Opportunity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Manager Mike Scioscia remains optimistic about the Angels making some kind of playoff push, saying before Wednesday's 16-inning win over the Cleveland Indians that "we have the opportunity here where if we start playing well, we can really make this interesting."
Torii Hunter remains realistic. Even after the marathon 4-3 victory, the center fielder acknowledged that the Angels failed to capitalize on what may have been their best and last chance to challenge Texas for the American League West title.
"It was right there in front of us," Hunter said of an 18-game stretch against Baltimore, Seattle, Oakland and Cleveland that began on Aug. 27. "Everybody knows it was a lost opportunity. We could have gained at least three games, and we didn't."
The Angels are 4-8 so far against four teams that are a combined 90 games under .500, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Orioles at Angel Stadium. They were held to one run or less in seven of the 12 games.
Though the Rangers stumbled, going 3-9 from Aug. 26 through Tuesday, the Angels remained 9 1/2 games back entering play Thursday.
Had the Angels gone 6-6 in the first 12 games of that stretch, which continues against the Mariners on Friday night, they would be 7 1/2 games back. Had they gone 9-3, they would have been 4 1/2 games back, with seven of their remaining 22 games against Texas.
"All we had to do was win every series and we'd be up another three games in the standings," Hunter said. "We would have gained some ground."
Hunter was extremely discouraged after Tuesday's 6-1 loss to the Indians, saying he "didn't see a lot of fight" in the Angels. He was more encouraged after Wednesday's gut-check win.
"That's the fight I'm looking for," Hunter said. "You keep battling no matter what."
But Hunter, knowing how many false starts the Angels have had in this one-step-forward, two-steps-back kind of season, knew better than to attach any added significance to the win.
"Hopefully, we learn from this and try to feed off it, but we've said this plenty of times," Hunter said. "I don't think I want to say anything like that, because we've been saying, 'Maybe we can build off this, maybe we can build off this,' and we never did. So forget that. Reverse psychology."
Scott Kazmir didn't exactly stifle a juggernaut in his six-inning, one-run, two-hit effort Wednesday; the Indians rank 13th in the league in batting, 12th in slugging, 11th in home runs and 10th in on-base percentage.
He was by no means dominant; his fastball rarely topped 88 mph, and he walked three in the first two innings.
But it was an improvement for a pitcher who is 8-13 with a 5.98 earned-run average in 24 starts in 2010, a subpar season that has cast uncertainty over Kazmir's future in Anaheim.
Though Kazmir is in the second year of a three-year, $28.5-million contract that guarantees him $12 million next season, Scioscia made it clear the left-hander is not guaranteed a rotation spot for 2011.
"He's a guy we definitely want to see turn the corner and start to pitch the consistent baseball he's capable of pitching," Scioscia said. "But just like anyone else; when that becomes an issue and you're not heading in the right direction, you're obviously going to look for different options."
Joel Pineiro, sidelined since July 28 because of a left rib-cage strain, is expected to be activated Friday after throwing a four-inning, 60-pitch simulated game on Tuesday. Pineiro will make one or two appearances out of the bullpen before returning to the rotation next weekend.