SEATTLE -- It's too late to wonder whether the low-budget, star-lacking A's are for real. It's September, they've reeled off nine straight victories and, with 29 games left in their season, hold a three-game lead on the first of two American League Wild Card spots.On Monday, the Angels open a three-game series in Oakland and begin a stretch in which they'll play seven of their next 10 games against the A's. Few would've predicted it at the start of the season -- or perhaps even at the All-Star break -- but it's the Angels who have ground to make up. "It's a real credit to them," said outfielder Mark Trumbo, whose Angels are 3 1/2 games back of the Orioles for the AL Wild Card spot. "I know they don't have any of the payroll that most teams do, but they've found a way to do it. They have a lot of really young talent, especially a lot of quality young pitching. They've just really played well as a unit, and that's kind of what it takes." Mostly, though, they've won with their pitching. The A's went into Sunday with the second-lowest rotation ERA in the AL (3.74) and were tied for first in bullpen ERA (2.80), using it to counteract an offense that has received some surprising production but nonetheless ranks ninth in the Junior Circuit in runs per game. Once again, A's general manager Billy Beane has put together a winning club with savvy moves. Josh Reddick (.825 OPS) was acquired from the Red Sox for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney. Yoenis Cespedes (.849) signed because the A's offered him far more than anyone else as a free agent. Jonny Gomes (.844) was a January bargain-bin pickup. Jarrod Parker (3.72 ERA in 23 starts) and Ryan Cook (2.70 ERA and 13 saves) came in the deal that sent Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow to the D-backs. And Tommy Milone (11-9, 3.73 ERA) was acquired from the Nationals for Gio Gonzalez. "Their transformation has been remarkable," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "They've retooled, they're running a lot, they're using a deeper look to pressure you with their offense, and pitching-wise, they're just terrific. You put together all those ingredients, and you can see how they're winning."
September will shape Trout's impact on history
SEATTLE -- September is all about the Angels as a whole, and how they can use it to catapult themselves back into the race and ultimately be a part of the postseason picture as everyone expected.But, as most things with this team, it's also about Mike Trout. For Trout, September could mean the difference between being the youngest player in history to be named the Most Valuable Player, or not. The difference between being only the third player in history to win a batting title in his age-20 season, or not. And the difference between being the only man -- any age, any tenure -- to combine a .340 batting average with 20 homers and 40 steals in one season, or not. September tends to be a tough month, though. "It's going to be because it's the end of the year," Trout said, "and it's been a long year." A good one, too, of course. The 21-year-old Trout went into Sunday's series finale against the Mariners with the American League lead in batting average (.336), along with the Major League lead in stolen bases (42), runs (107) and -- by a wide margin -- Wins Above Replacement (9.4). Despite spending the first month in the Minors, Trout is already the first rookie and youngest player ever to combine 25 homers with 40 steals in one season. With seven more steals, he'll take the overall franchise record (48, by Gary Pettis in 1985). With 11 more, he'll tie Ty Cobb (53 in 1907) for the most by a player in his age-20 season. Trout can join Cobb in an even more distinguished way. Only Cobb and Al Kaline finished a season doing what Trout is doing with exactly one month left -- leading the league in batting average during his age-20 season. Trout opened Sunday with only a four-point lead over the man who also seems to be his biggest competition for the AL MVP, Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera. The Angels' center fielder began August with a .348 clip and had a 25-point lead in that department -- over Cabrera and White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko -- but Trout has fallen off over the last eight games, batting .222 (8-for-36) in that span. An 0-for-4 performance in Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Mariners put his batting average at .333, the lowest it's been since June 18.
"It's definitely a goal coming into the season," Trout said of the batting title. "The goal coming into the season, individual goal, is to win the batting title and have the highest batting average. It's something you can push yourself forward to."
Weaver OK after taking liner to right shoulder
SEATTLE -- Angels ace Jered Weaver exited his Sunday start against the Mariners with only 86 pitches under his belt. The main reason stemmed from a scary comebacker one inning earlier, when Dustin Ackley's hard liner nailed Weaver in the back of his right shoulder with one out in the bottom of the fifth at Safeco Field.Asked if he felt the injury would affect his start in five days, Weaver said: "No, I don't think so. We'll see." "It feels all right," Weaver added after the Angels' 2-1 loss. "It kind of grazed; kind of hit it off my glove and then hit my arm. It didn't really get me square, as much as it looked like it did. It didn't really square me up too bad, so it didn't really affect anything." After being hit, Weaver threw two warmup pitches, then finished the frame and came out to start the sixth. But after giving up a one-out single to Justin Smoak and a walk to Trayvon Robinson, Weaver was pulled in favor of rookie left-hander Nick Maronde. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the comebacker had "a lot to do with" his decision to take Weaver out, but added that, "From Pitch 1, he was really grinding." The right-hander finished giving up eight hits -- two of them solo homers -- and four walks in 5 1/3 innings, putting his ERA on the year at 2.86. "He could've stayed in the game, he felt like he could pitch, but this is something that's going to get sore as time goes on," Scioscia said. "I'm sure it's going to stiffen up tonight, and we'll see how it sets up tomorrow." "It got him in a good spot; it got him with a lot of muscle," catcher Chris Iannetta added. "It's a bruise; it's soreness."
Pujols playing through pain
SEATTLE -- Eleven days removed from sustaining a right calf injury in an Aug. 22 game at Fenway Park, Albert Pujols still isn't running well and obviously isn't 100 percent healthy.Only one thing matters to him right now, though. "I'm in the lineup," Pujols said. "As long as I'm in the lineup, I don't care. It's feeling well. I'm playing, so I'm feeling good." Pujols missed four games after suffering the injury and has started each of his next six at designated hitter, with no signs of when he can return to his natural position of first base. The Angels' slugger hasn't come close to hitting full stride on the basepaths, but he has hit well, going 9-for-24 with a homer, six RBIs and, somehow, five runs scored since coming back. Kendrys Morales, playing in his first season since a couple of ankle surgeries forced him to miss almost two full years, has held up well while starting five of the last six games at first base. And for the Angels, the most important thing is to somehow get Pujols' bat in the lineup. But there's no telling when he can be 100 percent again. "He's trying to nurse through this," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "One of the reasons why in Detroit [last weekend] he didn't play is because in the batter's box he didn't feel like he could load and do what he needed to do to hit. Well he's past that now, he feels comfortable doing that, but obviously running is a little bit of an issue." Pujols is currently riding a season-long 11-game hitting streak, which has seen him bat .395 (17-for-43). And with a critical 10-game stretch coming up, with seven against the A's and three against the Tigers, there's hardly time to rest. "Am I 100 percent? No, of course," said Pujols, batting .288 with 29 homers and 92 RBIs on the year. "But I don't think anyone here is 100 percent right now. It's September. Everybody has soreness and all that. You just have to continue to fight."
Rookie lefty Nick Maronde, ranked by MLB.com as the Angels' No. 4 prospect and called up the first day rosters expanded, made his Major League debut at Safeco Field on Sunday, striking out Carlos Peguero on three straight pitches with two on and one out in the sixth.With that, Maronde joined Juan Alvarez (1999), current pitching coach Mike Butcher ('92) and Greg Garrett ('70) as the only Angels to strike out the only batter they faced in their debut, a feat belonging to only 15 players in the history of the American League. Torii Hunter went 0-for-4 in Sunday's 2-0 loss to the Mariners, snapping a string of four straight games in which the veteran outfielder recorded three-plus hits (13 total). The only other Angels player to go on a run like that was Dave Chalk, in 1978. The last player to have a longer stretch of three-plus-hit games was Hall of Famer George Brett, who did it in six straight in '76.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.