Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 4/29/12
Albert Pujols came to the plate four times Sunday afternoon, and four times he made outs. Ground ball to third. Ground ball to short. Ground ball to third. Strikeout. Condense the Angels' offensive malaise into one batter and that's what you get. Pujols struggles, his teammates struggle. The Angels return home Monday after going 1-5 on a road trip through Tampa Bay and Cleveland. They hit a collective .165 on the six games, scored just nine runs and seemed to fail continually with runners in scoring position. No one symbolizes their offensive struggles more than Pujols, who is hitting .216 this season and now has gone without a home run in 88 consecutive at-bats. Despite his own protestations that he's not feeling the pressure of producing for his new team, there is little question that's exactly what is happening. If it weren't, he wouldn't be pulling so many pitches on the ground. Pujols was 0 for 4 in the Angels' 4-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Sunday and ended the trip in a 3-for-23 funk. Maybe it's a reach to assume that if Pujols breaks out in a big way his teammates will follow, but that's sometimes how teams break slumps: Someone has a big game and everyone around them relaxes and starts hitting. Right now, no one is hitting. The Angels totaled just three singles off 38-year-old Indians starter Derek Lowe, who pitched into the eighth. And they did it on a day in which their own starter, Ervin Santana, finally pitched well. Santana was winless in four decisions this season, but he gave the Angels seven strong innings that were spoiled when right fielder Torii Hunter lost a ball in the sun. It's a play that is usually ruled a hit, but Major League Baseball told official scorers at the start of the season that outfielders who lose sight of a ball in the sun should be given an error. Hunter's miscue on Asdrubal Cabrera's high fly came after Santana gave up a one-out infield single and a walked to put runners at first and second base. Two unearned runs scored on the play, and suddenly the Angels were behind. They had a chance to get even in the eighth, but Howie Kendrick struck out with the bases loaded when he chased a fastball by reliever Vinnie Pestano that was up and out of the strike zone. That's how badly things are going. Santana's problem this season has been spotting his fastball, but he had few of those lapses against the Indians. And although he hasn't pitched well this season, giving up 19 earned runs in his first four starts (a 7.23 ERA), he also hasn't been supported. In his past four starts, including Sunday, the Angels have failed to score a run -- a stretch of 28 consecutive innings. Pitchers who worry they won't have an offense behind them often try to be too fine with their pitches, concerned that giving up one run might be enough to beat them. That's not necessarily what has happened to Santana, but his reaction to seeing Hunter's error spoke volumes. He looked skyward, as if to say, "What next?" The Angels' two struggling starters, Dan Haren and Santana, have now pitched two effective back-to-back games. Haren won his first game of the season Saturday, giving up just one run in eight innings in a 2-1 win. But now that they're on track, the offense looks like a 98-pound weakling. The Angels are coming home with a 7-15 record, equaling the worst 22-game start in their history. Will they get better at home? It remains to be seen, but here's a guess: As soon as Pujols starts hitting, the rest of the offense will follow.
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