Los Angeles Angels: playoffs

Question No. 5: Is the bullpen good enough?

January, 15, 2012
1/15/12
6:17
PM PT
We’ll preview spring training 2012 – one of the most anticipated in Angels’ history – with a series of five crucial questions about the upcoming season. First up: relief.

The Angels' bullpen was the area of the team that experienced the least upheaval this winter. The offense got an injection of power and plate discipline from future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. The rotation finally took on a left-hander, and a pretty good one, in C.J. Wilson.

General manager Jerry Dipoto didn't neglect the bullpen -- he added veteran setup man LaTroy Hawkins -- but it probably wasn't the overhaul some Angels fans had hoped for. Unless something changes in the next four weeks (and it might), the Angels will go into spring training banking on second-year closer Jordan Walden. Considering he's 24 and maintained his upper-90s fastball all year, that's not necessarily a bad thing. When I talked to him a couple of weeks ago, Walden sounded excited to erase bad memories from the end of his 2011 season.

But if you're poking this team for soft areas, places where it might be susceptible, you'd probably point your stick at the relief pitching. Angels relievers actually had the second-best ERA in the American League (3.52), but that obscures some of deeper problems. They allowed opponents to bat .247 against them, which ranked ninth, and they walked 185 batters. Only six teams saw more walks from their relievers. When the Angels were trying to find their footing early in the season, the bullpen was awful. When they were chasing teams late, it tended to implode at inopportune times.

Letting Fernando Rodney walk (pun intended) will solve only so many problems. The scrutiny will be on Walden, but it's almost equally vital that some other young arms continue to develop. Let's assume that Hawkins and Scott Downs stay healthy and do what they normally do, which is to be two of the more-dependable eighth-inning guys. Hisanori Takahashi is probably fairly bankable in low-stress roles.

No other Angels reliever has proven he can lock down an inning or two. Rich Thompson was the best of the youngsters, but had some shaky moments, especially late in the season. Bobby Cassevah and Trevor Bell will be fighting to stay on the roster as usual.

When the Angels were throwing a blanket over the late innings in 2002, Francisco Rodriguez got much of the credit, but it was depth that made the team so hard to rally against. Troy Percival, Brendan Donnelly and Ben Weber gave Mike Scioscia options when he was mapping out the final three to 15 outs of a game.

The Angels might not need that kind of dominance to rumble into the playoffs in 2012 -- on paper, they've got the talent to barge right in -- but as we sit a month before spring training, the bullpen remains a major question mark.

The Astro Effect

November, 17, 2011
11/17/11
2:56
PM PT
Get the Houston Astros jokes out of your system, Angels fans.

If you haven't heard by now, the Astros are joining the AL West. Is this a good thing or a bad thing for the Angels? Depends on your time horizon.

For a year or two, the Angels can probably count on a few more wins per year against a team that lost 106 games last season. Coupled with the extra wild-card berth, that might means the Angels have a better shot at the playoffs in 2013 and 2014. Maybe even 2015.

Beyond that, things get dicey.

I was talking recently to a prominent agent, who brought up -- unprompted -- what a bad thing this is going to be for the Angels. Houston is a major market, the No. 6 metropolitan area in the United States. The Astros figure to eventually sign a mega-dollar TV deal. They also have a new owner and those guys tend to want to spend lavishly when they first get their new toy.

We've already seen the rise of the Texas Rangers, under new ownership and a good management team, led by Nolan Ryan. The Astros, playing in the same division, figure to compete like crazy to out-do, or stay with, their in-state rivals.

The state of Texas is already a major headache for the Angels. Before long, they might be in for double the pain.

Is Bobby Abreu movable?

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
1:56
PM PT
One of the Angels' biggest challenges this off-season is unclogging the glut of overpaid hitters on their roster.

With Kendrys Morales expected to be at or close to full health this spring, the Angels could have seven players (Morales, Bobby Abreu, Mark Trumbo, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout) for five positions (the three outfield spots, first base and designated hitter).

It looks more and more likely that Trout will begin the season at Triple-A, but that still leaves six for five. Wells ($24 million) and Hunter ($18 million) are virtually impossible to move. It's looking more and more important that the Angels find a landing spot for Abreu, who will turn 38 and is coming off career lows in batting average (.353), home runs (eight) and RBIs (60).

Can Abreu be traded? One possible landing spot, presuming the Angels are willing to pay all or most of Abreu's $9 million salary: Miami. The Marlins, under Abreu's close friend and compatriot, Ozzie Guillen, could use Abreu as a pinch-hitter and spot outfield starter. More important, he could be a mentor to their young hitters and a recognizable face for a franchise moving into a new stadium.

One of Abreu's most positive impacts on the Angels was having his ultra-patient approach rub off on the team's younger players two seasons ago. He still gets on base. Amazingly, Abreu's .353 on-base percentage was second on the Angels to Alberto Callaspo.

On the Max and Marcellus show on 710 ESPN Thursday afternoon, Angels general manager Tony Reagins said the looming logjam for at-bats could be more fixable than people think.

"Things that look locked down now may not be in a month or two," Reagins said.

Rangers 3, Angels 1: Three Up, Three Down

September, 28, 2011
9/28/11
7:57
PM PT
ANAHEIM -- Mike Napoli continued to torment his former team and set his current team up for what could be a deep playoff run.

Napoli homered twice Wednesday, including the towering two-run shot in the ninth inning that gave the Texas Rangers a 3-1 win, allowing them to open the playoffs at home. Napoli hit six home runs at Angel Stadium this season, just three fewer than the man he was traded for, Vernon Wells.

The Good:

Audition time: Garrett Richards finally got to show the Angels what he can offer them. He had struggled in his major league debut at Yankee Stadium, then injured his groin in his second start against the Rangers. Richards, 23, came out of the bullpen to make Wednesday's start after Mike Scioscia decided to rest Jered Weaver and largely dominated. Other than a long home run to Mike Napoli, Richards cruised through five innings. He could be in competition with Tyler Chatwood for a rotation spot next spring.

Support. Despite two straight seasons in which the Angels didn't reach the post-season, their fans continued to show up. The final tally: 3,166,321 tickets sold, according to the team. Soon, the Angels might have to start winning something to keep their momentum going.

Status intact: Who knows, maybe the Angels can win two Rookie of the Year awards in a row. Mark Trumbo is in the running this season and Mike Trout will still qualify as a rookie in 2012. Trout finished strong after a rough September, getting three hits in his final two games.

The Bad:

Bad taste. The end of this season couldn't have been much worse for rookie closer Jordan Walden, who blew an easy save Sunday to all but eliminate the Angels from the playoffs and then gave up Napoli's second home run Wednesday. It was an impressive one, too, a high arcing blast into the left-field corner. Now, Walden has to think about those two outings until April.

Wrap it up. Vernon Wells locked up the worst on-base percentage in the major leagues by going 1-for-4 and not walking in his 22nd consecutive game. Wells went 2-for-21 in his final homestand and finished the season batting .218. On the bright side, it won't be hard to improve next year.

Karma? The Detroit Tigers finish next season against the Minnesota Twins. The Angels had better hope they're not in a race against Minnesota, because the Tigers might have a score to settle. After the Angels fell out of contention, Mike Scioscia went to spring-training lineups in consecutive games, Texas swept and secured homefield in the first round.

Mike Scioscia defends this lineup

September, 28, 2011
9/28/11
5:00
PM PT
Some Detroit Tigers fans have taken exception to the Angels' lineups since the team was eliminated from post-season contention Monday night.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia got a little testy while defending himself Wednesday. Scioscia pulled Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana from their final starts of the season and replaced them with rookies Tyler Chatwood and Garrett Richards. Five rookie hitters were in Tuesday night's lineup, a 10-3 loss. On Wednesday, Scioscia's lineup had four rookies, including September call-ups Jeremy Moore, Efren Navarro and Gil Velazquez.

If Texas -- which has fielded lineups similar to what it will run out for the playoffs -- can pull the sweep here Wednesday night (or if Detroit loses to Cleveland), it would host the first round of the playoffs and Detroit will have to travel to Yankee Stadium.

Scioscia said injuries and the risk of injury have been at the root of his lineups. He said Maicer Izturis has been playing with a foot injury, Torii Hunter has been dealing with pain in his quadriceps, Santana has had forearm stiffness and Weaver had a flareup of upper-back pain recently. On Tuesday, Weaver said, "This is the best I've felt at the end of a year in a long time." He and Dan Haren have surpassed the 230-inning mark and Santana finished four outs shy.

Howie Kendrick had to leave Tuesday's game after spraining his wrist diving for a ground ball and Mark Trumbo is out for six weeks with a stress fracture in his right foot.

"It's like that horse you've taken the whip to and they're physically beat. They might have one more start in them, but you don't know how effective they'd be and it's something you deal with," Scioscia said. "We're out here trying to win games."

"We went as hard as we could as long as we could. We brought guys on three days rest against these guys a month ago. That's the team they're playing. If they weren't at such a heightened risk, they'd be out there."

Here are the lineups for Wednesday's season finale:

Texas

1. Ian Kinsler 2B

2. Elvis Andrus SS

3. Josh Hamilton CF

4. Michael Young 3B

5. Adrian Beltre DH

6. Mike Napoli C

7. Nelson Cruz RF

8. David Murphy LF

9. Mitch Moreland 1B

Angels

1. Erick Aybar SS

2. Mike Trout RF

3. Peter Bourjos CF

4. Vernon Wells DH

5. Alberto Callaspo 3B

6. Jeremy Moore LF

7. Bobby Wilson C

8. Efren Navarro 1B

9. Gil Velazquez 2B

By design, the numbers don't add up (and lineups)

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
5:48
PM PT
By shutting down Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana before their final starts of 2011, the Angels might have missed out on a couple of cool milestones.

Weaver needed to get only four outs to beat out Justin Verlander for the league ERA title. An inning and a third without allowing a run would have whittled Weaver's ERA from 2.41 to 2.39. Weaver wasn't aware how close he was until reporters informed him before Tuesday's game.

"Yeah, well, oops," Weaver said. "I should have thrown a couple more zeroes up there."

If Santana had just gotten four outs, the Angels would have had three pitchers each throw at least 230 innings for the first time since 1973, when staffs worked on three days' rest routinely. Weaver and Dan Haren already have surpassed 230 innings while Santana will finish with 228 2/3.

"It comes to a point where we would be stretching them for diminishing returns right now," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We have to look out, obviously, for these guys moving forward, to be ready to do this again next year."

Here are lineups for Tuesday's game, which would resemble a spring training game except the Rangers need to win it to keep their edge over the Detroit Tigers for second-best record in the league. The team that finishes with more losses has to travel to New York to open the playoffs while the other team opens at home against the wild-card winner:

Texas

1. Ian Kinsler 2B

2. Elvis Andrus DH

3. Josh Hamilton CF

4. Michael Young SS

5. Adrian Beltre 3B

6. Mike Napoli C

7. Nelson Cruz RF

8. David Murphy LF

9. Mitch Moreland 1B

Angels

1. Mike Trout RF

2. Peter Bourjos CF

3. Bobby Abreu DH

4. Howie Kendrick 2B

5. Vernon Wells LF

6. Alberto Callaspo 3B

7. Efren Navarro 1B

8. Hank Conger C

9. Andrew Romine SS

Angels await their fate (with lineups)

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
5:46
PM PT
The visiting scoreboard at Angel Stadium is in right field, meaning the players and coaches on the Angels' bench have it in their face all game long.

They could know even before their 7:05 p.m. game with the Texas Rangers begins whether they've been eliminated from postseason contention. A Boston Red Sox win at Baltimore would knock them out.

The Angels were pushed to this brink by their ninth-inning meltdown Sunday afternoon -- blowing a three-run lead to Oakland -- and by Boston's 14th-inning win in New York later that evening. They trail Boston by three games and Tampa Bay by two in the wild-card standings.

"The position we're in right now, it's obviously a crucial win with a lot of help still being needed in other areas," manager Mike Scioscia said.

Here are lineups for Monday's game vs. Texas, which hasn't slowed down after clinching the AL West Friday. The Rangers just swept Seattle and have won 12 of their last 15 games:

Texas

1. Ian Kinsler DH

2. Elvis Andrus SS

3. Josh Hamilton CF

4. Michael Young 2B

5. Adrian Beltre 3B

6. Mike Napoli 1B

7. Nelson Cruz RF

8. David Murphy LF

9. Yorvit Torrealba C

Angels

1. Maicer Izturis 2B

2. Peter Bourjos CF

3. Howie Kendrick 1B

4. Torii Hunter DH

5. Vernon Wells LF

6. Alberto Callaspo 3B

7. Mike Trout RF

8. Erick Aybar SS

9. Jeff Mathis C

Scouting the Rangers

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
8:31
AM PT
These next three games are crucial for the Angels, as expected, but for surprising reasons.

The Angels were eliminated from the AL West race Friday night, but suddenly have life in the wild-card race. To get to the playoffs, it's likely they will have to sweep these three games against the first-place Texas Rangers. To set up the series, we chatted with our friend Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com.

Q. Give us some insight into how Rangers manager Ron Washington will approach this series now that his team has clinched and can’t get the best record in the AL. Will pitchers be on pitch counts?

A. I would not expect to see C.J. Wilson throw more than three or four innings. All they want to is keep him sharp. Washington has said that his first priority is rest for his regulars and lining up his staff, and that homefield is secondary to that. But judging by how things may or may not go, I think homefield is critical. The Rangers entered Sunday 1 game up on the Tigers in that race. They must finish ahead of them as Detroit won the tiebreaker. If Texas stays ahead of them, they'll open at home against Boston or Tampa Bay (if the Angels don't make the playoffs). If LAA does make it, they'd open at home against Detroit. Either way, it's a big deal. If they don't finish ahead of Detroit, they open at Yankee Stadium. Then, if they faced the Tigers in the ALCS, they wouldn't have homefield advantage. Big difference, if you ask me. So there's plenty on the line for Texas.

Q. What about position players? Will guys get days off or is he trying to keep them sharp for the playoffs?

A. They want to do both. They'll get a day or two for a break, but won't get the whole series off or anything like that. They still want to play the majority of the time. Look for Washington to start many of his regulars, but pull them late in the game.

Q. Who are the Rangers most wary of in the playoffs?

A. Honestly, I don't think they're worried about anybody. But the road is easier if it starts in Arlington rather than Yankee Stadium. And if the Angels make it, they are dangerous with that rotation. Still, at this point, Detroit is playing well and they've got Justin Verlander.

Q. How about 2012? Are the Rangers set up to dominate the division again or are there worries on the horizon?

A. The core of the Rangers will still be intact, so they should be division contenders for a while. But if Wilson leaves to another team, that clearly alters the staff. They've got some good young pitchers, but Wilson has been the horse of this staff next year, so they lose something if he's not back. Otherwise, the group you see now should look pretty similar. They may move Neftali Feliz to the rotation and go with Mike Adams (or someone) as closer next year and other things could change a little. But Jon Daniels and his staff wanted a team that would have a long winning window and it appears they've got that.

Q. C.J. Wilson, an Orange County native, will be a free agent. What is your gut feeling about where he will end up?

A. My gut feeling is that Wilson won't be a Ranger. I only say that because the club has other contracts to worry about the next few years (Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus to name a few) and they may want to be very careful how they spend their money. Plus, some team is going to give Wilson big bucks -- like 5 years at $85 million or more. So I wouldn't be stunned if he's in New York or Boston. Or maybe even Anaheim. He is a California guy, as you know.

Angels 4, A's 2: Three Up, Three Down

September, 24, 2011
9/24/11
8:59
PM PT
ANAHEIM -- The Angels snapped a two-game losing streak to prop up their slim playoff hopes with a 4-2 win over the Oakland A's Saturday night.

They now trail the slumping Boston Red Sox by 2 1/2 games (and the Tampa Bay Rays by one) in the AL wild-card standings.

The Good:

Toriitown. Before the game, the Angels presented Mark Trumbo with the team MVP trophy. Solid choice, considering the rookie leads the team in home runs and RBIs. But you could argue that Hunter has played better when the games matter most. He drove in three of the Angels' four runs, with a single in the first and a deep home run to left in the sixth.

Jerome's gem. Where would the Angels be without Jerome Williams? The reclamation project keeps adding to his story, making his fourth quality start in six starts. He pitched out of jams in the first, second and fifth innings and kept the Angels on track into the seventh inning. Williams is now 4-0 with a 2.74 ERA since he came up on Aug. 17.

Still going. Scott Downs allowed a two-out double to David DeJesus, but he took care of it by getting Kurt Suzuki to fly out and end the eighth inning. That kept intact a fairly remarkable run. Downs hasn't allowed a run at Angel Stadium this season, 27 scoreless outings in a row.

The Bad:

Out machine. The most amazing thing about Vernon Wells' brutal first season with the Angels isn't his batting average (.220), it's his on-base percentage (.249). Wells hasn't drawn a walk since Sept. 3. He's even jumpier than usual lately. He's also 0 for his last 13.

Hook-happy? Mike Scioscia won't hesitate to make a quick pitching change, particularly if it's not one of his three best starters. Williams had only thrown 97 pitches and had just gotten the first out of the seventh inning when Scioscia came to get the ball so he could give it to Hisanori Takahashi. It worked out, barely, when Takahashi pitched around a two-out single and stolen base, but seemed a tad rash.

Injury scare. Trumbo left the game after his second at-bat with what the Angels described as right ankle discomfort. If it's something that costs him time, it could be a major concern. He's one of the few power guys in the lineup and the Angels' only backup first baseman is Efren Navarro, a defensive specialist who spent the season in the minors. If Trumbo's out, look for Howie Kendrick to play a lot of first base.

Coaching tree turns contentious (and lineups)

September, 24, 2011
9/24/11
5:16
PM PT
While it's often portrayed that Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon is a disciple of Mike Scioscia because he was his bench coach for six seasons, the opposite is equally true. Maddon had been coaching in Anaheim for two decades, and had briefly been the team's interim manager, before Scioscia showed up in 2000.

Each manager admits the other has influenced his leadership style.

Now, they're in contention against one another for the first time, with Maddon's Rays and Scioscia's Angels both desperately chasing the slumping Boston Red Sox as the season draws to a close.

"It's strange," Scioscia said. "You look at it, there's a whole new division that forms at the end of the season, the wild-card division. It's Tampa, it's us, it's Boston. That's what it is right now."

Here are the lineups for Saturday night's game:

Oakland

1. Jemile Weeks 2B

2. Coco Crisp CF

3. Hideki Matsui LF

4. Josh Willingham DH

5. David DeJesus RF

6. Cliff Pennington SS

7. Kurt Suzuki C

8. Brandon Allen 1B

9. Scott Sizemore 3B

Angels

1. Erick Aybar SS

2. Howie Kendrick 2B

3. Bobby Abreu DH

4. Torii Hunter RF

5. Mark Trumbo 1B

6. Alberto Callaspo 3B

7. Vernon Wells LF

8. Peter Bourjos CF

9. Bobby Wilson C

Backing up, with no place to go

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
11:08
PM PT
It's kind of pathetic, isn't it?

The Boston Red Sox seem intent on allowing a pennant race to rev up behind them and all they get is silence when they turn around. The Angels, like the Tampa Bay Rays, just can't get in gear to make this wild-card thing interesting.

Frustrating? You want to talk about frustrating? Try having something so plump and delicious dangled right in front of your nose, then not having the strength in your legs to carry you three feet forward to enjoy the meal. In the last eight days, the Angels have lost five games to teams that, collectively, are 37 games under .500.

While Boston has been busy imploding -- going 5-16 this month -- the Angels have been tentatively nipping at their heels, then retreating. After Friday's 3-1 loss to the Oakland A's, the Angels have gone 5-7 in their last 12 games, not exactly the way to make October magic.

"It's frustrating when you can't gain any ground. Teams lose, you can't do it," Torii Hunter said. "That's just the adrenaline, the rush of a pennant race. It's very frustrating, trust me. That's why I'm sitting backwards in my locker."

The Angels aren't hitting. Sometimes, that's because they're just not hitting. Sometimes, that's because the opposing pitcher, like Oakland's Gio Gonzalez Friday, saws the bats out from their hands with dominating stuff. Either way, it's making late September kind of a snoozefest when it could have been rollicking around here. The Angels passed 3 million fans for the ninth straight year on Friday and the team rewarded them by scoring one run, a little more air leaking out of this punctured balloon.

Now, it's desperate, desperate straits. The Angels probably can't afford to lose another game if they want to play past Wednesday. They're 3 1/2 games behind Boston with only five games left. They were eliminated from the AL West Friday, the Texas Rangers celebrating on their field nearly two hours after their game was completed.

The Angels could be eliminated from the whole shooting match later this weekend if they don't start finding ways to get guys on base and to the plate.

"We've come a long way and played well to even talk about a pennant race," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "The important thing is finishing it off."

Jered Weaver pitched into the ninth inning and saw Oakland's go-ahead run score on Maicer Izturis's error. Add that to the list of golden opportunities the Angels are squandering: another masterful performance from their ace. Now, the Angels have to weather starts from their Nos. 4 and 5 starters in this series. Things couldn't be dicier at the moment.

"Obviously, it's not where you really want to be," Vernon Wells said. "But all we can do is come out and play better than we did tonight. There's a better chance if we win than if we lose."

Bedraggled Angels return

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
6:17
PM PT
ANAHEIM -- After Thursday night's extra-inning loss in Toronto, the Angels got the added bonus of five hours in the air, a 40-minute bus ride to the stadium and the joy of climbing into bed at about 4 a.m.

The team's charter flight had to land at LAX instead of John Wayne Airport, because of a curfew in Orange County.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said the long flight gave the team time to work through the game and put it behind it. The Angels entered Friday's games three games behind the Boston Red Sox in the wild-card race. They can gain a half-game with a win over the Oakland A's, because Boston was rained out in New York.

"The only frustrating thing about this is we haven't played at a level to keep control of things with how we played the game. We need help," Scioscia said.

Here are lineups for Friday's game:

Oakland

1. Jemile Weeks 2B

2. Coco Crisp CF

3. Hideki Matsui DH

4. Josh Willingham LF

5. David DeJesus RF

6. Cliff Pennington SS

7. Brandon Allen 1B

8. Kurt Suzuki C

9. Scott Sizemore 3B

Angels

1. MaicerIzturis 3B


2. Peter Bourjos CF


3. Howie Kendrick 2B

4. Torii Hunter RF


5. Mark Trumbo 1B


6. Vernon Wells DH


7. Mike Trout LF


8. Erick Aybar SS


9. Jeff Mathis C

Desperate times call for... Jered Weaver

September, 23, 2011
9/23/11
9:40
AM PT
A week ago, when Mike Scioscia decided he would start Jered Weaver on three days' rest -- though the first try had been a mess -- this is exactly what he had in mind. Weaver would pitch two of the Angels' final six games (on regular rest) to try to help the team reach the playoffs.

What he didn't anticipate was that his team would go 3-4 in the interim.

Now, instead of Weaver being the finisher, he's the last wall of defense. Rookie closer Jordan Walden said it after Thursday night's lifeless 4-3 12-inning loss to the Toronto Blue Jays: The Angels have six games left and they have to win them all. Of course, that might not be enough. The Boston Red Sox would have to go 3-3 just to give the Angels a share of the wild card and force a playoff.

If you're going to go down, may as well do it with your best on the mound. Weaver makes his 33rd start tonight aiming for his 19th win. He already is three innings over his personal high with two starts remaining. Only Justin Verlander and Dan Haren have thrown more pitches than Weaver's 3,629 in the AL.

The heavy wear and tear has made Weaver a different pitcher, but amazingly, a similarly effective pitcher. Weaver somehow has gone 3-0 this month with an average fastball velocity of about 88 mph, according to ESPN Stats and Info. That's a few miles per hour off his typical fastball and a few miles per hour off the major-league average.

It may not just be fatigue. Weaver seems to be throttling back, aware that he needs to reserve some fuel to get through his most trying season yet. It worked against the Orioles. It worked last time against the Oakland A's. If he can pull it off again tonight, the Angels will live to fight another day.

Blue Jays 4, Angels 3: Three Up, Three Down

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
8:58
PM PT
Edwin EncarnacionLuc Leclerc/US PresswireEdwin Encarnacion's 12th-inning homer handed the Angels a crucial loss in their playoff chase.

The Los Angeles Angels' offense -- hit or miss all season -- went into miss mode at a bad time.

The result was a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in 12 innings Thursday -- Edwin Encarnacion ending things with a 12th-inning home run -- that could cost the Angels dearly in their playoff push. They lost crucial ground in the American League wild-card race. They now trail the Boston Red Sox by three games with six to go and they fell a game behind the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Angels didn't score after the sixth inning.

The Good:

Tightrope walking. Ervin Santana had to throw a lot of pitches early and he lasted only six innings, meaning the Angels had a lot of ground to cover with their bullpen. Once manager Mike Scioscia ran out of arms he had trusted all season, he had no choice but to hand the ball to guys who had been in the minors most of the year. They actually did pretty well. Horacio Ramirez and Garrett Richards got three outs before Richards hung a slider and Encarnacion hit a line drive over the left-field wall.

Key relievers. Scott Downs and Jordan Walden both were asked to go more than an inning -- hey, these are desperate times -- and both guys handled it well. They combined for three scoreless innings doing something they had rarely done all year.

Ervin. If he hadn't thrown more than 30 pitches in the first inning, perhaps things would have gone differently. He had good stuff and he used it to get through six innings, allowing just two runs and six hits. It was more solid work from the big three, but with the offense sputtering, it just wasn't quite enough length.

The Bad:

Inoffensive. All the extra-base hits the Angels had cranked out in the previous two games were nowhere to be found. Granted, that often happens in baseball, where momentum typically stops with the next day's starting pitcher, but the lack of continuity has plagued this team all season. Nine baserunners in 12 innings rarely will win you a game, and the Angels' offense just shriveled up as the game went along.

Impatient. The one trait that has plagued this offense consistently is an unwillingness to take pitches. A bunch of unimpressive Toronto pitchers managed to average fewer than 14 pitches per inning and the Angels only walked once all night. Do the Angels not take note that virtually every effective offense in baseball relies on guys with high on-base percentages?

Ineffective. It seems as though every third-option reliever the Angels test cracks under pressure. Bobby Cassevah has pitched well for this team, but in his highest-pressure situation yet, he got a little shaky. Cassevah walked a batter and gave up a double, allowing the tying run to score in the seventh. When the obituary is written on the Angels' season, sputtering offense and unreliable relief with be the key causes of death.

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.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jered Weaver
WINS ERA SO IP
17 3.50 157 200
OTHER LEADERS
BAH. Kendrick .291
HRM. Trout 34
RBIM. Trout 107
RM. Trout 109
OPSM. Trout .940
ERAG. Richards 2.61
SOG. Richards 164