TONIGHT: Facing slump and biggest deficit, Angels are looking for few hits


In the wild and woolly world of the American League West, every team has been able to call itself the best, even if it was for just one day.

Such is the case for the California Angels, who stumble into Memorial Stadium tonight to kick off a three-game series with the Orioles (7:35, HTS). On July 3, the Angels moved into first place, percentage points ahead of Minnesota. Since then they have lost 11 of 14 games, falling seven games behind the Twins, their biggest deficit of the season.

"Everybody's pretty confused, trying to figure out what the problem is," said the Angels' Max Venable. "We've just got to play ourselves out of this rut we're in."

Actually, those looking for answers need to look no further than the Angels' offense. Or lack thereof.

California hit .208 during its 10-game homestand that ended with a 5-2 loss to Cleveland Sunday. In the last 126 innings California has hit only two home runs.

After averaging more than four runs a game for the first three months of the season, the Angels have averaged only 3.1 for the 17 games this month. In their 10 games since the All-Star break, California has scored only 23 runs, and 15 of those came in two games.

Suffice it to say it's been a tough time to be an Angels pitcher. The Angels' staff compiled a 2.52 ERA on the recent homestand, but won only three times. Tonight California sends Jim Abbott (7-7) to the mound against Ben McDonald (4-3). Abbott is 3-0 against the Orioles lifetime, including his first major-league victory, on April 24, 1989, in Anaheim.

Dwight Evans will start the next two nights against Angels

lefthanders Abbott and Chuck Finley.

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