Big hits hard to come by for Angels on road trip

August 25th, 2019

HOUSTON -- The Angels have played in several winnable games during their current all-Texas road trip through Arlington and Houston, but the narratives have been vastly different from city to city.

In Arlington, the Angels were stung by late-game stumbles by the bullpen, which led to three losses to the Rangers via the walk-off hit. The storyline in Houston has flipped from the pitching to the offense, which, though given numerous opportunities, is struggling to connect with the breakthrough hit that could help shift the momentum in their favor.

The Angels' 5-2 loss to the Astros Saturday night at Minute Maid Park was another reminder of their current plight. The Angels produced 14 baserunners, seven via walks, but stranded 10. ’s 425-foot solo homer to left-center off Astros starter Wade Miley in the fifth was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise frustrating night for the Halos’ lineup.

"We got a couple walks that helped runners get on base, but we couldn't come up with a real big hit to push us right back to the brink," manager Brad Ausmus said. "But the bullpen did a good job. We didn't quite do it, but I felt like we could. We were right there. We just couldn't get the big hit."

The Angels twice had the bases loaded, but were unable to capitalize either time. They seemingly had Miley on the ropes with the bases loaded in the fifth, but flied out to center, ending the inning. The Angels were in a similar situation the next inning, following a Justin Upton single and walks to Albert Pujols and Rengifo, but Matt Thaiss, who had singled in the fifth, struck out against Chris Devenski.

The Angels scored 21 runs in four games in Arlington but won only once, due mostly to issues with the bullpen. But Ausmus didn't necessarily agree that the offensive struggles didn't appear until the team arrived to Houston -- he noticed the lack of the much-needed breakthrough hits in Arlington, too.

"It's been a combination," Ausmus said. "We did score more runs in the Texas series, but late in the game, we were looking for the big hit and we had trouble finding it. Today, similar -- we had trouble finding the big hit. Yesterday, similar. Kept getting back into it yesterday. Today, not quite back into it. We're one hit away from either winning or being in the game again."

Through two games, the Astros have succeeded where many have not, in that they've tamed Trout. The top American League MVP candidate is still hitting the ball hard -- his groundout in his first plate appearance left his bat at 99.9 mph, and his fly ball in the fifth clocked in at 98.2 mph, according to Statcast. But he's 1-for-9 so far in the series.

"It got in on me a little bit, but the last three at-bats, that's probably the best I felt the last week," Trout said. "So that's a positive."

From the Astros' viewpoint, even a struggling Trout is still terrifying.

"I don’t have an answer, and if I had it, I wouldn’t give it to you," Astros manager AJ Hinch said, when asked how Houston has been able to get him out. "We have a few games with these guys left. It’s very uncomfortable when Mike comes up to bat. It’s really hard when he comes up to bat with a chance to tie the game early in the game with Wade. Just in general, he's a dangerous guy. I'm never comfortable, even though we've had a nice couple of days against him."

Though they're 1-5 on the road trip, the Angels have, cumulatively, been outscored only by three runs, 30-27.

"We had our chances for sure," Trout said. "We lost some tough ones in Texas. Obviously, we had chances tonight and yesterday. We just have to stay positive and try to win a ballgame tomorrow."