The Angels, sitting third in the American League West and 2 1/2 games back in the Wild Card standings after a three-game sweep of the Red Sox, will open a three-game set in Detroit on Friday. The Tigers, meanwhile, are tied with the Orioles and A's for the second Wild Card spot after finishing off a sweep of the Blue Jays on Thursday.
Unfortunately, the pivotal series could start with each team playing without one of its biggest stars. One day after Pujols left Wednesday night's contest against the Red Sox with tightness in his right calf, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera limped off the field Thursday with a right ankle injury. Both players are day to day.
Ironically enough, the Angels will turn to an even more recent acquisition -- and Fielder's former teammate -- in the series opener when they send newcomer Zack Greinke to the mound. The Halos traded for Greinke last month when it became apparent they needed a boost to make the postseason, despite adding Pujols and C.J. Wilson this past winter.
Greinke has struggled with his new club so far, going 1-2 with a 6.19 ERA in five starts with the Angels. Since conceding just two runs in an impressive debut on July 29, Greinke allowed at least four runs in four straight starts for the first time in his career.
"It's been a very embarrassing first month [with the Angels]," Greinke said after allowing six runs in six innings on Sunday against the Rays. "I'm getting paid a lot to do better than I'm doing. It's pretty awful. I don't know what it is, but it's not good. It's not acceptable, really."
In a similar position to the Angels, Detroit also added some pieces ahead of last month's trade deadline, acquiring infielder Omar Infante and pitcher Anibal Sanchez from the Marlins. Unlike Greinke, though, Sanchez isn't slated to pitch in this key series.
Instead, the Tigers will send Rick Porcello out to face the Angels for the second time this season. Porcello took a no-decision after giving up five runs over 5 2/3 innings in an 8-6 victory over the Angels on July 16. For his career, Porcello is 3-1 against the Halos, despite sporting a 6.29 ERA in six starts.
Porcello enters this tilt on a two-game losing streak after his last start fell apart in one inning on Saturday. The right-hander took a three-hit shutout into the seventh inning against the Orioles, but gave up a three-run blast that turned out to be the difference in a 3-2 loss.
"Really, it's just one pitch I got beat on, and it wasn't even a bad pitch," Porcello said after the game. "It happens sometimes. Sometimes you've got to tip your hat to him. It was a good piece of hitting. ... That's kind of the dagger."
Angels: Pujols gets results from MRI
Pujols was out of the Angels' starting lineup on Thursday against the Red Sox after an MRI revealed inflammation in his right calf.
The slugger was 2-for-2 with a double and a run scored on Wednesday but was clearly hindered on the basepaths in the fourth inning as he moved from second to third on a groundout then came into score on a base hit.
"I really don't know. I think the fact that he's up and walking [is good]," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of how long Pujols will be out. "If that was the seventh game of the World Series yesterday, he's staying in that game. Hopefully we will get some good news, but we have to wait for these guys to evaluate it."
Sitting out Thursday's contest marked the first time this year Pujols has missed a game due to injury. He has never missed more than 18 days at a time during his three career stints on the disabled list.
Tigers: Alburquerque optioned to Triple-A
With no time left on Al Alburquerque's 30-day Minor League rehab assignment, the right-hander was reinstated from the disabled list and optioned to Triple-A Toledo on Thursday.
To make room for Alburquerque on the 40-man roster, Thad Weber was placed on waivers and subsequently claimed by the San Diego Padres.
With the maximum 30-day rehab time period coming to an end, the Tigers needed to either activate Alburquerque or keep him on the DL and shut him down for the season. Whether Alburquerque, who went 6-1 and struck out 67 hitters in 43 1/3 innings with Detroit last season, will be one of the club's September callups remains to be seen.
Despite winning just one of the four meetings this season, the Angels have actually outscored the Tigers, 22-20, in those contests. The Halos' one win was a 13-0 rout on July 17.
Torii Hunter is 6-for-12 with two doubles, a homer and six RBIs in his career against Porcello.
The Tigers' 67-57 record is one game better than their 66-58 record through 124 games last year en route to their AL Central title.