Angels waste solid pitching in loss to Astros

HOUSTON —This competitive portion of this Angels season having been over for some time, Joe Maddon has taken to picking out the positives from each game, even the losses.

The Angels lost 3-1 to the Houston Astros on Sunday afternoon, dropping the rubber game of the three-game series against the division leaders, but the Angels manager appreciated that his team pitched pretty well and could have won.

“There’s a lot of of good here,” Maddon said. “I like the fight. I like that we’re approaching this properly. We’re not going out and mailing it in at all. I’m seeing exactly the opposite. There’s a team (the Astros) that’s totally in the hunt right now. They are playing for something more than we are, but we played right with them.

“We did not move the baseball at the right time, but over these three games, I kind of like the way we matched up in Houston in September. It’s not an easy place to play. They have a very good offensive club. And I still think there’s something to be gained mentally internally from this series.”

The Angels are five games into a trip against contenders — the Padres, Astros and Chicago White Sox — and so far they’re 2-3. In two of the losses the pitching failed them, and in the two wins the pitching was excellent.

This loss, however, was different, because the Angels pitched well enough to win, but didn’t do anything at the plate.

They had some chances early, with runners at first and second and no outs in the first and second innings, but they didn’t score in either of those innings against Lance McCullers Jr.

“That’s large against McCullers,” Maddon said. “He’s one of those guys, like a lot of good pitchers, that will get better if you let him up. And he did. If you look at the entirety of the game, had we been able to cash in there, it would have made a huge difference.”

The Angels’ poor offensive showing is perhaps to be expected, considering that Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Justin Upton are all on the injured list. Shohei Ohtani has been in a slump lately. Jo Adell, who has been the Angels’ best hitter for the past week, was not in the lineup on Sunday because of soreness from crashing into the fence in the ninth inning on Saturday.

Jared Walsh has been swinging the bat better lately, and he had a chance to get the Angels back in the game when he came up with two on and two outs in the eighth, but his line drive to left was right at Yordan Alvarez.

That was it for the Angels, who went down in order in the ninth.

The meager offensive production left no margin for error for the pitchers.

Starter Jaime Barria had an uneven outing, including stretches when he was very good and some when he struggled.

He managed to get the key outs that he needed, so the struggles ended up with just one run on the board, but the problem was his pitch-count got so high that he was pulled after throwing 96 pitches in just four innings.

“With a team like that, you have to be perfect with every pitch,” Barria said through an interpreter. “Thats constantly on your mind. You have to be ready to compete and be locked in.”

Barria struck out six, which helped him work around four walks. He struck out Aledmys Diaz to strand the bases loaded in the first, and he got Alex Bregman on a flyout to leave them loaded in the fourth.

“This is a team, if you want to pitch more deeply into the game with them, understand they’re not going to expand a whole lot and you got to get them out in the zone,” Maddon said. “But he still had some velocity there at the end. I just like a lot the way you battle through it. I still think there’s a growth moment in there giving up one run in four innings.”

He was taken off the hook for a loss when Juan Lagares hit a homer in the fifth, tying the game 1-1.

A few minutes later, though, left-hander José Quijada gave up a two-run homer to Kyle Tucker and the Angels were down 3-1 in the fifth.

Maddon didn’t seem to like Quijada’s decision to throw a first-pitch fastball to Tucker, or the execution of the pitch.

“There were other choices to be made there,” Maddon said, “and he just put it in a bad spot.”