ANAHEIM, Calif. — Nothing went right for the Los Angeles Angels in their first series against the rival Oakland Athletics, and the pitching staff took the brunt of the abuse in all three games.
Jason Vargas allowed with five runs, 10 hits and three walks in 5 2-3 innings in his 8-1 loss to the defending AL West champions on Thursday night. The big blow was a tiebreaking two-run homer in the sixth by Josh Donaldson.
The Angels' starting pitchers in the series – including C.J. Wilson and Joe Blanton – gave up 15 earned runs and 26 hits in 16 2-3 innings, The bullpen has a 7.71 ERA in its last six games.
"We're a little frustrated right now and we've got to get our pitching settled, especially our bullpen," manager Mike Scioscia said. "They're not pitching to their capabilities, and that has got to change.
"We're a good team and we're going to turn this thing around. We all believe it."
Los Angeles (2-7) is off to its worst start since the club's inaugural 1961 season (1-8). Last year the Angels were 6-14, fell nine games out of first place and never recovered. They finished five games behind Oakland, and are 5 1/2 games behind the A's now.
"They have the momentum and we don't have any, but you have to be optimistic. We have too much talent not to be," slugger Mark Trumbo said. "We have to do some of the little things, and hopefully that will lead to bigger things."
Yoenis Cespedes also homered for the Athletics, and A.J. Griffin pitched eight solid innings to help Oakland extend its winning streak to eight games. It's the first time the A's began their road schedule with more than five consecutive wins since 1990 when they won eight.
This was also the first time Oakland swept the Angels in the first head-to-head series of a season since 2003, and the first time the Athletics swept their first series at the "Big A" since 1996. Oakland outscored the Angels 28-11 and was retired in order in only three of 27 innings.
"They have a heck of a team, but sometimes you catch a team when they're down and we were lucky to do that," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "They're one of the best teams in all of baseball. So anytime you come in here, you've got your work cut out for you.
"Our offense has continued to flourish, and that takes some pressure off the rest of your game."
Seth Smith had four hits for the A's, who swept a road trip of at least six games for the third time since the franchise relocated from Kansas City in 1968. They had a 10-0 trip in August 2002, and went 8-0 in April 1981.
"It's always great to get off to a good start, but you have to maintain it because it's a long season," Melvin said. "If this was in the middle of the season and we had a run like this and they had a poor period, I don't think it would be significant."
Vargas (0-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second when Smith grounded into a double play. But he wasn't as fortunate in the sixth, when Derek Norris doubled with one out, and Donaldson drove his next pitch into the left-field bullpen after going hitless in 11 previous at-bats against Vargas.
"Vargas has pretty much had our number – I know he's had my number," Donaldson said. "I've got a lot of respect for Vargas. He's probably one of the most underrated pitchers in the game. But we were able to grind some at-bats against him. We hit a couple of mistakes and that was the game."
Smith followed Donaldson's first homer of the season with a double, and Chris Young greeted Kevin Jepsen with a two-run double after Vargas intentionally walked his last batter, Coco Crisp. Cespedes welcomed Sean Burnett with a leadoff homer to left-center in the seventh, and the A's tacked on two more in the ninth against Jerome Williams.
"I would like to have that sixth inning back, but that's baseball," Vargas said. "The teams we've faced, they're really good offensive clubs. But I think everybody believes in the team we have."
Griffin (2-0) allowed a run and five hits, struck out two and walked one. The right-hander didn't allow a hit after giving up an RBI double by Howie Kendrick with one out in the fourth.
Angels left fielder Mike Trout, last season's AL Rookie of the Year, was moved from the leadoff spot to the No. 2 hole and was 0 for 4. Scioscia, whose offense produced a .120 average with runners in scoring position through the team's first eight games (9 for 75), made the move to give Trout more of an opportunity to drive in runs.
Trout was in the starting lineup 138 times last season following his promotion from Triple-A Salt Lake on April 28 – all of them in the leadoff spot – and finished with 83 RBIs, 30 homers and a .326 average. He started in 40 games two seasons ago and batted everywhere in the lineup except third.
NOTES: Two-time NL Gold Glove 1B Albert Pujols dropped Andy Parrino's foul pop in the fourth, but C Chris Iannetta was there to make the grab. ... Angels 3B Alberto Callaspo was 0 for 3 in the leadoff spot before leaving in the eighth because of tightness in his right calf. ... Angels CF Peter Bourjos is batting. 320 through his first seven games, after hitting .220 in 101 games last season with 44 strikeouts in 168 at-bats.