ANAHEIM -- They had been slipping toward this point for a while, but on Saturday, it finally happened: Following their 7-0 loss to the Astros at Angel Stadium, the Angels fell below .500 for the first time since Opening Day.
Right-hander Nick Tropeano pitched five solid innings in his return from the disabled list, but his performance was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dreary day for the Angels. Their slumping offense was overmatched by Houston ace Justin Verlander, their normally stout defense committed three errors and their bullpen allowed the Astros to break the game open with a five-run sixth inning that was capped by a grand slam from George Springer.
"We just didn't do enough on the field this afternoon," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're going to have to continue to work hard and do things a little bit better tomorrow."
The Angels mustered only five hits against Verlander, who struck out 11 over six innings to extend his scoreless streak at Angel Stadium to 23 innings. Their offense has now been held to three or fewer runs in 10 of their 15 games in July, dropping the club to 6-9 this month. They are hitting .220 and have averaged 3.33 runs per game over that span.
The Angels' best scoring opportunity against Verlander came in the fourth inning. After Justin Upton reached on a one-out single, Shohei Ohtani turned on a 95.7 mph inside fastball from Verlander and rifled it off the right-field wall for a double, putting runners on second and third.
"All his pitches are really plus pitches," said Ohtani, who went 2-for-4 with two doubles. "I didn't know what to expect, but I was able to put a good swing on the fastball. That was something really positive from today's game."
Still, Verlander escaped the jam by striking out Ian Kinsler and Luis Valbuena swinging on fastballs that were clocked at 99.2 and 98.4 mph.
"Justin Verlander, he's tough to hit," Scioscia said. "He's even tougher when guys get in scoring position. He's got that second gear that he brought out today against Kins and then Luis Valbuena when we had second and third. He got two strikeouts that were big at that point in the game, obviously, with us trying to get back into it."
At 49-50, the Angels are now 10 1/2 games behind the Mariners for the second Wild Card spot in the American League. They have a losing record for the first time since they were 0-1 following their season-opening loss to the A's on March 29.
Tropeano yielded two runs (one earned) on two hits in his first start for the Angels since June 10. Tropeano, who missed nearly six weeks with right shoulder inflammation, walked four, struck out five and threw 75 pitches.
"I felt pretty good physically," Tropeano said. "I think the first few innings, I was kind of rushing my front side a little bit. Just caused a little too many balls. I thought [catcher Martin Maldonado] did a good job using all my pitches, working both sides of the plate. My main goal was to come out healthy. I feel good now. Hopefully that continues throughout the week."
In the third inning, the Astros put runners on first and second with no outs after Kyle Tucker singled and Springer walked. Third baseman David Fletcher then made an impressive diving stop on a hard-hit grounder off the bat of Alex Bregman, but instead of stepping on third to get the lead runner, he fired to first to retire Bregman.
"He made a great play on the ball," Scioscia said. "Of course, if he can get up and get the forceout at third, it could help some things. But I think he got an out on that ball, which is all you can expect."
With runners on second and third and one out, the Angels intentionally walked Jose Altuve to load the bases for Yuli Gurriel, who delivered a sacrifice fly to center field to plate Tucker from third and give the Astros a 1-0 lead.
Another pair of defensive miscues allowed the Astros to expand their lead in the fourth. Marwin Gonzalez opened the inning by hitting a routine grounder to Andrelton Simmons, but the Gold Glove-winning shortstop uncharacteristically misplayed the ball, allowing Gonzalez to reach on an error. Gonzalez then advanced to second after an attempted pickoff by Tropeano got past first baseman Valbuena, setting up Tony Kemp's RBI double to right field.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Tropeano departed with the Angels trailing by two runs, but the bullpen couldn't keep it close. Left-hander Jose Alvarez replaced Tropeano to start the sixth, but he surrendered a leadoff homer to Josh Reddick that made it 3-0 Astros. It was the first home run Alvarez had permitted since May 10.
After giving up a single to Gonzalez and walking Kemp, Alvarez was lifted in favor of Noe Ramirez, who issued another walk to Max Stassi to load the bases. Springer then hammered a misplaced curveball over the center-field fence for his fifth career grand slam, putting the game out of reach for the Angels.
Even Michael Trout hasn't been immune from the Angels' team-wide slump. Over his last 25 games, Trout is hitting just .214 with two home runs and two RBIs.
"Every player is going to go through some periods where they're not squaring the ball up as well as they are some other times," Scioscia said. "It's just baseball. Sometimes you're going to hit the ball hard at people. Sometimes you're going to go a little out of sync when you're not squaring balls up. Mike's fine."
Left-hander Andrew Heaney (5-6, 3.78 ERA) will oppose right-hander Lance McCullers (10-4, 3.77 ERA) on Sunday as the Angels and Astros close out their three-game series at 1:07 p.m. PT at Angel Stadium. Heaney last faced the Astros on May 14, when he earned the win after firing eight innings of one-run ball. In three career starts against Houston, Heaney is 1-0 with a 0.95 ERA.