Freeway Series: Angels and Dodgers mired in MLB’s bear market

A month ago, Major League Baseball made a big deal about their big teams in their big markets.

For the first time ever, both New York and Southland franchises topped their respective divisions in early May — a fact MLB publicized through its television network and social media feeds.

The Yankees and Mets rolled on one shore. The Dodgers and Angels, on the other hand, were equally impressive. The best baseball in the sport was played in the most populous areas. It seemed like it would last all summer.

Fast forward a few weeks and the situation has changed.

As the two clubs in the Big Apple continue to push the league forward, this week the Dodgers and Angels compete in a two-game freeway series on the downhills, each mired in the worst stretches of their fledgling seasons.

The Angels are no longer in first place and aren’t even particularly close, a 14-game losing streak and an extended 5-20 run that sees them drop several games below .500 and out of the playoff picture.

The Dodgers still lead in the National League West, but only just, and are clinging to a half-game lead Monday after losing nine of their last 13 contests.

“I just think on the offensive side, the urgency to do whatever it takes to win that night wasn’t there.”

– Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on the team’s struggles

What once looked like a celebratory showdown at Dodger Stadium this week is now beginning with a different sentiment as both clubs look to regain their footing and regain momentum in their first of two meetings this season.

“It’s baseball, you just keep fighting your way through,” said Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. “That’s why we’re playing 162 games, you’re going to go through stretches like that.”

Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes reacts after taking on the San Francisco Giants on Sunday.

Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes reacts after taking on the San Francisco Giants on Sunday.

(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

While the Dodgers (37-23) have struggled with injuries on the mound lately, most notably losing Walker Buehler to a strained elbow last weekend, problems with the plate have cost them the most during their two-week slide.

In the first 45 games of the season, the Dodgers were baseball’s most dynamic offense. They averaged an MLB-best 5.7 runs per game. They hit .254 as a team. They had an on-base plus slugging percentage of 0.771.

Since then, they’ve managed 3.5 runs per game. They hit .234. And during their last 2-4 trip they got disfellowshipped twice.

The lack of performance prompted blunt comments from manager Dave Roberts on Sunday morning.

“I just think the urgency of doing whatever it takes to win that night, on the offensive side, wasn’t there,” he said.

A key factor: a lack of production from the lineup’s top two hitters.

After releasing MVP caliber numbers in May, leadoff hitter Mookie Betts has been hitting a .204 home run since early June. Another former MVP, Freddie Freeman, also chilled this month with a .229 batting average.

The team has made a habit of also wasting chances and hitting .191 with runners in goal position since early June (the third-worst mark in MLB during that epoch).

“I think we could do better to be a little bit more aggressive and confident,” said shortstop Trea Turner, “rather than just sit back and wait for it to happen.”

The Angels (29-33), meanwhile, are trying to find their feet after a turbulent week that saw manager Joe Maddon fired last Tuesday amid their franchise-record losing streak.

The skid ended Thursday in a 5-2 win over the Boston Red Sox, but the Angels continue to lose and lose two of three weekend games against the Mets (who also split a four-game series against the Dodgers on their trip). four of six games under interim manager Phil Nevin.

The swagger the Angels displayed as they went 24-13 and earned a share of the American League West lead through May 15 faded during the brutal subsequent four-week stretch that saw them nine games behind the Houston Astros through Sunday left behind.

Angels interim manager Phil Nevin speaks to reporters ahead of a loss to the New York Mets on Sunday.

Angels interim manager Phil Nevin speaks to reporters ahead of a loss to the New York Mets on Sunday.

(Alex Gallardo/Associated Press)

Wins like Saturday night’s 11-6 win over the Mets, in which the Angels hit 15 including five homers, have helped restore some of their confidence.

“We’ve had a rough patch, but I think we’re getting our mojo back a little bit,” said first baseman Jared Walsh after scoring for the cycle on Saturday. “If we click on all cylinders, I think we’re one of the best teams in the league.”

Injuries have taken several key parts from the Angels over the past month, but they are expected to be whole again on Tuesday when right fielder and leadoff man Taylor Ward, one of baseball’s best hitters through mid-May, is activated after he has missed nine games due to a slight strain on the right thigh muscle.

With Anthony Rendon, who returned from a right wrist injury last Friday, and Mike Trout, who returns on Saturday after missing three games with left groin strains, on Tuesday for the first time since the 20 and Rendon – will be together start.

“I’m super excited to be back with everyone,” Ward said over the weekend. “Hopefully we can get this thing rolling.” Freeway Series: Angels and Dodgers mired in MLB’s bear market

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