Saturday, May 18, 2024

Alexander: Angels end losing streak, and can they now turn it around?

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ANAHEIM – This could be a make-or-break juncture in the Angels’ season. And by those standards, Sunday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks might have been about as must-win as you can get for the first weekend of July.

You will never hear that in a major league clubhouse, of course. The message there is about the process, about things evening out over the course of a season and the necessity of staying on an even keel. And after the Angels’ 5-2 victory over Arizona Sunday afternoon, there was relief in ending a four-game losing streak but little concern that another loss might have started a major tailspin.

“I don’t think we look too deep into the numbers, so to speak,” said leadoff hitter Mickey Moniak, who had probably the day’s biggest number, a three-run homer in the bottom of the second that made it 4-2 and provided the margin of victory.

“I think we try to take everything one day at a time, and we’re going into each and every game confident that we can win that game. … It’s baseball. Four-game skids are going to happen. But to be able to cut it off right there and, you know, beat a good pitcher like (Arizona ace Zac) Gallen is huge. And, you know, we just want to ride the momentum into the next series.”

Anyone remember the old line from the movie “Bull Durham” about how cliches are your friends? That applies here, as it does anywhere athletes are asked to explain themselves to the media.

But there’s a point here. Players concern themselves with the process. Especially in this day-to-day sport, the big picture is always the most important … and just maybe the next winning streak is right around the corner. You have to think that way, just to stay sane.

Outside of that clubhouse bubble, we take note that the Angels (45-41) were once among the three wild-card teams in the American League but are now two games behind the Yankees for the No. 3 spot. And we also take note of history, and the nine-year postseason drought, and previous cold streaks that have ground promising Angel seasons into dust.

The 14-game losing streak that got Joe Maddon fired last year, turned summer into a bummer at Angel Stadium and might have helped Arte Moreno consider selling before reconsidering, is the most recent and freshest in the memory bank. But it’s happened before. The 2019 team had 2-8 and 5-17 stretches after the All-Star break. In 2017 the Angels were 2-7 in September to drop from the wild-card race. The 2015 team, defending division champions, went 1-9 in July to drop from a tie for first, and was blown out of wild card contention with a 7-16 stretch in September.

Yes, different players, different manager and coaches, but are there questions remaining about why Angels fans can be so fatalistic? Or why, outside of the clubhouse, a July 2 game might have outsized importance?

“Well, I’m having some of my coaches over at my house tonight,” manager Phil Nevin said following the game. “And I was gonna cancel everything if we lost five in a row,” he added, drawing laughs.

“We’re going to probably lose three in a row at some point again. That’s just the way baseball works. I think every team goes through that, and it’s how you come out of it at the end. And there’s a strong room in there and I believe in ’em. And so I’m not too concerned when we do have our down moments, because when we break out of ’em it’s usually in a good way.”

Some of the reasons why such a tailspin shouldn’t happen were on display Sunday. Besides Moniak’s three-run shot, Mike Trout homered. And so did Shohei Ohtani, continuing his historic season with a 454-foot home run in the eighth, not only a companion piece to his 493-footer Friday night but one that was hit even harder, 115.4 mph to 115.1.

This team, with these players, shouldn’t ever have a prolonged losing streak, right? Add another strong start from Reid Detmers (three hits, nine strikeouts in six innings), adding to a rotation that entered the day third in the majors in ERA (3.32). And on top of that, there was another lockdown performance from closer Carlos Estévez, who is 21 for 21 in save opportunities with a 1.85 ERA but still found himself omitted from the American League All-Star pitching staff announced Sunday.

Felix Bautista and Yennier Cano of Baltimoire, Emmanuel Clase of Cleveland and Kenley Jansen (remember him?) of Boston were relievers selected for the AL staff, and Jansen was his team’s only representative. It’s safe to assume there will be health-related changes to the roster in the week before next Tuesday’s game in Seattle, so Estévez – whom Nevin referred to as his “All-Star closer” – might get there anyway.

“If I get in I get in,” he said after the game. “But at the same time … I shouldn’t be a reserve guy, just saying. I should have been one of the guys. But like I said, I can’t control that. I can’t worry about it. I’m just gonna enjoy my five days off (if not added) and be ready to go in the second half.”

In the meantime, there are five games before baseball takes its midsummer break: The next three nights in San Diego against the underachieving Padres, and then Friday and Saturday nights in Dodger Stadium against a team that just lost two out of three to the Kansas City Royals, who are now 25-59 and can only look down on the Oakland A’s in the AL standings.

Do the Angels have a hot streak in them? It certainly would make their fan base feel better.

jalexander@scng.com

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