It's the most pa-ra-noid time of the year.
It's the most pa-ra-noid time of the year!
OK, so Christmas carols and baseball don't always blend perfectly. But the message still rings true.
September baseball is upon us, the time of the season when playoff contenders are obsessively checking the box scores of every team in their divisions to see where they stand, and more importantly, who stands near them in the respective races.
Sometimes, though, running a race means you have to look forward instead of back.
The great Satchel Paige famously said, “Never look behind you. Someone might be gaining.” Words to live, or at least play, by.
Manager Mike Scioscia does.
And while he claims his Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim don't do a lot of scoreboard-watching to see who might be gaining, in this critical period in the season, they must surely be taking a peek at the future to see what lies ahead.
The Angels currently lead the AL West by a tenuous 4.5 games over the resurgent Texas Rangers, who just won't go away no matter how many of their stars fall to injuries.
This race is heated, to say the least, and every Ranger loss is a victory for the Halos.
The Rangers are also in a closely contested battle for the American League Wild Card, just two games behind the Boston Red Sox.
So, if status quo remains over the next few weeks, the playoff picture in the American League would look like this: Detroit vs. New York; Boston vs. L.A.
The Yankees appear to have locked up the best record in the league, which means they would match up against the Wild Card team.
But despite win-loss records, divisional rivals cannot compete against one another in the first round.
If the Red Sox take the Wild Card this year, they would have to face the team with the next best record in the league—the Angels.
This is not good.
The Angels might be doing well this season, and even have a winning record over the Red Sox in 2009, but the playoffs are a whole different animal. Just take a look at last year.
Good old L.A. of A. lead the Major Leagues, and set a new franchise record, with 100 wins, including going 8-1 against Bean Town.
You'd think that maybe, just maybe, that might give the Halos the confidence they so desperately needed to finally defeat Boston in October. And it did.
For one night.
Facing elimination at the hands of another embarrassing first-round sweep by the Sox, the Angels came through and won a game before going on to lose the next night and get an early start on the offseason.
It was the first postseason victory for the Angels over the Red Sox since 1986.
Clearly, we haven't had much luck, so the thought of facing them in the first round yet again drains the color from my cheeks.
What the Angels should really be hoping for is a Texas-sized beatdown in the Wild Card race.
If the Rangers can overcome their meager two-game deficit and swipe a playoff spot out from under the Sox, the Angels might just have a chance to “return to the promised land,” as Rex Hudler would say.
The Angels would then face Detroit in the first round, a team with incredible starting pitching, a lights-out closer, and a nice mix of power and speed in the lineup.
But, hey, at least they're not the Red Sox.
Facing the Tigers isn't the most ideal alternative, especially in a short series where just a couple of dominant starters like Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson can really take over.
But this is the playoffs we're talking about.
Like Ric Flair says, “If you wanna be the man, you gotta beat the man.”
The Angels may have a mental block about playing the Red Sox in October, but, with all due respect to Detroit, they certainly have what it takes to beat the Tigers and find their way to the American League Championship Series.
And in turn, the Yankees should be able to handle the Rangers in the first round. Both teams are set up very similarly, with massive power potential in their lineups and tough arms on the mound.
However, the Yanks seem to have it all going for them this year, and with the collective experience of that squad, there's at least a decent chance they'll move on to the ALCS to face the Angels
May God help them if they do.
Over the last 10 seasons, the Angels are one of the few, if not the only, teams with a winning record against the Bombers, and our playoff history with them is nothing short of spectacular.
After all, they were the first stepping stone along the path to the Angels' first World Series title in 2002.
I see no reason why they can't play a similar role again in 2009.
The Angels have what they need to make it this postseason, with speed at the top and bottom of the lineup, power in the middle, and no less than three starting pitchers in John Lackey, Scott Kazmir, and Jered Weaver who can lead the charge past the Tigers and Yankees.
From there, it's a matter of taking on the representative from the inferior National League.
Sorry, NL fans, but your league gets trounced every year in interleague play, and you haven't won an All-Star Game since the Clinton administration.
Now, that's not to say that any one team from the National League can't beat any one team from the American League in a given series, but I like the Angels' odds.
Call me an optimist.
So there you have it. The best hope for playoff success for the Angels lies in regular season success for the Rangers.
Ironic, maybe, but I'd much rather face the potential of playing the Rangers than the reality of taking on the Red Sox.
Last year's pathetic postseason defeat at the hands of Boston was almost too much to bear, and the thought of going through it all again is too painful to even come up with a clever metaphor to explain it.
With that in mind, the next time the Angels (and their fans) go scoreboard-watching, we should all keep in mind that while a Ranger loss is good, a win might be even better.