Eight is not enough as Wilson, bullpen crumble

Eight is not enough as Wilson, bullpen crumble

Eight is not enough as Wilson, bullpen crumble
ANAHEIM -- This was the 10-game homestand that was supposed to get the Angels back on track. With the Mariners, Indians and Rays on tap, this was supposed to be the stretch that would quell a disappointing start to the second half and allow them to gain some valuable ground in the standings.

Nine games in, here's what that homestand has provided: three wins, two team meetings.

Late Saturday night, they called their second one, minutes after suffering what was probably their most disheartening defeat of the season. The Angels led by eight runs heading into the fifth inning, but the Rays scored seven in that frame off C.J. Wilson, then tied it off Jason Isringhausen in the sixth and took the lead off Kevin Jepsen in the eighth, with Carlos Pena hitting a two-run shot that silenced the crowd of 41,086 at Angel Stadium and sent many of them to the parking lot.

The end result was a 10-8 defeat, a sixth loss in nine games since coming home and, that's right, a second team meeting. The first one was called last Sunday by manager Mike Scioscia, who wanted to remind his players that their goal was in sight despite the maddening struggles. Six days later, the players took it upon themselves.

"We just had a family discussion, that's all," said Torii Hunter, the veteran leader who didn't want to get into details, saying only: "It was definitely really good, and something that we needed. It was awesome."

Since the All-Star break, the Angels have been anything but "awesome." With a shoddy bullpen and an under-performing rotation, they're 5-12 in August, 14-21 in the second half and have now lost 11 of their last 12 games against the Rays, who have won 10 of their last 12 overall.

Their deficit in the American League West is now eight games, with the second Wild Card spot currently 3 1/2 back with three teams to jump.

The Angels keep waiting for their season to turn around again, like it did in May.

It's just not happening.

"These players care," Scioscia said. "I've heard a lot of things thrown around this last month about lack of heart, or lack of killer instinct, or just not playing 27 outs and this and that. That's not what this team is about. And that's what makes it frustrating at times. This team has an incredible amount of heart, this team has great depth and passion for playing the game. Unfortunately, right now they're not playing it at the level they can, and that's where the frustration aspect points in there."

The Angels came out swinging against Rays starter Alex Cobb, scoring seven runs on 10 hits in the first two innings. Mike Trout notched his first career leadoff homer (and 23rd on the year) and Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo added RBI singles to give the Angels a 3-0 lead in the first. In the second, Trout drove in another run, Hunter brought him in with a double and Albert Pujols followed up with a two-run homer, his 27th, in a four-run frame.

By the third, Trout had three RBIs, the Angels had compiled 15 hits and their lead stood at 8-0.

"It was there for us," Morales said in Spanish, still in disbelief. "We had it won."

But it's been that kind of stretch for the Angels.

On Thursday, the Rays burned Dan Haren with a four-run fourth. On Friday, they knocked out Jered Weaver with a seven-run fourth. On Saturday, they got to Wilson with a seven-run fifth.

Wilson loaded the bases with one out, then gave up an RBI single to Sam Fuld, a walk to Desmond Jennings, a three-run double to Ben Zobrist and a two-run homer to Evan Longoria, ending his night and shrinking the Angels' lead from eight to one.

The Angels' rotation ERA is now 6.36 this month. And Wilson's winless streak is now at 10 starts.

"It's just frustrating for us to not win games when we need to win games," said Wilson, who was mostly upset about trying to do too much with two outs against Zobrist. "It doesn't really matter how you go about not winning the game. We want to win, and we need to win, and we're going to win. It's just a matter of are we going to win enough games."

That's unlikely if the bullpen continues to struggle through a second half in which it's posted the worst ERA in baseball.

In the sixth, the Rays came all the way back to tie it off Isringhausen, with Ryan Roberts hitting a one-out double, moving to third base on a passed ball and scoring on a sacrifice fly by Jose Lobaton, giving the Angels their largest blown lead since 1999.

With a runner on and none out in the eighth, pinch-hitter Pena got a 2-2, 98-mph, out-and-over-the-plate fastball and crushed it out to deep right field to cap the comeback. With the rotation struggling and the bullpen thin, Jepsen was forced to pitch more than one inning for only the second time this season -- and made one costly mistake.

"I threw a fastball where Pena loves to hit fastballs, bottom line," said Jepsen, who had given up only one other run since returning to the big leagues July 5. "The guy could hit the ball out of the park as good as anybody."

The Angels must move on from this. They have no choice. Sunday's early afternoon game was only a few hours away as they filed out of the clubhouse close to midnight.

But where do they go from here?

"You have to stay positive, keep moving forward and stay together, like we have been," Morales said. "Yeah, we lost the series, but we need to get after it tomorrow."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.