ANAHEIM -- The Angels got blown out 8-4 in the opening game of their key four-game series against the first-place Texas Rangers Monday night.
Starting pitcher Garrett Richards left the game in the first inning with a strained groin and relievers Hisanori Takahashi and Rich Thompson got pounded in a six-run fifth inning.
The Angels have lost five of their last six games and fell to five games behind Texas in the AL West, their biggest deficit since July 19.
Comeback. The reason Richards was in Anaheim Monday and not with the Arkansas Travelers is because Joel Pineiro could barely get anybody out in four straight starts. Pineiro looked better while striking out the side in the seventh inning and going three strong innings. Pineiro might be headed back into the rotation and getting him turned around would be a boost to the Angels' sagging chances.
Late muscle. In his last two pinch-hitting appearances, Russell Branyan has homered off Mariano Rivera and Alexi Ogando. Not bad for a guy who went nearly three weeks without playing. Before Branyan's blasts, the Angels hadn't had a pinch-hitting home run since 2009.
Baby steps. Some players are trying to emerge from massive slumps. A couple of them, Vernon Wells and Erick Aybar, at least made grudging progress. Wells, who went 2-for-23 on the last road trip and is batting .205, sliced an RBI double to right in the second inning to tie it. Aybar, stuck in a 1-for-41 rut, led off the fifth by slashing a single to left and bunted for a hit in the ninth.
Catcher problem. Let's dispense with this first: The Angels traded Mike Napoli because they didn't want to pay $6 million for a guy who was only going to catch 60 games a year because of a history of arm injuries. But yeah, it hurts in retrospect. Napoli smacked his 19th home run. Meanwhile, Angels catchers collectively are hitting .199 (30th in baseball) with 36 RBIs (25th). It seems ridiculous for Hank Conger to be playing at Triple-A when his bat is needed in Anaheim.
Options. The Angels obviously aren't too thrilled with their options at Triple-A or Richards would still be an Arkansas Traveler. But if they don't go with Pineiro in Richards' rotation spot, one possibility is ex-major-leaguer Jerome Williams, who pitched a complete game Sunday night for the Angels' Triple-A Salt Lake team.
Slop. One of the few edges the Angels have over Texas is a superior defense, but they were awful Monday. They made three errors and two of them led directly to runs. Given the pitching turmoil, the last thing they could afford to do was play sloppily and it doesn't bode well for this series.