Mike Trout is a favorite for American League Most Valuable Player and a lock for AL Rookie of the Year, and he may single-handedly lead the Los Angeles Angels to a playoff berth.
In a weekend sweep of the Detroit Tigers, the Angels’ rookie centerfielder was spectacular with his glove and his bat. Sunday’s leadoff home run in a 3-2 victory, the Angels’ sixth in a row, is the Game-Changing Moment of the Week.
Three weeks ago, after being swept in a four-game series by the Tampa Bay Rays, the Angels looked like they were slipping out of postseason contention. They had lost 13 of 18 and fallen 4½ games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the second wild-card spot and a season-worst nine games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West.
Fast forward to Sunday. Trout, the first batter in the bottom of the first inning, took a 1-0 pitch from Anibal Sanchez and sent it to deep right-center for a 1-0 lead, paving the way for L.A.'s sixth straight win.
The win also was the Angels' 15th in their last 18 games and, combined with the Orioles' loss to the New York Yankees on Sunday, moved them one-game out of the second wild-card spot.
And they have Trout to thank for their recent surge. The homer was the 27th of the year for the 21-year-old rookie. His fourth leadoff homer set a franchise record. On Saturday, he opened the game with a homer off Justin Verlander, then made a spectacular home run-saving catch off Prince Fielder to end the game.
"I'm just putting good swings on balls that are going out," Trout said. "These last couple games, I've felt like I'm on pitches, and I either foul them off or pop 'em up. But I'm starting to get on top of the ball a little better. The one last night and the one today, it just feels good."
The Angels will need him to continue with that kind of production if they're going to grab a playoff spot. There are 3½ weeks left in the season and still eight teams in contention for postseason spots.
They open a series with the Oakland Athletics on Monday. The A's lead the Angles by 2½ games and occupy one of the two wild-card spots.
L.A.'s sweep, meanwhile, hurt Detroit's playoff chances. The Tigers have lost five of six and trail the Chicago White Sox by two games in the AL Central. Lucky for Detroit, the Sox have lost seven of their last 10.
While Mike Trout is the catalyst for the Angels' playoff push, B.J. Upton is playing the same role for the Tampa Bay Rays. The centerfielder had a fantastic week for the Rays, who are hanging around both the AL East and wild-card playoff races.
Upton batted .400 last week with five home runs, six RBIs and three steals. Three of those home runs came in Sunday's 6-0 win over the Rangers, helping Tampa win the series.
Back-to-back series wins against the AL East-leading Yankees and AL West-leading Rangers helped the Rays stay in the hunt. Tampa is two back in the AL East and one game out of a wild-card spot.