Let's first get something out of the way ...
In the middle of August, there's no such thing as a must-win game. Or a must-win series.
There are, on the other hand, really-good-to-win series and can't-get-swept series.
That's where the Orange County Angels are this week.
Monday night, they open a four-game series in Orange County against the Texas Rangers. It would be really good for them to win and really bad to get swept.
Anyway, there's a lovely symmetry to this series. The Angels are four games behind the Rangers. Should they sweep the Lone Star Secessionists, they'll suddenly be in first place for the first time since the 6th of July.
Of course, a sweep's not likely. And considering these teams' run differentials -- +114 for Texas, +11 for the O.C. -- a sweep by the Rangers seems at least as likely as the other way around. Which is where the can't-get-swept comes in; if the Angels exit this series eight games behind the Rangers, they're virtually finished.
Anything but a sweep, one way or the other, and the pennant race will continue. But absent a split, the odds will actually change a few percentage points. For the Angels, the problem is that even if they take three of four and cut the deficit to two games in the standings, they're still not going to look real good in the Playoff Odds Report.
Because of, you know, those pesky run differentials. What's odd about the Angels this season is that even though they've outscored their opponents by only 11 runs and are 65-56, they've got a losing record in one-run games. It's like the Angels just don't care about the Laws of Baseball any more.
Of course, Mike Scioscia's squads have made a habit of outperforming their run differentials in recent years, so maybe the Laws just don't apply to them. I still say they're going to have to play better than they've played if they're going to catch the Rangers, and it probably has to start happening this week.
Playing better probably means hitting better, and hitting better probably means a) Jeff Mathis giving up on his Bill Bergen impression, b) Vernon Wells coming up with a really good Vernon Wells impression, and c) somebody doing an impression of someone who can really, really hit. Because to this point the club's not enjoyed the services of even one great hitter. Howie Kendrick leads the Angels with a 117 OPS+; on the Royals, Kendick's 117 would be tied for fourth place with Jeff Francoeur.
Hence, the Angels' No. 12 rank in the American League in scoring. Their pitching's good, but it's not that good. Watch the Angels' hitters; if a few of them aren't huge down the stretch, this team's destined for second place.