09/22/12 9:10 PM ET
Mad dash to playoffs makes for strange bedfellows
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
They need help from teams they've grown accustomed to spending six months battling, notably the Yankees and Rangers. To claim one of the two American League Wild Card invitations to the big dance, the Angels need New York, Texas and Boston, among others, to take down the A's and Orioles -- or A's and Yankees, depending on which AL East club emerges as the division champion.
The amazing A's, suddenly in a spin with losses in five of their past six games, have a three-game advantage over the Angels for the second Wild Card spot heading into Saturday night's Angels-White Sox game. Riding high all year, the A's are being challenged now.
The Orioles have the first Wild Card, trailing the Yankees by one in the AL East after both won extra-innings thrillers on Saturday.
"The biggest thing is, you need to win games and get other teams to beat up the teams in front of you," Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "We'll take it any way we can get it.
"Texas is going to play Oakland seven times while we're playing Seattle. It is kind of strange to be pulling for the Rangers when we have to play them all the time, but it's the way it works out.
"When we were in Kansas City, I was talking to Alex Gordon and he said, `We got Detroit and Chicago.' Kansas City could ruin it for the White Sox or the Tigers. The Royals are a dangerous team. They've got a lot of guys who can hit."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia spends the season's first five months steadfastly ignoring the scoreboard and standings. In September, especially now with the Rangers on course for a third consecutive AL West title, he has no choice. He has to pay attention to what's going on elsewhere.
"What's awkward is when it gets out of your control," Scioscia said. "No matter who it is, you're pulling for a team to lose. Not having your own destiny in your hands -- it was awkward last year coming down to the end trying to make it. Here we are again. It's a weird feeling."
The Rangers will have incentive in those seven remaining games against the A's. Texas has an edge on the Yankees and Orioles in the race for best record in the AL, guaranteeing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The National League has home advantage in the World Series courtesy of its All-Star Game victory.
Conger ready to turn page on disastrous 2012
ANAHEIM -- This has not been the season Hank Conger, the Angels' premier catching prospect since 2007, envisioned. But it could have been a lot worse.
Early in the season, catching for Triple-A Salt Lake, Conger made a throw on a cold April night in Reno and felt a sensation in his right arm that registered an immediate alarm in his head.
"I thought I was going to have Tommy John," Conger said of the elbow reconstruction surgery. "The pain shot down my arm from the elbow. They shut me down. I went to Arizona and rehabbed for about five weeks. It didn't start getting better until the final week there.
"I got an MRI and it showed that it was a nerve problem. I started playing again and really worked on my throwing. This was the best I've ever felt as far as throwing the ball. It wasn't ideal, by any means, but I was pretty happy with my season. I think I made a lot of progress defensively. It's not a finished product, but I think I'm a lot better."
A switch-hitter with power from both sides, Conger hit .295 in 67 games at Salt Lake, producing 17 doubles, 10 homers and 41 RBIs.
"I had a really good spring and battled to get that feeling back the whole season," Conger said. "I'm looking forward to next spring."
Conger is hitting .231 in five games for the Angels this season. For his career, in pieces of three seasons, he has a .205/.286/.333 slash line with six homers and 25 RBIs in 219 at-bats.
Hunter having Gold Glove-caliber year in right field
ANAHEIM -- It's not paramount in his thinking -- he's all about winning and finding a way into the postseason -- but Torii Hunter admittedly would be thrilled to add a 10th Gold Glove to his collection this season. "No doubt, slam dunk," manager Mike Scioscia said Saturday when asked whether Hunter is worthy of his first Gold Glove as a right fielder after claiming nine as a center fielder.
Managers and coaches select the Gold Glove winners, and they have watched Hunter make a seamless transition to right after patrolling center for 12 years. He moved over for the final two months of the 2010 season with the arrival of Peter Bourjos in center, and has been superb in right this season alongside another Gold Glove candidate, Mike Trout.
"All I'm thinking about is tonight's game," Hunter said before going out to face southpaw Jose Quintana and the White Sox. "But if you're asking me if I'd like to win another Gold Glove, of course I would. I think I've played well out there. I feel like a right fielder now, like it's where I belong. I'm really enjoying myself, now that I've got my legs back under me. It was a struggle for a while."
Nick Markakis of the Orioles claimed the 2011 Gold Glove for AL right fielders. Hunter, a Gold Glove winner for nine consecutive seasons from 2001-2009, has a higher defensive WAR (wins above replacement) than Markakis, the Royals' Jeff Francoeur and the Athletics' Josh Reddick, the other leading contenders.
Since the All-Star break, Hunter is hitting .340, tied with teammate Erick Aybar for third best in the AL. Hunter is hitting .379 in his past 22 games and is at .305 for the year with 15 homers and 83 RBIs. He hit a career-best .299 in 2009, falling one hit short of .300.
Hunter had a sports hernia procedure following that 2009 season, having crashed into walls at Dodger Stadium and in San Francisco that caused lingering hip and groin pain. It took him about a season and a half to return to full strength after the surgery.
Over the past 99 games, the Angels lead MLB in batting average (.284), on-base percentage (.343), runs per game (5.3) and slugging (.458). "Our offense has been off the charts," manager Mike Scioscia said. "Average, on-base percentage, slugging, going first-to-third, stolen base percentage. Everything is up to where it hasn't been in a long time." The Angels are the only team in the Majors with at least three men with 25 or more homers: Mark Trumbo (31), Albert Pujols (30) and Mike Trout (28).
The pitching staff has found its groove over the past 26 games with a 2.42 overall ERA -- 2.72 by the starters, 2.35 by the bullpen. The previous 15 games had been terrible: 6.51 team ERA, 6.90 by the starters, 5.00 by the relievers.
Trout, with 120 runs scored, is four shy of Vladimir Guerrero's franchise record set in 2004. Trout is the first AL rookie to score at least 120 runs since Ichiro Suzuki (127) in 2001.
Before Saturday night's game, Jered Weaver was named winner of the Nick Adenhart Award for Angels pitcher of the year, while Trout was chosen by teammates as the team's Most Valuable Player. Weaver has won the Adenhart Award all four years since its inception in 2009 after the young pitcher was killed in an automobile accident.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.