Angels singing the bullpen blues as losing streak grows to five games

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Toronto’s Matt Chapman, right, avoids a tag by Angels reliever Oliver Ortega, left, on his way to first in front of Angels first baseman Jared Walsh during the seventh inning. The Angels lost 11-10 on Sunday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

About 12 hours after the Angels lost again, bushy-bearded reliever Archie Bradley bounded into the clubhouse Sunday morning, bursting into song:

“We need a winnn today!”

They say April showers bring May flowers. But in this case, a 14-8 record for the Angels in April had turned into 13-13 this month heading into Sunday afternoon — most notably, a 3-8 stretch after Saturday night’s frustrating loss to Toronto.

“How many have we lost?” Bradley asked in the clubhouse to nobody in particular. “Four in a row?”

Four in a row, indeed. It became five Sunday with a raucous slugfest of an 11-10 loss to the Blue Jays, Angel Stadium alternating between home run cheers and exasperated sighs at a moment’s notice.

It would seem difficult to lose a game in which Shohei Ohtani smacked two homers, Taylor Ward homered and had three RBIs, and Max Stassi homered among four hits and drove in three. Yet an Angels staff that entered sixth in the American League in ERA imploded at every level against Toronto, continuing a frustrating trend for manager Joe Maddon — his relievers not gratifying his faith in them in high-leverage situations.

“A bunch of guys that have been really good collectively, all of a sudden, it’s difficult,” Maddon said. “And I don’t have any answer for that.”

In the third inning, left-handed starter Patrick Sandoval snatched a toss with his throwing hand, shaking his head slightly as he trudged back to the mound. He took out his frustration with a few swift kicks to the rosin bag.

Brandon Marsh places the Angels' home run cowboy hat on Shohei Ohtani's head.

Brandon Marsh places the Angels’ home run cowboy hat on Shohei Ohtani’s head after the reigning American League MVP hit a two-run run homer in the third inning Sunday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

He had two outs in that inning before the Blue Jays’ Alejandro Kirk knocked a single to drive in George Springer. Kick. He had two outs before walking three hitters in a row on 3-and-2 counts. Kick. He had two outs and Raimel Tapia down 1-and-2 in the count before Tapia singled to bring home two runs. Suddenly, Toronto led 6-2. Kick.

“Walks are going to kill me, and they did today,” Sandoval said after the game.

The moment was a microcosm of Sunday’s roller coaster. All the Angels needed for a win, inning after inning, was for someone in a red-and-white jersey to step on the mound and hold down the Blue Jays.

But Sandoval, the Angels’ best starter through the season’s first two months, exited with a lowered gaze and an elevated ERA. Oliver Ortega, filling in after a solid 2 1/3 innings of long-relief work by Jaime Barria, was nicked and nagged to death in the seventh and loaded the bases.

With a 9-6 lead and one out, Maddon turned to Ryan Tepera, a 34-year-old offseason pickup who had been “subject to the base on balls” at times this season, as Maddon put it afterward. But Tepera was his only option, the manager believed. The only reliever left he could trust with inducing a double play.

“He was the guy,” Maddon said. “In spite of having some issues, he can still throw a ground ball.”

He did. But much too late.

He walked Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on four pitches, bringing home a run. Tapia slapped a single, driving in another run. Tepera then walked Teoscar Hernandez, tying the score at 9 and setting off a raucous boo from the crowd.

Tepera finally induced a double-play grounder from George Springer to get out of the inning, but the damage was done. Stassi put the Angels up with a solo homer in the bottom of the seventh, but Bo Bichette’s homer off Tepera and Gurriel’s RBI double off José

Quijada in the eighth put the Blue Jays ahead for good.

After the game, Tepera was exasperated.

“To be honest, man, it’s unacceptable,” he said after a long sigh. “Just lack of command, and walking guys, that can’t happen. We’re just not getting the job done right now. Something has to change.”

It will have to change quickly, as the Angels will visit the New York Yankees — who at 33-15 have the American League’s best record — for a three-game series beginning Tuesday.

The Angels’ clubhouse was lively before the game, players sporting custom T-shirts of a squid version of shortstop Andrew Velazquez, per his nickname. It fell to a hush after the final pitch, players relegating themselves to their lockers. Bradley no longer sung.

But soon, as teammates changed into what they had unofficially dubbed “Squid fits” — clothing designed to imitate Velazquez’s fashion sense — the mood lightened. Mike Trout cracked jokes about Velazquez’s parachute pants and Tyler Wade’s puffy jacket. Brandon Marsh, Jared Walsh and Anthony Rendon chuckled.

It was time to “lick their wounds,” as Maddon said, fly to New York and figure it out.

“This team’s a lot different than other teams I’ve been on,” Sandoval said. “I know we’re going to pull this around.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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