The chances of either the Los Angeles Dodgers or Los Angeles Angels qualifying for the 2012 MLB playoffs look increasingly slim.
Both the Dodgers and Angels lost on Thursday (Sept. 20), pushing them further down the wild-card standings in each league. The Dodgers are three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL. In the AL, the Angels are 4.5 games behind both the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics.
With 12 games remaining in the regular season, there is very little time to overtake the competition and hardly any margin for error. Those aren't promising circumstances for either team.
But the numbers say that the Dodgers and Angels are still alive in the playoff race. Both teams still have a chance. However, they each need some things to work in their favor over the final two weeks of the regular season to keep those postseason hopes alive.
Here are four keys for both teams to make the playoffs and create a wild-card whirlwind in Los Angeles.
Keep Pitching Well
The Angels have a 2.53 team ERA in September, the best mark in MLB for the month. The Dodgers aren't far behind with a 3.10 team ERA, good for fourth in the majors.
Each team will have to continue pitching well to keep their playoff hopes alive.
For the Dodgers, it's especially important because they're not producing much offense. Their team batting average for the month is .227 with a .635 OPS. As you might expect with those numbers, the Dodgers have scored only 48 runs in 17 games.
The Angels also have to make sure they score enough so that excellent pitching isn't wasted. That happened Thursday night (Sept. 20) in a 3-1 loss to the Texas Rangers. Zack Greinke allowed one run and five hits over eight innings, yet the Angels lost the game when Ernesto Frieri gave up two runs in the ninth.
Had the Angels scored more than one run, however, Frieri's ninth-inning meltdown may not have been an issue.
Step Up at First Base
The Angels and Dodgers each feature one of the best first basemen in MLB. Yet neither of these superstar sluggers have put up big numbers in September.
In Anaheim, Albert Pujols is hitting .242/.286/.409 in 70 plate appearances with one home run and five RBI.
If he maintains that level of performance, it will be Pujols' worst month besides his abysmal April during which he posted a .570 OPS with eight extra-base hits (none of them home runs) and four RBI.
Does it need to be said that the Angels expect more production from their $240 million first baseman?
For the Dodgers, Adrian Gonzalez is doing slightly better. In 71 plate appearances, he's batting .262/.310/.415 with 10 RBI. He hasn't hit any home runs, but he has eight doubles and a triple.
However, the Dodgers were surely hoping for more—especially in terms of power—from Gonzalez after acquiring him in their blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox.
Each player has two weeks left in the regular season to heat up at the plate. But might it already be too late to make a difference?
Seize Those Awards
One of the raging debates currently going on in baseball is the AL MVP race. Who should win the award between the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera and Angels outfielder Mike Trout?
Trout's MVP-caliber play fueled the Angels' surge into the AL playoff race after they began the season as one of MLB's biggest disappointments. But the superstar rookie has dropped off somewhat in September, batting .273/.368/.394 with two home runs and three RBI.
For the Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw put himself in position to win a second consecutive NL Cy Young Award. The left-hander battled some inconsistency early in the season, due in part to difficulties in throwing his slider.
Everything seemed to come together in August when Kershaw compiled a 2.49 ERA in six starts. He also struck out 49 batters in 43.1 innings.
However, Kershaw is now in danger of missing the rest of the regular season due to an impingement in his right hip. He's hoping that he'll be able to pitch again this season. But as long as he feels pain while throwing off a mound, the Dodgers don't intend to allow him to pitch.
To make the playoffs, the Angels need Trout to play like the MVP. The Dodgers need Kershaw to pitch like the best pitcher in the NL. Actually, they just need him to pitch.
A Helping of Good Luck
Neither the Angels nor the Dodgers can win a wild-card playoff spot purely on their own merits at this point of the season. No matter how well each team plays, both need help from the clubs ahead of them in the standings.
More specifically, the Angels and Dodgers need their competitors to lose. They need some luck to work in their favor.
The Angels may have received some good fortune—though it feels unseemly to phrase it that way—with the news that Brett Anderson will miss the rest of the season due to a strained oblique. That's a rather significant blow to the Oakland Athletics, who lead the Angels by 4.5 games in the AL wild-card standings.
No such misfortune has been suffered by the Cardinals or Milwaukee Brewers, the two teams ahead of the Dodgers in the NL wild-card race.
The Dodgers are left to hope that the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds—both of whom play the Cards and Brewers during the final two weeks of the season—continue to play well. Maybe the Houston Astros could also play spoilers, as they did in winning three of four from the Philadelphia Phillies last week.
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