There are so many ways to look at the Angels' predicament with their season now reduced to 22 games and their American League West deficit behind Oakland at 5 1/2 games.
If the A's go 12-11 in their final 23 games, the Angels would need to go 17-5 to catch them. If the A's go 9-14, the Angels would need to go 14-8 to tie. And if the A's stay hot -- say they go 15-8 -- the Angels would have to go 20-2 to tie.
The Angels, who open a three-game series against Toronto tonight, are trying to ignore such big-picture scenarios. Seven of their final 10 games are against Oakland, a team they went 8-3 against in the last two Septembers, and they close the season with four games against the A's in Anaheim.
If the Angels can trim that deficit to two or three games by Sept. 22, the day they begin a three-game series in Oakland, they like their chances of winning a third consecutive AL West championship.
And what will that require? Another blip from the A's, who lost three of four games from Saturday to Tuesday, and a sustained run by the Angels, who gained three games on Oakland during that span and have won five in a row.
And all that will take is the kind of pitching the Angels got in their last turn through the rotation, when Joe Saunders, Kelvim Escobar, Jered Weaver, John Lackey and Ervin Santana combined to go 3-0 with a 1.49 earned-run average in five wins.
And a strong surge from a lineup that began to sag at the end of last week, scoring 10 runs in four games against Detroit and Baltimore, but came to life against the Orioles on Tuesday and Wednesday, combining for 13 runs. The Angels should receive a boost tonight with the return of Juan Rivera, who sat out two games because of a minor hand injury.
And consistent relief pitching from a bullpen that includes closer Francisco Rodriguez, who has not given up a run in 26 1/3 innings, struggling setup man Scot Shields, who has given up 10 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings of his last 13 appearances, and a middle-relief trio (Brendan Donnelly, J.C. Romero and Hector Carrasco) that has been more effective of late.
And, the most important thing: some help.
The Angels probably won't get much this weekend from lowly Tampa Bay, which plays host to Oakland in a three-game series, but the A's play two AL Central challengers next week, three games at Minnesota and three at home against the Chicago White Sox. It appears Oakland will miss Minnesota ace Johan Santana.
The A's then have four games at home (Sept. 18-21) against an improved Cleveland team that has gone 21-13 since Aug. 1 before playing the Angels. Oakland travels to Seattle for three games (Sept. 25-27) before closing the season in Anaheim.
After playing the Blue Jays, the Angels play host to the White Sox for three games and travel to Texas for four games beginning next Thursday. They play a two-game series in Kansas City on Sept. 19-20 before traveling to Oakland and have three home games against the Rangers (Sept. 25-27) before finishing against the A's.
"We can't start paying attention to Oakland, because if we don't win, it doesn't matter what they do," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We have to focus on the steps we need to take to play well, and we've been doing that lately."
The Angels don't have to look far to know their task, while daunting, is not impossible. On this date in 1995 -- Sept. 8 -- the Angels were in first place in the AL West, six games ahead of Seattle.
The Angels went 6-10 in the final 16 games, and the Mariners went 12-4 to force a one-game playoff for the division title, which Seattle won.
Trim two or three games off Oakland's lead in the next two weeks, and perhaps the A's will begin feeling the kind of pressure the Angels felt in 1995, when they suffered one of baseball's biggest collapses.
"We have to keep the A's in our sights, not necessarily to wake them up or to send them a message," first baseman Darin Erstad said, "but to make the playoffs."
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Down the stretch
The teams left on the schedule for the Angels and A's, with their records against those teams:
*--* Angels G Rec Oakland G Rec Toronto 3 2-5 Tampa Bay 3 4-2 Chicago 3 2-4 Minnesota 3 3-4 Texas 7 7-5 Chicago 3 0-3 Kansas City 2 5-3 Cleveland 4 3-2 Oakland 7 6-6 Angels 7 6-6 Seattle 3 15-1 Total 22-23 Total 31-18