Making final push, Angels need help from foes

Making final push, Angels need help from foes

Making final push, Angels need help from foes
ANAHEIM -- The Angels never figured they'd be asking the Rangers, of all people, for favors.

"Baseball is crazy," shortstop Erick Aybar said. "You never know what's going to happen. Sometimes you just shake your head."

What's happening in the next 10 days is that the Angels face the Mariners six times and the Rangers three times, while the Athletics engage the Rangers seven times and the Mariners three times.

At stake, presumably, is an American League Wild Card invitation. The Orioles or Yankees figure to take one of the Wild Cards in their race to finish first in the AL East.

"We need help from a lot of teams -- not just the Rangers," Jered Weaver said.

True. But most of it needs to come from their Lone Star State rivals.

The new postseason format has done wonders to keep a wide range of clubs involved down the stretch, but the most fascinating of the six Major League divisions -- with sincere apologies to the AL East -- has to be the AL West.

These four clubs are going head to head with everything on the line for the Angels and A's, as the Mariners lick their chops at the opportunity to ruin some plans. The Rangers are looking to lock up the division for the third year in a row while claiming the best record in the league.

The gap between the A's and Angels for the second Wild Card spot remained at 2 1/2 games following Sunday victories by both clubs. The A's could not have been more impressive in rebounding from a seemingly demoralizing 14-inning loss on Saturday to trim the Yankees, 5-4, in the Bronx.

The Angels were well aware of that outcome when they busted loose for four sixth-inning runs against Chicago's Gavin Floyd, who had been dominant, and presented Weaver with his 19th victory with a 4-1 decision.

It is becoming evident that if the Angels manage to win often enough and get some help from their rivals from Texas, they will be a threat in postseason play.

Their starting rotation -- billed as potentially the best in the game during the busy winter shopping season -- finally is living up to that notion.

At or near the top of their games are Weaver, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. Each is on a roll. C.J. Wilson, who has struggled to get deep in games, would like to put it together and make it a quintet.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who got some good news about where he stood with owner Arte Moreno over the weekend, has been busy plotting various schemes for those final days of the season.

There are so many variables that nothing is etched in granite anywhere. The Angels' starters, a cool quintet by nature, don't seem to be worried about when or where they'll pitch.

"All five of these guys can get it done," said Weaver, the ace. "We're in good shape. We just have to keep winning games now. The rest of it is out of our hands."

Following a three-game home series against the Mariners starting Tuesday, Weaver will start Friday night against the Rangers, making his bid for his first 20-win season.

For the one-game Wild Card shootout, which presumably would be staged in Yankee Stadium or Camden Yards but also could be in Oakland, Weaver could be well rested and revved. Or it could be Greinke's assignment.

Weaver is tentatively lined up to pitch the season finale on Oct. 3 at Seattle -- assuming it is meaningful. If the Angels clinch a Wild Card invite before that day, Weaver could be held back for the one-game showdown.

If Weaver pitches the season finale and the Angels get in, Greinke would be on his normal rest for the Oct. 5 do-or-die game.

The Angels have Monday off to savor their sweep of the White Sox and unwind before getting back to business against the Mariners. The A's, meanwhile, are in Texas engaging the Rangers, who are not without motivation as they zero in on the final 10 games.

Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs goes to the team with the best record in the league, and the Rangers presently hold a two-game edge over the Yankees, three over the Orioles.

There's also the matter of carrying momentum into the postseason, something the Rangers clearly would like to do. They saw up close and personal what a team fully charged can accomplish in their own stunning demise against the Cardinals in Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 Fall Classic in St. Louis.

"It doesn't matter how you start," said Aybar, who began with a whimper and is closing with a bang. "It's how you finish."

The Angels have won 18 of the past 25 and are a season-high 15 games above .500. They have won six of their past eight series.

Their offense is sizzling, with Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales, Torii Hunter and Aybar especially hot in the second half. AL MVP Award candidate Mike Trout, with 122 runs scored in 130 games, is two away from Vladimir Guerrero's club record for a season.

Trout has 28 homers, giving the Angels a shot at three 30-homer weapons. Mark Trumbo, showing signs of busting out of a slump, has 31 and Pujols 30.

Scioscia has mixed and matched like a mad scientist all season with his bullpen, but he seems to have found a formula he likes with a closer-by-committee operation.

The staff ERA over the past 28 games is 2.36. The offense, since June 1, leads the Majors in batting average, on-base percentage, runs per game and slugging.

Momentum is building. Where the Angels take it is up to them -- with a little help from their enemies.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.