KANSAS CITY, Mo. — While the Angels kept their playoff hopes alive with a 9-7 come-from-behind victory over the Kansas City Royals in Kauffman Stadium on Friday night, the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles and wild-card-leading Oakland Athletics were battling out West.
As difficult as that is to stomach for Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto, whose star-studded club with a $159-million payroll is falling well short of expectations, he can’t help but admire how the A’s ($54-million payroll) and Orioles ($84 million) have gotten so much more bang for the buck.
“The A’s and Orioles are great stories that periodically happen in baseball, and that could include the 2002 Angels,” Dipoto said, referring to the World Series-championship team that no one picked to reach the playoffs a decade ago.
“If you’re an A’s or Orioles supporter, it’s great. If you’re the rest of us who are looking at their backsides and trying to figure out how to catch them, it’s not so much fun. But they’re not pretend teams. They’re good.”
The Angels saw that first-hand this week when the A’s, with three rookie starting pitchers and some surprising power, won three of four games in Anaheim.
“It’s remarkable what happens when you can pitch like the A’s and have players who are letting it hang loose,” Dipoto said. “They have nothing to lose, and they’re playing like it. They have no fear. That’s how you win.”
The Angels played with that kind of verve when they won 15 of 18 games from Aug. 21-Sept. 9, but that stretch came after they were swept by Tampa Bay in a four-game series and fell nine games back in the AL West on Aug. 19.
They’re hoping they regained some momentum with Thursday’s shutout of Oakland and Friday night’s win over the Royals, in which Kendrys Morales hit a score-tying, pinch-hit, two-out, two-run homer in the eighth inning and Torii Hunter drove in the winning run with a bases-loaded walk.
The win moved the Angels to within 2 1/2 games of New York and Baltimore, which lost, 3-2, to Oakland, for the second wild-card spot.
“Quite frankly, when we’re good, we’re all good — it’s every element of our team hitting on all cylinders,” Dipoto said. “We’ve got a ton of talent on this team, from the rotation to the back of the bullpen to the everyday lineup. But we’ve found points in the season where we’ve had a difficult time. That’s baseball.”
The Angels couldn’t hit for the first six weeks, when they went 18-25. Their bullpen faltered in mid-July, and their rotation and relief corps went into a deep funk in August, the Angels losing 13 of their first 18 games last month.
“To a certain extent, that’s the rhythm of a baseball season,” Dipoto said. “But our extremes have been extreme. I wish I could tell you why. … It’s not hard to figure out what has caused our lulls.”
Dipoto is not ready to concede. Nor is he ready to qualify this season as a disappointment.
“We have 17 games to prove what we’re capable of,” Dipoto said. “This game has a funny way of working out sometimes.”
There has been growing speculation that Manager Mike Scioscia, despite having six years and at least $25 million left on his contract, could be fired if the Angels don’t make the playoffs.
“I won’t speculate on speculation,” Dipoto said. “Mike has a great track record of success. We’re here to play the games. … We believe we have the talent to be a World Series contender, and to this point we still are.”