Friday, September 21, 2012

Dodgers, Angels, now on death watch

The Angels and Dodgers each needed to at least not lose ground as they took on division leaders this week. Instead, both lost lots of ground, and now their chances of advancing to playoffs are barely conceivable. But there are scenarios.

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles


One hates to pronounce death, or even predict it, but it's pretty hard now to escape that conclusion about the Los Angeles baseball teams and their playoff chances.

Each began the week with a three-game series against a division leader needing to at least not lose ground. Each lost ground.

The demise of the Angels figures to be especially swift, the way it's been going. Only a miracle of trend-reversing fortune can save the Angels, who now are 4 1/2 games behind Oakland and Baltimore for a wild card bid after losing two of three at home against Texas. The Angels now face three at home against another division leader, the Chicago White Sox.

The Angels (81-69) are trying to break into a scrum going on about five games above them between the Yankees (86-63), Orioles (85-64) and Athletics (85-64). Between them, apparently, the scrummers are going to claim the AL East title and the two wild card bids. It's gotten so late now -- 12 games left -- that the Angels can't, on their own, rise into that group. Even if the Angels were 10-2 the rest of the way, Oakland or Baltimore would have to finish 6-7 to have a tie. Someone, then, is going to have to fall for the Angels to have a decent chance.

It's not, apparently, going to be Baltimore, which plays the rest of its games against two clubs itching to go home, Boston and Toronto. Lucky as the Orioles have been this year, it's hard to believe they won't win seven of their last 13.

Can it be the Athletics? The Athletics have run into a competitive steamroller, losing three straight to Baltimore and Detroit, and now they go to Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees are fighting for their division title. After that, the A's, take up their own division title. Down four to Texas in the AL West, the A's play seven of their last ten games against the Rangers. Meanwhile, the Angels play six of their last nine against Seattle and the other three against the Rangers.

It's remarkable that the Rangers haven't already clinched the division, but the intensity of the wild card race has been so great that it has lifted the A's into the neighborhood. But now the A's have lost three straight and they play their next seven against the Yankees and Rangers. Could be the path to glory for the Athletics. Could also be a rapid road to their decline, in which case the Angels come back into play. It's hard to think of any other way back in for the Angels.

The Dodgers began the week 1 1/2 games down to St. Louis for the NL second wild card before losing two of three to Washington while the Cardinals feasted on a sweep in Houston. Now, the Dodgers are three down to the Cardinals, and they've been surpassed by Milwaukee, which is 2 1/2 behind after a five-game winning streak. Coming up on the outside is Philadelphia, which now is only one game behind the Dodgers.

The contours of this race will be set by the peculiar circumstances under which the Cardinals are finishing the season. The Cardinals now go on the road for three each in Chicago and Houston, two worst teams in the league. If the Cardinals can't build another game or two into their cushion, then all bets are going to be off because they finish the season at home with three each against Washington and Cincinnati.

The two best clubs in the NL this season, each of which already has clinched playoff berth, the Nationals and Reds will move on to claiming the best record in the NL, which carries home field advantage through the playoffs. These teams are going to want the home field against each other, so they're not done playing. The Cardinals really will have work to do.

And that means that if the Dodgers still are three down to the Cardinals a week from now, they'll have a chance. About the other factors, who knows? Right now, Milwaukee and Philadelphia are surging upwards in the race, while the Dodgers and Pittsburgh are going the other way. Arizona has flat-lined its way into this race, staying alive just by staying even. This whole group of teams -- the Dodgers, Milwaukee, Philadelphia Pittsburgh and Arizona -- is within three games of each other.

But notice that we are talking about a completely phony drama here, a twisted fantasy conditioned by lucky underdogs we’ve seen through the years. We're talking about a group of teams, none of which is a day or two from playoff position. We're supposing one might overcome its mediocre performance thus far and make up three games on the defending world champions with a playoff bid on the line.

It's at least as likely that the Cardinals will storm through this road trip against league doormats, build themselves a four-game cushion, then take a good fight to the Reds and Nationals to clinch their berth with a day or two left, and none of the other teams will be close enough to matter.

Are the Dodgers still in the race? They are, the way the standings look. But they aren't, the way they are playing.

The Dodgers go this weekend to Cincinnati, where they will witness the Reds' division clinching party. Kind of a throwback to those days when the Reds and Dodgers were division rivals. Next, the Dodgers go to San Diego, where the Padres have rallied to the outer fringe of the wild card race.

The Dodgers finish at home with three against Colorado and three against San Francisco. What's to say the Dodgers can't rally back into this race? Nothing. Except that the Dodgers have lost ten of their last 14.

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