The Angels haven’t exactly thrived in this season of tumult, which began with Josh Hamilton’s substance-abuse relapse, banishment and trade to Texas, included General Manager Jerry Dipoto’s abrupt resignation July 1 and a brutal August in which they went 10-19 and averaged fewer than three runs a game.
They are 78-74, the mediocre record a reflection of the struggles of several pitchers and players they were counting on and injuries to pitcher C.J. Wilson, third baseman David Freese, second baseman Johnny Giavotella and first baseman Albert Pujols.
But they’ve survived, and with 10 games left they are 1 1/2 games behind Houston for the second American League wild-card spot entering Friday night’s game against Seattle in Anaheim.
“These guys have filtered out every distraction and just came in and played ball,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’re definitely proud of that. There’s a lot of veteran leadership in there, and the coaching staff has been incredible in keeping these guys where they need to be.”
That the Angels are still alive is a testament to their resolve, the talents of high-end performers such as Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun, Erick Aybar, Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney and Huston Street and the maturation of rookies Carlos Perez and Trevor Gott.
And it helps that the other wild-card challengers — Houston, Minnesota, Baltimore and Cleveland — are every bit as flawed as the Angels, with holes in their lineups, rotations and bullpens that make them susceptible to uneven play.
But as the Kansas City Royals proved again last October, it doesn’t matter how you get to the postseason.
“Anything can happen then,” Freese said. “You look back on the season and wish you did this or that early on; it’s just human nature to do that. But when you’re in a position to get in, that’s all you can ask for.”
The Angels are 13-8 in September and coming off two pressure-packed, one-run wins in Houston that imbued them with the confidence and mettle to win playoff-like games. They’re heating up at the right time.
Trout has recovered from a career-worst month of August in which he hit .218 with one homer and seven runs batted in to hit .288 with seven homers and 13 RBIs in 21 September games.
Calhoun is batting .260 with 24 homers and 79 RBIs on the season and has played Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field, and Aybar is hitting .269 and playing his usual solid shortstop. First baseman C.J. Cron is batting .289 with 13 homers and 40 RBIs since his June 29 recall from triple-A.
When Freese missed 37 games because of a broken right index finger from July 23 to Aug. 31, Angels third basemen combined for a paltry .522 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS).
Freese is batting .319 with nine doubles in 21 games since returning, including an eighth-inning, two-run double that pushed the Angels to Wednesday’s 6-5 win over the Astros.
Perez has improved steadily behind the plate and at it, providing several clutch hits, and David Murphy has been solid in left field since being acquired from Cleveland on July 28, batting .263 with five homers and 18 RBIs in 40 games.
Richards (14-11, 3.73 earned-run average), Heaney (6-3, 3.30 ERA) and Hector Santiago (9-9, 3.47 ERA) have anchored the rotation, and Street has converted 40 of 45 save opportunities.
There is still cause for concern. Though he has 36 homers and 87 RBIs, Pujols is batting .149 with one homer and seven RBIs in 18 games since a right-foot injury relegated him to designated hitter on Sept. 5. His season average has slipped to .237. Second baseman Taylor Featherston has been strong defensively in Giavotella’s absence but has provided little offense.
Jered Weaver is a career-worst 7-12 with a 4.86 ERA, and his diminished velocity leaves him virtually no margin for error.
Matt Shoemaker (7-10, 4.46 ERA) hasn’t been nearly as sharp as he was in 2014 (16-4, 3.04), and a forearm strain has his status in doubt. And the bullpen must continue to find a way to bridge the gap between starter and closer without setup man Joe Smith, who suffered a left-ankle sprain last Saturday.
But the Angels are still in much better shape now than they were in August, when their lineup and rotation went into deep funks and they fell 7 1/2 games behind Houston in the AL West.
“It says everything about the ballclub we have here,” Pujols said of the team’s rebound. “We could have easily thrown in the towel and said, ‘Hey, let’s do this next year.’ But as you know, the history of the game, a lot of things can happen.”
Right-hander Garrett Richards (14-11, 3.73 ERA) will oppose Seattle left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-3, 3.64) at Angel Stadium on Friday at 7 p.m. TV: FS West; Radio: 830, 1330.