Poor Justin Upton.
A fine major-league player — a former No. 1 overall draft pick, a slugger with 300 career home runs — Upton was cast Wednesday night as the sad poster boy for the Angels’ dismal start in this 2020 coronavirus-tainted season.
In the sixth inning at Oracle Park in San Francisco, with two outs, the Angels trailing 5-2 and the bases loaded, Upton — who is in an uberslump — struck out in Mighty Casey fashion.
Upton’s failure ended the best chance for the Angels to salvage a win in the opener of their two-game set against the host Giants and seemed to symbolize his team’s frustrating futility.
The Halos lost 7-2 on the scoreboard.
The Angels’ 8-17 record is the worst in the standings after 25 games in franchise history.
There are 35 games left in the season, and the Angels could turn their record around into a potentially playoff-worthy .500 winning percentage at the 50-game mark
But to do that, they’d have to play at a mirror-image pace of their results so far. They’d have to go 17-8 — which happens to be the record of the AL West Division leading Oakland Athletics, owners of the second-best record in MLB.
“You got to just come back out and keep pounding on the door,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “They’re big boys. We’ve been through these things before.”
Maddon shook his head and tried to answer the unexplained question — how these Angels, who were supposed to be playoff contenders — could be so far off the pace so early?
Said Maddon: “Believe me, the work’s being put in, the guys care. All that stuff is in order. We have to become more consistent at the game of baseball right now and there’s no easy solutions … There’s no tremendous speech to be made, or extra work to be done.
“We have to go out there and execute and play it right. You’ve got to be able to catch that wave. … but we have to be playing good baseball to do that.”
Maddon once again lamented a good enough job by his pitching staff. Left-hander Patrick Sandoval is a Maddon favorite, but he allowed five runs — all on a pair of home runs — as the Angels trailed 5-0 by the fourth.
“In our game, the thing that we have to do consistently well,” Maddon said. “And I’m not banging on the pitching. We just have to pitch more consistently.”
Sandoval said he was using his changeup more frequently than usual because of the matchups the Giants’ lineup presented. But it was that pitch that got the Orange County native Sandoval into the most trouble.
He left a changeup in too tight on Wilmer Flores with two out in the bottom of the third and Flores clouted a liner over the fence in left for a 3-0 Giants’ lead.
Sandoval’s change came up to bite him again in the next inning, when leadoff man Austin Slater ripped a two-run shot to center and it was 5-0.
The Angels rallied back for a pair of runs in the sixth, the inning that could have been so big.
Tommy La Stella and Anthony Rendon strung together a pair of doubles to score the Angels’ first run, and after a Shohei Ohtani walk, Albert Pujols drove in Rendon by lining a single into left. Jason Castro walked to load the bases.
But facing left-hander Caleb Baragar with two out, Upton worked the count full before swinging and missing at a 94-mph fastball that overpowered him.
Upton, who had lost playing time in the last two weeks after the promotion of top prospect Jo Adell, is now hitting .094 after a 1-for-38 slump.
Pujols’ RBI single was a minor highlight and another milestone for the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer. With RBI No. 2,068, Pujols tied Alex Rodriguez for the second most of all-time.
The Giants tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the seventh against 2019 closer Hansel Robles, who is still trying to regain his form, after Noe Ramirez struck out three Giants in two innings of scoreless relief of Sandoval to keep things close.
Maddon hopes the Angels will start turning that corner on Thursday.
The Angels and Giants conclude their four-game home and away series Thursday night with lefty Jose Suarez (0-0, 0.00) pitching for the Angels against the Giants’ most reliable starter, right-hander Kevin Gausman (0-1, 4.21).