ANAHEIM -- Come Thursday, the Angels will be in Texas for a season-ending four-game series against a Rangers team that's fading down the stretch and needs to win in order to grab one of the American League's Wild Card spots.
Many -- including their own general manager -- have pinned the late-season struggles on the absence of outfielder Nelson Cruz, who chose to accept a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing substances rather than going through the lengthy appeals process like Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
C.J. Wilson, who played with the Rangers from 2005-11, doesn't believe that's the case.
"They're trying to pin it on Cruz not being there, but they're scoring plenty of runs," said Wilson, whose final start of 2013 will come Friday at Rangers Ballpark. "They're scoring more runs than they did on average the rest of the season. I think the pitching has been the big question mark for them, because a lot of the relievers that they had got used up so much the first half of the year that some of those dudes might be breaking down."
"They're kind of grasping for how to get that rhythm back, I think, in the bullpen. And I don't know how their starters have been throwing; I just know that a lot of them don't have the win totals that you would expect for a playoff rotation. Like, you don't have three 15-game winners. [Yu] Darvish is obviously a really good pitcher, and has great stuff, but he and [Derek] Holland, either they haven't been getting the run support or aren't pitching as well as they should."
Indeed, the Rangers -- who essentially replaced Cruz with Alex Rios -- have averaged 4.87 runs per game since Cruz was suspended on Aug. 4. That figure ranks fourth in the Majors and is higher than the 4.28 they averaged with Cruz in the lineup.
In September, though, the Rangers have struggled in all areas -- similar to 2012, when they blew a five-game lead in the AL West with nine to play -- and must do well against the Angels to overtake the Indians for the second Wild Card spot.
On Sept. 3, the Rangers had a one-game lead on the A's in the AL West. Since then, they rank 22nd in starting-pitcher ERA (4.22), 15th in relief-pitcher ERA (3.58) and tied for 15th in runs per game (3.84) while losing 13 of 19 games.
The Angels' goal will be to knock them out entirely.
"We have four games against them, and the more wins we get out of that, the better it is for us," Wilson said. "And we're only concerned about ourselves. We're not really trying to do anybody any favors by taking it easy on them. This is the big leagues. You don't take it easy on anybody."
In return from injury, Kendrick doesn't miss beat
ANAHEIM -- Howie Kendrick was on his way to a career year when a tough-luck outfield collision with Collin Cowgill sprained his left knee and robbed him of nearly six weeks. He returned to the starting lineup on Sept. 13, mindful of the fact that his timing would be off because he missed the last 35 games and it was too late in the season to go on a rehab assignment.
But he wanted to play, even though his knee was still sore. And since returning, the 30-year-old second baseman has picked up right where he left off.
Kendrick, who rested in the Wednesday afternoon home finale, homered in his second straight day during Tuesday's 3-0 win over the A's and is batting .317/.349/.561 in 10 games since returning from a lengthy, sometimes-frustrating stint on the disabled list, his slash line now at .302/.341/.448 for the season.
"I didn't really have any expectations coming back," Kendrick said. "I just knew I was going to get in and start playing and try to see as many pitches as I could. Anything that was going to happen was going to be a plus. I was just glad to be back on the field."
Kendrick was able to hit the entire time he was out, but seeing pitches in batting practice and facing an actual Major League pitcher are two completely different things. One thing that helped the right-handed-hitting Kendrick get back into it so quickly was his approach, which has him see the ball deep and consistently drive it to the middle or right side of the field.
Twelve of his 13 home runs this year, including his first-inning solo shot off A.J. Griffin on Tuesday, have been hit up the middle. The other went over the right-field wall.
"He can take that inside pitch and really hit it hard to right field," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "and I think that gives him an opportunity, when he's had a layoff, not to have to find as much timing as some guys with maybe a little different approach and a bigger swing."
"One of the biggest things is having the experience, too," Kendrick said. "Playing a lot of games -- you understand, coming back, not trying to do way too much. I understand that I missed a lot of time, so I couldn't really expect myself to come back and go, 'Oh, I'm going to do this and I'm going to do that.' I just have to take what's given and learn and continue to progress like I have."
Kendrick said his knee is not 100 percent and won't be probably until next year, which doesn't surprise him. There's still some next-day soreness, but he doesn't anticipate needing to undergo any offseason procedure and doesn't feel limited on the field.
"It's just going to take time to heal," Kendrick said. "… I understood when I came back that I wasn't going to sit out and miss time playing when I knew it wasn't going to be 100 percent anyway."
Scioscia rests weary Trout in home finale vs. A's
ANAHEIM -- Mike Trout was not in the Angels' lineup for Wednesday's finale against the A's, and with just four games remaining after that in Texas, his chances of collecting 200 hits are dwindling.
Trout entered Wednesday with 187 hits on the season, but he is hitting .173 (9-for-52) over the past 15 games.
"In the batter's box, he's pressing, I think, a little bit," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's obviously a long season and he's tired."
Trout has played in 153 games this season, and after he went 0-for-3 with a walk as the designated hitter on Tuesday, Scioscia decided to give him Wednesday off.
"He's played a lot -- this day off is long overdue for him," Scioscia said. "He's just out of sync and he's been grinding it, he just needs a day."
• With 36,226 fans at Wednesday's home finale, the Angels eclipsed the 3 million mark in attendance for the 11th consecutive season. This season's total was 3,019,505.
• Jerome Williams' status for Thursday's start is still up in the air after he was hit in the foot with a baseball Monday.
"We'll see where he is, but we'll have some time to look at it tomorrow, and if he's able to do the things he needs to do, he'll pitch," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
If Williams is unable to pitch, Matt Shoemaker is one of the options the Angels would consider.
• The Angels lead the league in going from first to third on a single, as they have done so 103 times this season. The league average is 80, and Texas and Cleveland are tied for second with 92.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. William Boor is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.