DETROIT -- For about a three-week stretch, from late June until just recently, the Angels were among the game's elite offensively.
Then they met the Tigers' Doug Fister and Max Scherzer.
Fister stifled them on Wednesday night, breezing through eight innings of one-run ball. Then Scherzer did it on a muggy Thursday afternoon, surrendering only one run through seven, giving Jerome Williams very little margin for error and sending the Angels back home with a 5-1 defeat.
"Fister did it with command," Angels manager Mike Scioscia noted. "Scherzer did it with just stuff."
And both did it effectively, limiting the Angels (50-43) to a combined two runs on six hits in the last two games of their first second-half road trip. The shortcomings came right after a 13-run, 18-hit, five-homer assault on Tuesday, which capped a 19-game stretch in which the Angels led the Majors in batting average and ranked second in runs.
After dropping three of four to the Tigers (49-44), the Angels moved to 2-5 in the second half -- after losing two of three at Yankee Stadium -- and are now 7-10 over their last 17. You can forget about any momentum going into a big weekend series against the Rangers, who have a six-game cushion in the American League West.
The Angels left Detroit with none of it.
"It's not good, but we're also one game removed from putting a crooked number up," outfielder Mark Trumbo said. "The way Scherzer was throwing, I don't think anyone would have done too much today, so it's a little easier to forget about that one. Chalk it up to him getting it done and us having to wear it."
And if they don't get better starting pitching, the Angels will be wearing it some more in this unrelenting stretch.
In six-plus innings, Williams gave up five runs on nine hits -- two of them homers -- to put his season ERA at 4.85 and give him five straight outings without a quality start.
Since the last time Williams registered one of those quality starts, on June 1, he's suffered an asthma attack, been placed on the disabled list and has been hit around, going 0-5 while giving up 26 runs (24 earned) in 28 2/3 innings.
"Terrible," Williams said, shaking his head.
"I want to pitch how I'm capable of pitching, and it just hasn't clicked. It hasn't been like how I was at the beginning of the year. I'm doing my best in between starts to correct the things, and it's frustrating."
Williams' recent struggles are yet another reason why the Angels may be feeling a little uneasy about their rotation as the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches. After going most of the season with the best starting-pitcher ERA in the AL, their staff has posted a 5.28 ERA in July.
Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson have been great, but they were recently hit around by the Yankees and Tigers, respectively. Dan Haren is expected to return Sunday against the Rangers, but there's no guarantee his back will hold up all year. Ervin Santana was better in his last start, but he's still unreliable. And Williams is on a bad run himself.
One day after scoring five runs in the first two innings off Wilson, the Tigers took an early lead off Williams with a three-run second. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta hit a two-out RBI double, then Alex Avila followed it up with a two-run shot to left field. The Tigers then added a run on an RBI double by Danny Worth in the fourth and a solo homer by Miguel Cabrera in the fifth.
"Like I said, getting that ball up in the zone hurts, and they're a good-hitting team," Williams said. "They took advantage of me throwing the ball up in the zone. I have to do what I've been doing, keeping the ball down in the zone, and I haven't been doing that lately."
Williams has now given up five earned runs in four of his last five starts, and two homers in each of his last two outings -- against the Yankees and Tigers.
"He has to be able to tame that and control that," Scioscia said of the home run ball. "He's pitched some good baseball against some good teams. He's hit a little bit of a rut here this last handful of starts."
The Angels' offense was in a daze against Scherzer, who gave up only a Mike Trout solo homer -- giving him 14 on the year and marking the 11th straight game in which he's scored a run -- despite walking four batters. Scherzer came in with a 4.84 ERA through his first 18 starts, but with a high-90s fastball, a nasty slider and a deceiving changeup, he has the ability to dominate at times.
He did just that against the Angels.
"He was terrific," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, whose club has defeated the Angels in 11 of its last 16 games at Comerica Park. "The last two nights we just got excellent pitching, and you always look like a good team when you do that. I mean, we shut down a powerhouse. This is really a good team. They got a lot of nice combinations of power and speed, and it was pretty impressive. ... I'm tickled to death."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.