In a lineup without Mike Trout, David Fletcher and Justin Upton, who were given the day off, the Angels were pressed for scoring opportunities in a 9-1 loss to the Astros at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday.
Los Angeles had as many strikeouts as hits (six) against four Houston pitchers. Meanwhile, the Astros had five homers among their 12 hits.
The Angels were on the verge of being shut out for a second time this season with only five outs to play with when Drew Butera reached the plate with runners on the corners against Astros righty Andre Scrubb. Butera hit a sacrifice fly to score Phil Gosselin.
Since their 5-4 win Monday against the Astros, when they had two home runs and three doubles among nine hits, the Angels haven’t been able to piece things together at the plate. Between the losses Tuesday and Wednesday, Los Angeles had two extra-base hits and nine hits combined.
"The thing is, if we're going to beat these guys, and when we do beat these guys, you have to pitch better than good pitching, that's really what it comes down to,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They have a great offensive club, I think we do, also. We have to pitch better than their pitching. It's no more complicated than that,”
Houston’s pitching staff has a 3.81 ERA this season, while the Angels own the highest ERA in MLB at 5.23.
The Angels had to work their way out of a hole starting in the first inning when the Astros scored three runs off left-hander Andrew Heaney. Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel jumped on Heaney’s four-seam fastball to provide Houston a 3-0 lead with a solo homer and two-run long ball, respectively.
"Their whole lineup is full of good hitters," Heaney said. "There's definitely guys in any lineup that you kind of got to say like, 'I don't want this guy to beat me.' But what makes those guys really good is even when you don't want them to beat you, they still find a way to.”
The Angels responded rather promisingly when Jose Rojas started the second inning with a double, only for the next eight hitters to be retired. Astros starter José Urquidy was dominating the Angels, but was removed in the fourth inning with posterior shoulder discomfort.
Heaney threw 62 strikes among his 96 pitches in 5 1/3 innings. Of those 96 pitches, 25 were either called strikes or whiffs, per Statcast. He allowed five runs on nine hits and struck out five without issuing a walk.
"On the field, we can match up,” Maddon said. “I think we can match up physically, pitching-wise too, but we have to go out there and prove it.”
The offense has shown flashes of hitting for power and overcoming teams with stellar pitching staffs, like it did last weekend against the Dodgers. But it will need to find the consistency to beat clubs like the Astros.