The Los Angeles Angels are playing some of their best baseball of the season at the right time, but still don't control their own playoff destiny.
They can tie their longest winning streak of the season Tuesday night when they host the Oakland Athletics.
Los Angeles (83-74) won its sixth straight and ninth in 11 games with a 5-4 victory in Monday's opener, led by Albert Pujols' 38th homer - his most since 2010 - and David Murphy's bases-loaded single in the ninth inning. The Angels' 17-8 record this month is tied with Toronto for the best in the majors, but they're still one half-game behind Houston for the AL's second wild-card spot after the Astros also won Monday. Minnesota is also lurking, only one game behind Los Angeles.
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"We've got a great group of guys with a lot of character in here," Murphy said. "Just a never-say-die attitude, and the results truly reveal the character of this team. People say it's not how you start, it's how you finish. We're finishing strong."
The Angels can match their season-best seven straight wins from July 12-22 on Tuesday behind Nick Tropeano (2-2, 4.50 ERA) as he fills in for Matt Shoemaker, who is nursing a strained forearm. Tropeano has been solid, if unspectacular, in his last two starts, allowing two earned runs over 9 1-3 innings. He'll try to replicate his season debut from April 23 when he threw six innings in a 2-0 victory against the Athletics.
Los Angeles bolstered the depth of its beleaguered pitching staff Monday by signing Mat Latos a day after he cleared waivers following his release from the Dodgers. Latos, who was 0-3 with a 6.66 ERA in six games for the Dodgers after they acquired him from Miami, will likely work in long relief duty.
The starting rotation and bullpen are both depleted with injuries to Shoemaker, Jered Weaver, Huston Street and Joe Smith.
"Some guys on our pitching staff have been stretched, they've pitched a lot, and we especially need rotation depth with Shoemaker up in the air," manager Mike Scioscia told MLB's official website. "Latos gives us an option and some depth, and we'll see how we use him this week."
Oakland (65-92) is ending its disappointing season on an especially sour note, losing eight of nine. Monday's defeat increased the Athletics' club-record one-run loss total to 34.
''When you play close games like that, sometimes (mistakes) will show up,'' A's manager Bob Melvin said. ''We've seen it often this year. It comes down to us not getting a big hit late in the game, or making an error and them getting a big hit.''
Chris Bassitt (1-7, 3.07) makes his second start since returning from a strained shoulder that sidelined him nearly a month, and Oakland is hoping it goes better than the first. He needed 73 pitches to make it through three-plus innings Thursday against Texas, giving up three runs in an 8-1 loss.
"It was important for him psychologically and physically to be back out there and perform," Melvin said after last week's loss. "They made him work and made him throw a lot of pitches."
Bassitt threw two perfect innings of relief in Oakland's 6-3 loss to the Angels on April 29.
Danny Valencia was back in the lineup Monday after leaving Sunday's loss to San Francisco when he was hit by a pitch on the elbow, but went 0 for 3.