Here's a most unexpected sentence: The Los Angeles Angels currently hold a wild-card spot.
The Angels, winners of six consecutive games, have moved to the front of a messy wild-card picture. They entered Monday with a half-game lead over the Minnesota Twins, and at least a one-game lead over a handful of others competing for the second wild card.
Our friends at SportsLine ran the numbers, and the Angels have effectively tripled their playoff likelihood over the course of their six-game winning streak:
The key to the Angels' success? An unusual blend of stars and savvy acquisitions.
Mike Trout missed significant time, yet has hit .341/.468/.690 with one fewer walk than strikeout. Trout is second on the Angels in Wins Above Replacement behind shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who is having a fantastic season. Simmons, always a great glove, has tapped into his power by lifting and pulling the ball more often. So far, it's proven to be a good formula.
After Trout and Simmons, the Angels' most productive players have been those acquired in small, but fruitful deals. Martin Maldonado and Cameron Maybin came over in the winter, and have contributed a combined 3.6 WAR -- that number probably sells Maldonado short, too, since he's a high-quality framer and staff-handler. Maldonado cost fellow catcher Jett Bandy, while Maybin was added in exchange for minor-league pitcher Victor Alcantara.
On the pitching side, the Angels have gotten more mileage than anticipated from J.C. Ramirez and Parker Bridwell. Ramirez actually joined the Angels as a waiver claim in June 2016. He's found new life as a starter who relies heavily on his slider. The stringbean Bridwell, on the other hand, might remind some Angels fans of Jered Weaver due to his frame. He was added in a small April deal for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Bridwell and Ramirez have contributed a combined 3.4 WAR.
General manager Billy Eppler also struck gold in the bullpen, where Blake Parker and Yusmeiro Petit have excelled. (Keep in mind that prior to the deadline the Angels traded another quality find, in David Hernandez, to the Arizona Diamondbacks.) Closer Bud Norris, who looked like a gem of a find, has seen his numbers take a hit since the All-Star Break. He's allowed 14 runs and four home runs in 8 2/3 innings after allowing nine and three in his first 36 1/3 innings.
Eppler hasn't been given a ton of resources -- either in prospects or budget -- to work with during his tenure. Yet the Angels are thinking postseason for the first time since 2014, and they have MVP-caliber work from Trout and Simmons and some Executive of the Year-quality work from Eppler to thank for it.