A slow start this season had many wondering what was wrong with the talent-laden Los Angeles Angels. They appeared to get back on track with a strong stretch, but those questions are sure to come up again after arguably their worst loss of the season.
Avoiding a four-game sweep by the surging Tampa Bay Rays figured to be difficult enough given the previous night's outcome, but the Angels will have the extra task of facing a red-hot Matt Moore on Sunday.
Adding Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to an 86-win team appeared to make the Angels instant contenders, but a 6-14 start had some asking if longtime manager Mike Scioscia's job was in jeopardy.
The Angels (62-59) turned things around by winning 25 of 33 from May 22-June 28 and were within three games of AL West-leading Texas on July 31. They've been unable to sustain that success, however, and are 5-12 this month, dropping into third place in the division and eight games behind the Rangers.
After watching ace Jered Weaver endure the worst start of his career Friday, the Angels appeared to have righted the ship by building an 8-0 lead in the third inning Saturday. The Rays, though, scored seven times in the fifth off Wilson and Carlos Pena's pinch-hit two-run homer in the eighth lifted Tampa Bay to a stunning 10-8 victory.
"Obviously, C.J. lost his release point. And when you've got an eight-run lead, you can't walk people," Scioscia said. "He got behind in counts and ended up putting some guys on. It's definitely disappointing."
It was the third straight win and 10th in 12 games for the Rays (66-54), who pulled within five games of AL East-leading New York and remained atop the wild-card standings.
"I really felt all along that we had a chance, and I mean that sincerely," manager Joe Maddon said. "Wilson wasn't as sharp as he normally can be, and we've been doing a nice job of scoring runs."
The Rays have outscored Los Angeles 34-11 in winning the last five meetings - a streak that began with three consecutive shutouts - and are 8-1 in the season series.
Tampa Bay's surge has been keyed by its 2.34 ERA during the 10-2 overall stretch.
No starter on the team - and perhaps in the league - has been better than Moore (9-7, 3.60 ERA) lately. The rookie continued his outstanding run Tuesday at Seattle, yielding one run and six hits while striking out nine in seven innings, but he was denied a fourth straight winning start when closer Fernando Rodney blew the save.
In six starts since the All-Star break, the left-hander is 4-1 with a 1.43 ERA. He has not allowed a home run in his past eight outings, going 52 2-3 innings since last serving one up.
Moore is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts against the Angels this season, scattering four hits over 6 1-3 innings in a 3-0 win in Anaheim on July 28.
That was the kind of pitching the Angels envisioned Zack Greinke would provide when they acquired him from Milwaukee on July 27, but the right-hander is 1-1 with a 5.54 ERA in four starts with his new team.
He was very good in his first outing with Los Angeles two days after the trade, limiting the Rays to two runs with eight strikeouts over seven innings of a 2-0 loss.
Since then, however, Greinke has posted a 6.63 ERA over three outings. The 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner did earn his first victory with the Angels in his most recent appearance, yielding four runs in seven innings of a 9-6 win over Cleveland on Tuesday.
Greinke has given up two runs or fewer in four straight and six of his past seven starts against the Rays.