but they seemingly don't feel the need to counter Houston's moves.
"If you react to other teams," a source with the Angels said, "you make bad decisions."
The Angels, manager Mike Scioscia said, "have to keep our own kitchen in order." But they've dropped six of their last nine games, and the Astros are playing with a lot of confidence.
"I do believe we are a good match for them," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said, after parting with six well-regarded prospects for Gomez and Kazmir. "It's going to be a [fight] all the way until the end. I expect no less. No one's going to run away with this division."
On Thursday, Matt Shoemaker continued to dominate, giving up just three hits and one walk while striking out seven in seven scoreless innings. But the Angels couldn't score. And in the bottom of the ninth, Fernando Salas' 1-2, inside-corner fastball to Castro caught too much of the plate, handing the Angels their 10th loss in 13 games at Minute Maid Park.
Sixty-one games still remain, six of which will come against the Astros.
The Angels aren't panicking just yet.
"It's going to be a battle for the rest of the year," Angels center fielder Mike Trout said. "Every team in our division seems to be getting better. We got better, too, obviously, with our guys. So it's going to be a battle until the end."