I haven't seen an Angels pitching staff perform this poorly during any stretch of any season since 1996! This bullpen, right now, is making last year's bullpen look dominant. Lots of fans are wondering what might be wrong. The obvious is a collective issue with not going right after hitters. But I think it has less to do with the relievers we have, and more to do with the laws of averages, and fluky statistics.
Since the All-Star Break, the Angels have had a lot of trouble holding leads late. At one time in June the Angels bullpen was in the top 5, and their overall team ERA was at or near #1 in the AL. At least the Angels' run prevention as a whole in 2011 was enough to allow the 2nd fewest runs in the AL. This pitching staff, in just one month, has fallen from 1st to 6th in fewest runs allowed, and the bullpen to 12th in the AL.
At the same time, the offense is continuing to produce a great deal, not just because of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Mark Trumbo, but also because the career averages of several players are leveling out. Pujols, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Alberto Callaspo all had terrible Aprils, but since then all four players have raised their averages a great deal, and Kendrick is near his career average.
I think this is happening in the bullpen, but on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Until a few weeks ago, Ernesto Frieri, Scott Downs, LaTroy Hawkins, and Jason Isringhausen all had ERA's under 2.00. How many teams can you think of that had their top 4 relievers with ERA's under 2.00 for an entire season? I can't think of any.
Frieri had a scoreless streak to begin his Angel career that turned out to be a bit of a fluke. Downs had a scoreless streak as well, and that proved to be a fluke. Hawkins and Isringhausen both had shut down streaks that proved to a fluke, especially considering their WHIPs, which have been around 1.2-1.3, which is playing with fire by allowing a bit too many baserunners. Takahashi has the best WHIP outside of Frieri in the pen, but I think he's still a wild card.
You're not going to find any bullpen with 4 main relievers with microscopic ERA's under 2.00 for an entire season unless it's a total fluke. The ERA's of Frieri, Downs, Hawkins, and Isringhause are still at 3.52 or less. Kevin Jepsen's ERA just today fell under 4.00.
I can point out a large number of games earlier in the season where the Angels won with a cushion and guys like Frieri, Downs, Hawkins, and Isringhausen could've given up a few runs in those games, which would've leveled their averages out already. That's just how the laws of averages work sometimes, and bring players with fluky stretches back down to Earth.
I can also point out 6 games now that the Angels bullpen blew, that would otherwise have them 65-46, and 2 games back and running away with the Wild Card. That's how close the Angels are to running past the Rangers for first place in the AL West.
As far as improving the bullpen, the guy who really needs to be replaced though is David Carpenter. He's too young and should be back in AAA. Downs needs to come back from the DL too. You insert a top reliever in place of Carpenter and that will take pressure off of Hawkins and Isringhausen -- Carpenter's struggles have cause Hawkins and Isringhausen to work more than they probably should at this stage in their careers -- both were intended for mop up duty, not pressure situations in the 8th inning. That's been the main problem besides Downs on the DL. They need a good veteran reliever in place of Carpenter.
This is what happens when players have a fluky stretches, and unfortunately it was 4 relievers who had fluky shut down stretches all at once. I think how long these issues will last will be dictated by where the career averages of all 4 pitchers are at this stage in each pitcher's career; by how long it takes for Downs to return, and whether or not Angels GM Jerry Dipoto pulls the trigger on a deal that will take some pressure off some guys, and put everyone in the bullpen back to their intended roles.
Then, the Angels will be in a position to take their division, if not run away with a Wild Card. That's how close they are.