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09/27/11 1:31 AM ET

In the end, pitching, defense, heart not enough

ANAHEIM -- There were times during the season's final month when the Angels themselves seemed to wonder what was keeping them alive in a pennant race.

"It's been a crazy season," said Torii Hunter, the voice of reason and optimism in a clubhouse that is equal parts sturdy veterans and wide-eyed youth. "We've struggled to get the offense going, but we've managed to stay alive somehow. Our pitching and defense have been great all year, and I can't say enough about these young guys.

"You look at guys like Peter Bourjos, Mark Trumbo, Jordan Walden, and all the rest of these kids coming in and doing a job, and you realize we wouldn't have stayed in it as long as we did without them. They grew up this season. They're not kids anymore; they're young men with great futures."

Trumbo, whose stress fracture in his right foot finally forced him to shut it down for the final three games, gave the team a moment to remember with his two-run walk-off homer against Texas' Mike Adams on Aug. 18 at Angel Stadium. It served to ignite the Angels, lifting them back into an American League West race that appeared to be leaving them behind.

The Rangers eventually secured their second consecutive division title, but the Angels remained gamely in the hunt for the Wild Card in a three-way race with the Red Sox and Rays. That hunt ended in Game No. 160, as a 4-3 loss to the Rangers here on Monday eliminated the Angels from playoff consideration.

The Angels were kept afloat by superior starting pitching, primarily from Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, along with a mix-and-match bullpen featuring young flamethrower Walden behind free-agent acquisitions Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi.

The defense was the most consistent part of a club that went through stretches in search of run production. The heart of the defense -- catchers Jeff Mathis, Hank Conger and Bobby Wilson; middle infielders Erick Aybar, Howard Kendrick and Maicer Izturis; and center fielder Bourjos -- was as superb as the Major Leagues have to offer.

Hunter in right and Vernon Wells in left joined Bourjos to give the Angels the best defensive outfield in the game by most metric systems. Hunter and Bourjos are considered strong Rawlings Gold Glove candidates, along with Kendrick and Aybar.

It's the offense that struggled to hold up its end of the deal. The loss of Kendrys Morales for the second season in a row with complications from a fractured left foot was felt, although not as severely as in 2010, owing to the emergence of Trumbo (29 homers, 87 RBIs) as a strong AL Rookie of the Year candidate at first base.

Where Morales was missed most was in supplying left-handed thunder in the heart of the order. Third basemen Alberto Callaspo, Izturis and Aybar provided contact and multiple skills in the five, six and seven spots, but they're not built to drive the ball consistently from the left side in the manner of the big switch-hitter, Morales.

Little ball was alive and well in familiar Mike Scioscia fashion with Aybar, Kendrick, Izturis, venerable Bobby Abreu and Bourjos finding ways to get on base and generate electricity on the basepaths. But power frequently was in short supply, and hitting with runners in scoring position was a season-long source of frustration.

There were times when the big bats of Trumbo, Hunter and Wells were booming with Kendrick experiencing a power surge in his breakout All-Star season. When that happened, the Angels made life comfortable for their premium starters and those at the back end of the rotation, from Joel Pineiro to Tyler Chatwood to late-season discovery Jerome Williams.

But the power came and went, and during the lulls the Angels scuffled to hang with the big guys.

"This team has a lot of heart," Hunter said. "I've got a lot of respect for the way everybody competed all season long, even when we were having trouble scoring runs.

"It's a tribute to the organization that it was able to develop so much young talent to bring in and keep things jumping around here. You're always disappointed when you fall short, but the future looks good here."

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