Just when we thought they were out, they pull themselves back in.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had effectively won the AL West and were out of any playoff races, any heated battles for divisional supremacy, and last-minute scrambles for a final spot in October.
They were seven games ahead of the Texas Rangers with only 10 games to go. It would take a monumental collapse to blow that lead.
But the Angels are well on their way.
After the now-infamous Boston Blunder, in which the Angels lost a heart-breaker to the Red Sox when closer Brian Fuentes struck out Nick Green twice in the same at-bat with the bases-loaded but the umps ruled it a walk, the Halos got angry.
Winning four of their next five, including their first series win of the season over the Rangers, it looked like the Angels had finally regained their focus and were gearing up for the postseason.
The next four games, however, have been a microcosm of the entire season. The bad parts, anyway.
In their final two contests against the New York Yankees in Anaheim, the Angels managed to leave an astonishing 25 men on base, and lost both games by one run each.
In the Wednesday finale, they struck out 15 times.
The day off on Thursday didn't seem help much because on Friday, they struck out 13 times in a 3-0 loss to the Oakland A's.
Across those three games, the Angels were a combined 4-for-33 with runners in scoring position.
As has been the case all month long, the pitching was there but the bats were not.
On Saturday night, however, the offense was miraculously resurrected with a huge six-run fourth inning that put the Halos up by a commanding score of 9-2.
But with this team, when one area goes good, the other fails.
Despite a seven-run lead and a legitimate ace on the mound, the Angels could not come through when they really needed to.
John Lackey, Darren Oliver, and Jason Bulger combined to give up seven unanswered runs and allowed the A's to tie the game.
Then, after Gary Matthews, Jr. drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh, Kevin Jepsen gave it right back in the eighth and the Angels went on to earn a pathetic 15-10 loss.
This was not a team looking to win its game and close out a division.
This was a weak and scared ball club, a callow collection of players so worried about postseason matchups that they've completely forgotten they're not there yet.
Early in the season, I predicted that the last road trip the Angels took through New York, Boston, and Texas would be where this division was won or lost.
But I never thought there would be more to it than who won or lost.
It isn't just that the Angels dropped three of four games against likely playoff opponents, it's that they were scared doing it.
This team went into those ballparks with absolutely no confidence, no fire, no belief that it could stand up to the Yankees or Red Sox when the games really counted and the season was on the line.
Well now, thanks to that yellow display, it actually is.
While the Angels have been getting lost in the “what ifs” of an unreached postseason, the Rangers are playing in the here and now, beating the Tampa Bay Rays like a drum, keeping the Angels' magic number at four, and narrowing the gap in the division down to five games with eight to play.
And four of those are against the Rangers here at home.
I was absolutely sure this division was locked up and all that was left was the champagne celebration. But with the way this Angels squad has stumbled through the last four games, I'm not at all excited to see the Rangers coming to town.
The Angels have put themselves in a precarious position: They must beat the A's today and hope for a Texas loss to help take some of the pressure off the upcoming series.
It is never good to paint yourself into a corner the way this team has. There is no longer any room for error, a difficult task since that's all the Angels seem to be doing.
The defense is still solid, but it doesn't mean much when your pitchers are giving away line drives and home runs like candy while your offense habitually strikes out or grounds into double plays with men on base.
The Angels look scared and it is up to manager Mike Scioscia to get their heads into the game—today's game.
His team is playing like it's listening to all of the pundits, all of the writers like yours truly who've been expounding on the playoffs instead of what's left of the regular season.
But that is our job, we focus on what's coming up while the players take care of what is right here.
There should be no postseason talk allowed in the clubhouse, no chatter about which pitchers the Red Sox might throw on a given day, no discussion of who they might face in the second round.
Scioscia has always preached taking the season one game at a time, and now that philosophy is more important than ever.
Win today. It's the only way you'll get to worry about tomorrow.