Going into Sunday’s series finale against the host Texas Rangers, Angels manager Joe Maddon advised his slumping hitters to take some pressure off themselves.
“Try easier,” Maddon said, quoting what he said to his players. “I mean, they can’t try any harder than they are. I mean, that’s what happens. Guys get in a little bit of a rut and they get tighter, try harder, swing harder.
“I think less work is better than more, right now.”
If they were buying what Maddon was selling, the Angels didn’t show it. They showed all the hallmarks of a struggling, pressing team: Nothing much changed as the Angels were swept in the three-game series at Arlington, Texas’ new Globe Life Field, losing 7-3 to the Rangers.
The Angels — favored my most pundits to be a postseason team in this season’s expanded 16-team playoff tield — are now 5-11.
All is not lost — the Angels are only 1.5 games out of second place in the AL West Division.
“It was not our best three games, for sure,” Maddon said after watching his Angels go 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
For the season, the Angels are batting only .203 (26 for 128), fifth worst in the majors, with runners in scoring position. They had 18 RISP situations in the series in Texas. They cashed in only one run in those situations.
“We still had opportunities,” Maddon said. “We’ve got to score more runs, we’ve got to put the other team on the defensive. We haven’t been able to do that, and it wasn’t a clean game by any means on our part.”
Nobody is struggling more than third baseman Anthony Rendon, who was brought in as the offseason’s marquee free-agent signing to much splash. But Rendon, dropped to fifth in the order by Maddon, set the tone by striking out with two runners on and one out in the first inning against the Rangers’ Lance Lynn.
The Angels’ scoreless-inning streak had reached 18 when first baseman Tommy La Stella ripped a two-run homer in the fifth off Lynn.
Paradoxically, a power outage hasn’t been the problem for the Angels in 2020. They’ve hit 24 homers (No. 5 in MLB), but too many home runs have been solo shots and the Angels continue to struggle cashing in runs without the long ball.
Left-hander Andrew Heaney started strong for the Angels but fell apart in the fourth, when the Rangers pushed across four runs in about every way possible, including a two-run single by Shin-Soo Choo after Heaney allowed Jeff Mathis to steal second base with two outs after stepping off the mound.
Said Heaney: “Credit to them, they stuck with a game plan. They did a good job of just keeping it moving in that fourth inning.”
Unfortunately for Angels prized prospect Jo Adell, playing right field, was the victim of an extremely rare four-run error in the fifth inning.
Chasing a fly ball to the warning track by Nick Solak, Adell gloved the ball, then had the ball pop out of his glove and seemed to propel the ball forward over the fence.
Initially the play was ruled a home run until being judged a four-base error by the Elias Sports Bureau.
“I had an issue with picking that ball back up through the dome (at Globe Life Field) with the way it’s shaped,” Adell said. “It was a tough read. And it popped out.”
Things don’t get any easier. The Angels return home, where they’ll host both of the premier teams in the west.
The red-hot Oakland A’s visit Angels Stadium from Monday to Wednesday, then after a day off, the Angels will host the crosstown Dodgers — one of the best teams in baseball — in a weekend series.
Asked if he thought the Angels could turn things around quickly, Maddon flashed quickly back to optimism.
“I’m confident that we will,” he said. “I know there’s a lot more offense to this team, I know there is.
“We’re capable of doing a lot better. There’s definitely still time to right our ship. There’s definitely time to get real hot, but it has to happen one game at a time. I’ve got to keep preaching that positive message with the group.”