- Mark Saxon, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Torii Hunter sat at his locker dressed in a gray T-shirt, red shorts and brown slippers, slowly sipping coffee from a green Styrofoam cup. It was 11:15 on Wednesday morning, several hours before this Los Angeles Angels season seemed to come to its definitive, if unofficial, end.
"I'm tired. My body's hurting," Hunter said. "Not hurting like that, but sore."
Some guys are tired and beat up. Two nights earlier, Hunter had hit the center-field wall hard enough to sustain a concussion. He walked into the clubhouse the next day feeling "a little foggy." That night, he bumped into the wall again. Walls aren't his only problem: With slow players all around him in the outfield, his legs have been taking a pounding.
"I've been running a lot," Hunter said.
Some guys are just plain injured. Joel Pineiro stood in the hallway that leads to the Angels' clubhouse several hours after he severely strained a muscle in his side warming up, an injury that will keep him out until September. That makes two starting pitchers on the disabled list, joining the Angels' best hitter, Kendry Morales.
"I'm really frustrated, really angry this happened at this moment," Pineiro said. "We've got a big series coming up, we needed a big win today. I feel like I should have taken that loss, but I wasn't out there."
Shift the scene about 300 feet, through a dark tunnel, down one staircase and up another. Manager Mike Scioscia was on the bench in the dugout asking reporters to offer their lineup suggestions. Scioscia has trotted out about all the looks he could think of -- including slap hitter Alberto Callaspo hitting third -- and none of them was good enough to stick. He figured he'd get some outside-the-box feedback.
When a couple of the Japanese reporters demurred, Scioscia kept after them.
"What do you think, Hideki [Matsui] hitting first, second and third?" Scioscia asked.
With Hunter out of the Angels' lineup, it looked Lilliputian in its six-hit attack Wednesday, but it's hardly a goliath with him. These are tricky times for this team, struggling from being crushed under (probably inflated) expectations. This team sometimes looks exhausted, sometimes looks befuddled and sometimes looks aggravated. It rarely looks competitive. The Angels have lost seven of their last eight games to virtually drop out of contention.
In fact, it's beginning to look like the bad old days in Anaheim. When Boston's Marco Scutaro hit his eighth-inning grand slam Wednesday, the crowd went wild. Happy wild. Just as in former years, when the Angels were usually also-rans, Red Sox fans seemed to outnumber Angels fans Wednesday. The most prominent noise of the day was the "Yoooouuuk!" chant whenever Kevin Youkilis did anything.
It's hard to blame Angels fans for their lack of interest. This team generally has been as dynamic as a paper bag.
Scioscia, who was sure he had a pretty good team this spring, has the most right to be befuddled. He's so befuddled, he's practically bemused.
He all but admitted the Angels would consider trading a veteran before Saturday's no-waivers deadline if they could get a young player or two who could help them beyond 2010. In other words, the Angels just might become sellers. Another possibility is the Angels will promote some of their Triple-A players, guys like Peter Bourjos or Mark Trumbo, and release underperforming veterans in the coming weeks.
"We've obviously been treading water and, probably, treading water might be a little better than we've been," Scioscia said. "We've struggled the last couple weeks. There are options we need to look at. When there's something that can make us better internally or externally, we'll act on it."
Angels ace Jered Weaver, who has seen his outfielders let him down too often, has the most right to feel aggravated. He has been less and less successful hiding it. Weaver looked plenty steamed, his teeth clenched, after Juan Rivera circled a looping liner that turned into a Jed Lowrie double Tuesday night. Come to think of it, Weaver looked a lot like that in his previous start when the Angels' outfield again looked sluggish.
The Angels are three-quarters of the way through a stretch of schedule that many people thought would define their 2010 season. So far, they're 2-7 with three more desperation games to play this weekend against the first-place Texas Rangers. Are they still in it? Depends whether you consider the Florida Marlins a contender. They're closer to a playoff spot than the Angels are.
You have to wonder if Derrek Lee was among those who wasn't convinced this Angels team was a contender. Lee's Cubs are only a game further out than the Angels are.
The Angels had a deal in place for the Chicago Cubs slugger on July 21, but Lee -- a 10-year veteran with five years in Chicago -- vetoed it. Back then, the Angels were only five games out of first. They then set their sights on Callaspo, sending a pair of minor league pitchers to the Kansas City Royals to acquire him.
Lee, a Sacramento native, is in the process of building a house in Southern California.
"There's a lot of thought that goes into it, not just that I have a home," Lee told Chicago reporters. "I thought about it for a good 24 hours, and agonized over it."
In that case, he'd fit right in around this team.
Quote of the day
"If we have a surplus player, then I think you'd consider it." -- Scioscia, on the possibility of the Angels being trade deadline "sellers."
Hunter said he could see this AL West race "going down to the wire," though the Texas Rangers' lead has been steadily growing.
"If we put together a streak of five or six games in a row and they have a streak of bad luck. ... I've seen it happen thousands of times," Hunter said. "It could happen."
The Angels didn't play that poorly in losing three of four games in Texas last weekend, but the Rangers looked like the more athletic, hungrier team. The Angels lost two of the games by a single run and one by two.
After an off day Thursday, the Angels will contend with Texas' worst starter, Scott Feldman (5-9, 5.46 ERA), followed by the Rangers' second-best, Tommy Hunter (8-0, 2.31), and their best, Cliff Lee (9-4, 2.40). The Angels counter with their top three: Ervin Santana (9-7, 3.55), Dan Haren (0-1, 3.86) and Weaver (9-7, 3.19), in that order.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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