If Matt Shoemaker has not yet asserted himself as the ace of this Angels' squad, this is the start that should have cemented it. Baffling the Astros through 7 innings pitched, Shoemaker appeared destined to take this game by the horns and single-handedly snap the Angels' losing streak. Unfortunately, a dilapidated bullpen stretched Ol' Shoey into the eighth inning where he finally ran out of gas, allowing three hits. His final line on the day: 7.1 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 7 K, 2 BB.
Of course, it would hardly be fair to hang this one on the Cobbler, as he was forced to pitch every inning with the slimmest of margins for error. The absence of an under-performing Albert Pujols really highlights just how shallow the squad's offense is. Escobar and Calhoun continue to get the job done at the top of the order, but when Trout is held in check as he was today, you can be sure things will be quiet in the batter's box for the Halos.
The Astros' Lance McCullers certainly did his part to make life rough on the Angels' line-up, dazzling them over 5.2 IP with a 94 MPH fastball and wicked curve. A parade of the 'Stros all-too-familiar relievers got the job done the rest of the way. Seriously, have any of the Angels ever not struck out in the ugliest way possible against Pat Neshek?
The Angels finally woke up in the ninth and nearly made things interesting until Escobar inexplicably over-ran second base on a Calhoun single and was picked off by Colby Rasmus. With two outs, Trout finally hit one on the nose, but right at Rasmus to end the game.
But at this point in the season, results mean pretty much nothing. The Angels are in fourth place, 14.5 games out of first with no hope of making a push in the season's second half. Right now, we get to relish in individual performances and Shoemaker continues to impress. He has averaged more than a strikeout an inning over his last 8 starts, completely turning his season around by leaning on his nasty splitter and putting him in the conversation as one of the best pitchers going at the moment.
This start also raises some interesting questions about his battery-mate, Jett Bandy. Catching Shoemaker's last four brilliant starts, he was one of the few offensive bright spots this afternoon, with a career high 3 hits and a clutch caught-stealing in the eighth inning. With Geovany Soto close to returning from the DL, one has two wonder whether Bandy has done enough to hold on to his spot on the roster over the continuously-slumping Carlos Perez.
The Angels return home tomorrow to begin a four-game set against the A's in a battle for last place. While this series will do nothing to determine the actual standings, it might signal how quickly the fire sale begins for one of these AL West basement-dwellers. If you have a particular fondness for Yunel Escobar, Huston Street, Joe Smith or even Tim Lincecum, make your way out to the ball park soon, because it doesn't appear as though any of those guys are long for the Halo.