08/29/12 3:37 AM ET
Hunter: Angels aren't living up to their expectations
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
The Angels' payroll alone: nearly $155 million.
And still, all three of those teams -- along with the big-spending Tigers -- are ahead of the Angels for the two American League Wild Card spots as the calendar nears September. The Rays, A's and Orioles are playing loose, with very little expectations -- much like the 2002 World Series champion Angels and very unlike this year's squad. Teams like that tend to be dangerous.
"They are, because even if they fall off it's no pressure, because it'll be like, 'Ah well, we knew that was going to happen anyway,'" veteran outfielder Torii Hunter said. "For us, we're expected to win. But that's not enough pressures to make us fall off. I mean, it's there, but it's just one of the pressures. There's many pressures on this team, but I think that's definitely one of them."
The Angels went 4-2 on their just-completed road trip, winning their first four in Boston and Detroit before dropping the last two against the Tigers. Due in large part to baffling struggles up and down the Halos' pitching staff, they entered Tuesday 18-24 in the second half and 9-15 in August, putting them 4 1/2 games out of the second AL Wild Card spot and 10 back of the AL West-leading Rangers with 33 left.
The AL Wild Card-leading Orioles (71-57) and A's (71-57) are two of the most surprising teams in baseball, while the Rays (70-59) continue to excel.
The Angels (66-62) aren't far off, but their expectations were far greater.
"Not just from other people, but ourselves," Hunter said. "We expected to win. So far, it's been a disappointment."
Serving as DH, Pujols goes 2-for-4 in return to lineup
ANAHEIM -- Albert Pujols, absent from the Angels' previous four games due to a bothersome right calf, still doesn't feel 100 percent healthy, but he feels good enough.
Good enough to hit, good enough to run at something close to his full speed and good enough to boost an Angels offense that totaled seven runs while dropping two of three during a just-completed weekend set in Detroit.
"Obviously I'm not where I want to be, but it's good to be back in the lineup," said Pujols, who hit third and served as the designated hitter during Tuesday's 6-5 walk-off win over the Red Sox at Angel Stadium. "I'm still going to be taking it easy. It doesn't bother me swinging, but running I'm still a little bit sore."
Pujols went 2-for-4 in his first game back, lacing a line-drive single in his first plate appearance, hitting his 29th homer in his third and being very cautious every time he stepped out of the batter's box.
"You could see obviously he was guarding it," manager Mike Scioscia said postgame, "but he feels OK now and we'll see how he feels tomorrow."
Pujols originally felt tightness in his right calf while running to third base in the fourth inning of Wednesday's game at Fenway Park. An MRI the next day revealed no structural damage, just inflammation, but Pujols felt enough soreness during running drills on Saturday that Scioscia held him out an extra three days.
Early Tuesday afternoon, though, Pujols did some agility drills and briefly ran the bases, providing enough evidence that he can play.
"It's a lot better," Pujols said. "It's progressing. It's something that's progressing every day."
"Swinging a bat wasn't really much of an issue over the weekend as it was what happens when you hit the ball," Scioscia added. "Albert's a little more comfortable, as our medical staff is, with where we can kind of put a little governor on and not be at risk running the bases and hopefully nurse his way through this."
The 32-year-old is still not sure when he'll return to first base -- "I don't have a magic ball, so whenever I feel good," Pujols said -- but in the meantime, the Angels can use Mark Trumbo or Kendrys Morales, who started there Tuesday.
The important thing is that Pujols' bat is back.
"Injuries in this game is something that's out of your control," said Pujols, batting .285 on the year. "Obviously it was tough, because we started a really good road trip, it was a big series in Detroit, and I had to miss that and it was pretty tough. That's one of the teams that are in front of us in the Wild Card [race]. It's tough, but I'm just glad to be back in the lineup today and hopefully for the rest of the season."
Downs placed on family medical emergency list
ANAHEIM -- A reeling Angels bullpen has once again lost critical lefty reliever Scott Downs, who on Tuesday was placed on the family medical emergency list to deal with a personal matter.
To take his spot on the roster, outfielder Kole Calhoun was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake.
It's not known how long Downs will be away from the team, but a player on the family medical emergency list must miss a minimum of three games and a maximum of seven. That means Downs will miss the entire three-game home series against the Red Sox and could be away until Sept. 4, at the latest. Previously called the bereavement list, the family medical emergency list was implemented into the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to allow players to depart from the team without experiencing a death in their families.
Downs, who remains on the Angels' 40-man roster, flew back to his Kentucky home on Sunday night. His return is still up in the air, but he didn't experience a death in his family.
"Right now we're not sure [when Downs will return]," said manager Mike Scioscia, who didn't want to go into details about his situation. "Hopefully as a little time goes on we'll get a little more clarity as to what Scott's situation is."
Downs, who was on the disabled list with a strained left shoulder from July 30 to Aug. 18, has a 3.08 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP in 38 innings this season. In the second half, as the Angels' bullpen has struggled mightily as a whole, the 36-year-old has been charged with 12 earned runs on 15 hits and seven walks in eight innings.
Angels relievers lead the Majors with a 7.17 ERA and eight blown saves in August. The temporary loss of Downs leaves them with no lefties in the 'pen, since the Pirates claimed their other veteran lefty, Hisanori Takahashi, off waivers on Friday.
The Red Sox, at least, are without lefty sluggers David Ortiz (on the disabled list with an Achilles injury) and Adrian Gonzalez (traded to the Dodgers last week).
"That's a couple of big bats that you're not worried about matching up with," Scioscia said. "Not to minimize what Scott's absence means. We need him in our bullpen, but hopefully we can absorb it short-term."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.