The final two games of the season have become about as precious as possible for the Los Angeles Angels, whose playoff fate continues to hang in the balance.
Though their destiny is not entirely in their hands, they have to feel good about the part they do control Saturday given the pitching matchup for the third game of this season-ending series with the host Texas Rangers.
The Angels (84-76) avoided what would have been a third straight loss for the first time since the end of August, claiming a 2-1 win Friday. Mike Trout led off the ninth with a triple against closer Shawn Tolleson and came around to score on Albert Pujols’ single in the next at-bat.
Los Angeles pulled one game ahead of Minnesota, which lost 3-1 to Kansas City, but remained one game behind Houston (85-75) for the AL’s second wild-card spot after the Astros won at Arizona.
Besides handling their own business, the Angels are going to need the Diamondbacks to defeat Houston at least once in the final two games.
Trout entered the night batting just .234 in close and late situations, defined as in the seventh inning or later with the hitter’s team leading by one run, tied or with the tying run on base, at-bat or on deck.
"We can’t lose anymore. Plain and simple," said Trout, who has played in only three playoff games since debuting in 2011. "We’ve got to fight to the end. We’re going to down fighting, try to get to the postseason."
The Rangers (87-73) have already locked up a playoff berth, but are still one victory or one Houston loss away from winning their first AL West title in four years.
"We’ve got two games left and we’re going to continue to play hard," manager Jeff Banister said. "These guys have done a tremendous job of responding to situations like this."
They haven’t responded very well against Hector Santiago, who is 3-0 with a 1.48 ERA in five matchups this year. Adrian Beltre, who is batting .410 with 27 RBIs over his last 21 games despite an 0-for-3 night Friday, is just 1 for 11 against Santiago in 2015.
Santiago (9-9, 3.52 ERA) needs to break out of his prolonged slump overall, however, having gone 2-5 with a 5.68 ERA in 13 starts since winning his first outing following the All-Star break on July 20. He has averaged 5.0 walks per nine innings in that span compared to 2.9 in his first 18 starts when he went 7-4 with a 2.38 ERA.
He gave up three earned runs over 5 2-3 innings in the Angels’ 5-4 win against Oakland on Monday.
Conversely, Colby Lewis (17-9, 4.53) has been terrible of late against the Angels, going 1-7 with a 9.64 ERA in his last eight meetings. The right-hander gave up six earned runs and 10 hits over five-plus innings in a 7-0 road defeat Sept. 6.
Trout is 10 for 23 with four home runs against him since the start of 2014, while Pujols has three homers in 22 at-bats in the same span.
Though Lewis is in position to increase his already career-best win total, he’s coming off a tough start Monday, surrendering six runs over 4 2-3 innings in a 7-4 loss to Detroit. It was his shortest outing since being tagged for 10 runs in four-plus innings in a loss to the Angels on July 5.
Rougned Odor could be the Rangers’ key to getting to Santiago. Odor is just 3 for 27 over his last eight games, but 8 for 15 with three doubles against the Angels’ left-hander.
It’s unclear if Tolleson will be available to pitch as he’s worked the ninth inning each of the last four days and has never thrown on five straight days in his career.