It's obvious that $100 million just doesn't buy what it used to. That's the approximate gap in respective payrolls for the 2013 season between the Los Angeles Angels and the Houston Astros, with the 'Stros bringing up the rear in the major leagues.
And yet, it wasn't the Astros calling a 25-minute team meeting Monday night after somebody got swept at the Big A. Instead, it was the Angels who dropped their fourth straight game, 2-1, to the worst team in the American League. Well, the team with the worst record, anyway. The Astros, despite running an austerity program at the major league level that pays out about $24 million, have taken seven of 10 games against the Angels this season. The Angels don't spend as much as the Yankees or the crosstown Dodgers — who does? — but their $127 million payroll ranks them No. 7.
They're not getting their money's worth.
The Astros outscored the Angels 15-8 in the series and won their sixth straight game on the road for the first time since 2005, when they went to the World Series. Left-hander Erik Bedard, despite taking a 5.32 ERA into play — and a 7.08 ERA for his career at Angel Stadium — allowed one run and five hits. How did it all happen? Astros slugger Chris Carter says it's about being a professional:
''Everybody takes pride in winning and playing as a team, and guys are playing great right now,'' said Carter, who hit his fifth homer against the Angels already this season. ''It's just about getting big hits in big situations.''
Astros manager Bo Porter also has stayed sweetly positive:
''We had been playing good baseball, but now we're starting to win those crucial break points. ... I look at the talent in that room. I know the potential we have. You're starting to see we're coming together. I said it last month: We're going to hit our stride, and we're going to start winning some of those games we were losing.''
Don't tell Bo and spoil it, but I think he's describing luck. The Angels probably should have won this game — right-hander Joe Blanton struck out 11 and allowed three hits — but Los Anaheim's performance in all 10 games against the Astros defies explanation. Houston's starting pitchers sport a 1.85 ERA against the Angels, but against every other team, it's 6.29. That's just ... weird. Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com writes:
Moments later, Scioscia huddled his team for a chat. And though nobody was in the mood to share details of what went on behind closed doors, Albert Pujols put on a smile and tried his best to keep the tone positive.
"You guys are treating this like it's the last game of the season or we're out of the playoffs," he said. "You still have a lot of games left. Obviously you didn't think we'd catch another tough break like this, but it happens, man. That's part of the game."
The players actually are describing accurately what happens over a 162-game season. *Stuff* happens. Teams win and lose games they "shouldn't." The Angels, who had won 10 of 12 before the Astros horde came to Orange County, need better "stuff" to start happening soon, or else they'll be sitting out the pennant race.
And the Astros need to maintain their positive mental attitude, because they can't play the Angels all season. Times will get tough again. Perhaps starting today.