What needs to happen

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
10:36
AM PT
The Angels are in a tricky spot in this all-of-a-sudden wild-card race. You could argue that they're in the perfect position, waiting for a swooning team to fall back to them. So far, the Boston Red Sox have done just that, going 5-16 this month.

It's been about Boston's collapse more than the Angels' surge. Going 5-4 on a road trip to Oakland, Baltimore and Toronto isn't exactly applying the heavy-duty heat.

The Angels likely need to go 5-2 -- at least -- in this final week to have a shot at returning to the postseason, where they've landed in six of Mike Scioscia's first 11 seasons. Let's dig down deeper and figure out how they can complete this improbable feat:

Win: Obvious, right?

Sure, but that's not the same thing as automatic. The most worrisome thing about this opportunity is the Angels' trajectory. They went into Baltimore with Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver lined up. That's about as automatic as you can get, right? No such thing as automatic.

Haren and Santana didn't pitch well -- it happens -- and the Angels lost the two games that, in retrospect, cost them a chance to really apply pressure to Boston. This is the one time of a baseball season that is all about momentum, and the Angels desperately need it.

Straighten the A's. The Angels may have exorcised some demons by taking two of three games in Oakland last week, but they're still 7-9 this season against the A's. It's pretty simple. They're batting .223 against Oakland, their worst mark against any team other than the Cleveland Indians (oddly).

The A's haven't announced a starter for Sunday's game yet, but they'll use ace Gio Gonzalez (who just shut the Angels down in Oakland) and Guillermo Moscoso (who is pitching the best of his career) in the first two games. This Oakland series isn't automatic no matter how lifeless the A's are looking right now. They show more fight when they face the Angels, probably a mixture of confidence and motivation.

Let Texas party. The Angels should root hard for Texas in the next few days. Manager Ron Washington has said he won't rest his regulars until his club has clinched. The Rangers' magic number to win the AL West is three. The ideal scenario: Texas sweeps Seattle and clinches Sunday, meaning the Angels will see lineups sprinkled with September call-ups in each of their three season-ending games against the Rangers.

They figure to face Texas' ace, C.J. Wilson, on Monday. If Texas has clinched, Washington probably will limit Wilson to five innings or so as a tuneup for the playoffs, a huge advantage for the Angels.

Buy a Yankees cap. The Angels could get stung by the flip side of Texas clinching early. The New York Yankees have already sewn up the AL East. They're on the verge of locking up the best record in the league, with a five-game lead over Detroit and Texas.

While Yankees manager Joe Girardi undoubtedly will pay lip service to the integrity of pennant races, his first responsibility is to get his team set for the playoffs. The Yankees will look to rest regular position players and scale down their starters' innings over the final week.

The Angels need to hope that the Yankees' depth (and pride) wins out, because they play exclusively against the two other wild-card contenders in their final six games. The Angels need help, and the Yankees are their best friends right now. So, what is the Yankees' reward if they help the Angels? They get to face them in the American League Division Series.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jered Weaver
WINS ERA SO IP
18 3.59 169 213
OTHER LEADERS
BAH. Kendrick .293
HRM. Trout 36
RBIM. Trout 111
RM. Trout 115
OPSM. Trout .939
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOJ. Weaver 169