It set up just as Angels manager Joe Maddon had hoped.
Starting pitcher Griffin Canning delivered six strong innings, an early two-run home run by Hunter Renfroe his only blemish on
a seven-strikeout night against the Boston Red Sox.
The Angels had rallied to take a late lead, getting on the board thanks to Shohei Ohtani’s Green Monster-clearing solo shot in the sixth and José Iglesias’ go-ahead two-run double in the top of the seventh.
And Tony Watson was throwing some of his hardest fastballs of the season in the bottom of the seventh, a couple outs away from passing the lead along to setup man Mike Mayers and closer Raisel Iglesias.
But then, in what has become a familiar story line during the opening act of this Angels season, that script went up in flames.
The Angels didn’t have another comeback in them, failing to put a runner on base in the final two innings and striking out in their final five at-bats. Instead of taking the opening game of their trip to Boston, they suffered a third straight defeat and dropped to a season-worst five games under .500 at 16-21.
“We just have to finish these games off,” Maddon said. “We’ve lost games with leads late too often. I do believe this bullpen is better than it’s shown on a consistent basis. And you have to be, in order to get where you want. You have to win games that you’re supposed to late, when you grab leads.”
Instead, a common theme has emerged this month, the Angels coming up short in what Maddon has called the “laser-thin” margins that can dictate a season.
In April, starting pitching was the Angels’ biggest problem. The rotation’s 5.97 ERA was the worst in the majors. And they were averaging less than 4 2/3 innings per start. In May, however, that group has been much better. Entering Friday, they had a 3.72 ERA this month and were averaging an MLB-best 12.26 strikeouts-per-nine.
And that was before Canning’s six-inning, six-hit, two-run display against the Red Sox (24-16), the right-hander using his over-the-head windup for a third straight successful start. In his last three outings, Canning has pitched 17 innings, struck out 20 and given up only three runs.
“I believe in myself, so I guess it’s nice to see some results,” said Canning, who lowered his ERA to 4.78. “But now this one’s over. Move on to the next one, try and get better this week.”
It’s the Angels’ relievers, however, in need of the most improvement. After posting a 4.34 ERA in April — including a 4.80 ERA in “high-leverage” situations, according to FanGraphs — they have an MLB-worst 7.35 mark in May. Entering Friday, their high-leverage ERA had risen to 8.22. Their 35 walks and 11 home runs this month also lead all MLB bullpens.
“They’re throwing the ball as well as they can, we just got to get the results,” Maddon said. “We haven’t had those.”
Watson became the latest victim Friday. After giving up only one run in his first 11 innings this season, “he pulled a changeup,” Maddon said, referencing the two-strike mistake that Dalbec sent out of the park. “Sometimes the hitter misses it. Sometimes he takes. This time he didn’t.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.