August 17, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) Mike Trout glanced around the clubhouse like he didn't want to leave anyone out.

Shortstop Andrelton Simmons and first baseman C.J. Cron are hitting well. Parker Bridwell is pitching like an ace. Tyler Skaggs is finally healthy.

''There's a lot of guys stepping up,'' Trout said.

The Los Angeles Angels have won seven of eight games to vault into the second AL wild-card spot, and there's plenty of credit to go around. Trout's hitting since he returned from a six-week absence because of a torn ligament in his left thumb, solid hitting, surprising pitching and one of baseball's best defenses have combined to allow the Angels to start thinking about the playoffs after appearing out of contention in late July.

''It's coming right at the right time,'' said Bridwell, who has allowed two runs or fewer in nine of his last 11 appearances. ''The way our defense and offense have been coming together late in games, coming back to win games, especially at this time of the year as the race is going on like it is, it's huge. It gives us a lot of momentum. We just look to keep it going and stay hot.''

Five of the Angels' last seven victories have been comebacks as they've improved to 62-59 and jumped over Minnesota, Baltimore, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Kansas City in a crowded AL wild-card race. A four-game sweep of the Mariners and a split with the NL East-leading Washington Nationals set Los Angeles up for another important series this weekend at Baltimore - and have them thinking about not just getting into the wild-card game but hosting it.

''If we're getting some pitching back and we keep hitting the ball like we have, playing great defense, we may catch up to the Yankees,'' outfielder Ben Revere said. ''I really think everybody's kind of overlooking us right now.''

Based on where the Angels were on the morning of July 28 - 5+ games back of the Royals for the second wild-card spot, it's easy to understand. But no team with Trout can be overlooked.

Manager Mike Scioscia said the Angels ''managed to hold (their) heads above water'' amid injuries to their pitching staff and Trout, which allowed them to stay in it. They're 17-12 since Trout came back, with the star centerfielder batting .343 with seven home runs, 19 RBIs, 26 walks and 22 runs scored.

''When a player of Mike's caliber comes back in and you see him in the starting lineup, everyone's kind of hitting closer to where they're used to and hopefully the game flow goes to where you can start to get the game on your terms more often because you can pressure teams,'' Scioscia said. ''We're still trying to get that offensive consistency and we can be better at it, but getting Mike back in the lineup goes a longer way to bring you to that goal.''

Trout feels like his timing is ''getting there'' and that he still should be hitting more pitches. That's a dangerous notion for everyone else in the wild-card race.

Simmons already has shown to be one of the most valuable players in baseball with a wins above replacement (WAR) of 6.2 that trails only Houston's Jose Altuve. Simmons' defensive WAR leads the majors, and the Angels have the fifth-best fielding percentage and fifth-fewest errors in the majors.

''We've played great defense the whole the year,'' Scioscia said. ''I think that's reflected our pitching in a positive way. ... One of the things for our club that's had a huge impact is the defensive side of the way we've played.''

Bridwell said the strength of the Angels' defense allows him to focus on pounding the zone and not trying to strike out every batter he faces. It has worked, as Bridwell is 7-1 with a 2.88 ERA since the Angels got him from the Orioles for a player to be named later or cash.

Decimated by injuries to starters, Los Angeles needed that kind of pitching from Bridwell and stayed afloat with the likes of J.C. Ramirez, Jesse Chavez, Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer. Skaggs is back after missing more than three months with a right oblique strain, lefty Andrew Heaney will start Friday for the first time since Tommy John surgery last year and righty Garrett Richards could return from a biceps injury before the end of the season.

Revere called this a ''roller-coaster'' season because of injuries, and now Los Angeles is getting healthy, which Trout said is key to keeping this run-up for the next six weeks.

''We're always thinking about we've got to get to the playoffs,'' Trout said. ''That's the goal. That's why we play. We try to win as many games as we can. It's always up there, up in your head, the playoffs.''

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