When Mike Trout went on the disabled list May 29 with a torn ligament in his left thumb, the Los Angeles Angels were 26-27 and seemingly in a lot of trouble.
When he came back after the All-Star break, they were 45-47 — and had avoided a crisis.
Now Los Angeles has won six games in a row, and if the season ended now, the Angels would be the American League’s second wild card. That’s partly because the bar is low — it doesn’t take much to contend for a wild card in the AL these days — but Los Angeles is above .500 now, and if Trout’s team does manage to make the postseason, that 39-game stretch when the Angels treaded water without their franchise player will have been crucial.
“The first half we had a lot of gaps in our game. Our offense was trying to get together,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Our bullpen has been pretty consistent all year.”
Sometimes, all it takes is one impressive run to put a team in postseason contention. The St. Louis Cardinals have scuffled for much of the season, but they find themselves only one game behind the first-place Cubs in the NL Central, thanks to an eight-game winning streak that ended Sunday.
The Angels (61-58) and Cardinals (61-57) have similar records, and the question is whether this week was a fleeting high point for those teams or a sign that they’ll be heard from down the stretch. Since Trout came back, Los Angeles is 16-11. The 26-year-old outfielder is having another tremendous season, despite all the missed games. He’s hitting .341 with 23 home runs, 55 RBIs and an OPS of 1.158.
Scioscia has credited his team’s defense, and the Angels have a brilliant shortstop in Andrelton Simmons. Yusmeiro Petit and Blake Parker have pitched well in relief. So did David Hernandez, but he was traded to Arizona just before the July 31 deadline.
When Hernandez was dealt, the Angels were four games under .500 and 5 ½ games out of the nearest playoff spot. Two weeks later, their outlook has certainly changed.
Some other developments from around baseball:
It has been a slow start with the bat for Yoan Moncada, an infield prospect the White Sox received when they sent Chris Sale to Boston in the offseason. The 22-year-old Moncada is hitting .205 in 22 games with Chicago this year.
Thursday night was more encouraging, however. Moncada hit a tying homer in the ninth inning and drove in the winning run with an 11th-inning single in a victory over Houston. The White Sox, who have the worst record in the AL, swept three straight games from the team with the best.
Adam Engel, another young Chicago player, made a leaping catch at the fence to take a home run away from Houston’s Brian McCann on Tuesday night. A fan with a glove was reaching over for the ball, only to have it snatched away by Engel in spectacular fashion.
LINES OF THE WEEK
Two top contenders for the AL Cy Young Award added to their resumes Tuesday night. Sale allowed two hits and struck out 13 in eight innings, leading Boston to a 2-0 win over Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber pitched a three-hitter, striking out 11 in a 4-1 victory over Colorado.
If the season ended now, the Red Sox and Indians would face each other in an AL Division Series.
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