Angels hope for late rally to salvage an up-and-down season
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Although Albert Pujols' sore right foot has reduced him to a designated hitter down the stretch for the Los Angeles Angels, the veteran first baseman hasn't missed a game in three weeks.
Even with the Angels' tumultuous season teetering on the brink of collapse, Pujols is determined to keep fighting.
''It's bothering me,'' said Pujols, who has 12 RBIs in his last 15 games. ''But you're going to have to chop my leg off for me not to play.''
With 12 losses in their last 19 games and a 16-29 skid since they led the AL West in late July, the Angels (70-69) begin the weekend in third place in their division. They've got only faint hopes of catching the upstart Houston Astros, who open a three-game series at the Big A on Friday.
The Angels' late rally for a 3-2 win over the Dodgers on Wednesday night allowed them to trim the Texas Rangers' lead for the second AL wild-card spot to three games, but Minnesota is between them in the standings.
Unless the Angels surge in the waning weeks of September, Pujols and Mike Trout will finish their fourth consecutive season together without a single playoff victory. Owner Arte Moreno's big-budget club has only made the postseason once since 2009, getting swept in the division series by Kansas City last fall.
''For us, I keep saying there's no tomorrow,'' Pujols said. ''That's how we need to look at it this whole month, (but) I think we have the team to do it.''
The Angels won a major league-best 98 games last season, and they led the division on July 26 this season.
But the Angels' summer has been strange since July 1, when general manager Jerry Dipoto quit his job after his latest conflict with the team's long-standing power structure. Mike Scioscia, the longest-tenured manager in baseball, has repeatedly denied any serious conflict with Dipoto.
The Angels were scuffling around .500 when Dipoto quit, but they made a 17-3 surge to a 54-40 record on July 23. Just as abruptly, everything fell apart: Los Angeles lost 26 of its next 37 games, falling below .500 and 7 1-2 games out of first place on Aug. 31.
Pujols leans on his past when he tells the Angels they can still salvage their future, even with their season presently on the brink of collapse.
''I've been on teams that have been in this situation before in September, and we came through and ended up winning the World Series that year,'' he said.
Indeed, Pujols' St. Louis Cardinals won 16 of their final 21 regular-season games four years ago in a surge that eventually led to a World Series title.
There's been little indication that the up-and-down Angels could follow in the Cards' footsteps, but it's just about the only scenario in which Pujols' new team makes the postseason.
The Angels have just 23 games left, and 14 are against Houston, Minnesota or Texas. On Friday, Dallas Keuchel will be the third Cy Young Award candidate they've faced in four games.
That's more bad news for a team with season-long offensive woes. After the Angels led the majors with 773 runs last season, they're 23rd this year with 560. Their recent lineups regularly include three starters batting below .200.
Trout, the reigning AL MVP, is batting .225 with just two homers and 41 strikeouts since August began. Starting infielders David Freese and Johnny Giavotella have missed extensive playing time recently with injuries.
Although the Angels are just plain running out of hits, Pujols and their leaders plan to keep swinging until October.
''Going down the stretch, we're going to get everybody's best, so you've got to be ready,'' right fielder Kole Calhoun said. ''Hopefully, we'll get on a little streak and make it exciting.''