The Angels are the current MLB Heavyweight Champions (see the Catfish Stew sidebar for details) and today, they play the Pittsburgh Pirates in a pivotal game: if the Angels win, the Heavyweight title will stay in the AL for the rest of the season; if the Pirates win, the crown stays in the NL.
The way things are going, the heavyweight crown might remain not just in the AL for the rest of the season, but in Anaheim. Are the Angels ever going to lose again? It doesn't matter how far behind they are, or how late, they end up winning the game. Obviously, this is their year.
The Angels are on pace to win 104 games; the A's are on pace to win 87. While it's pretty easy to imagine that the A's could pick up the pace after adding Rich Harden to the rotation, and Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street to the bullpen again, it's pretty hard to envision the Angels slowing down enough for the A's to catch them. The Angels would have to play under .500 for the rest of the year to fall below 92 wins. Clearly, the Angels are better than a .500 team, so even if they don't win 104, they'll almost certainly win 95-100, and make the playoffs. If the A's are going to make the playoffs, the wild card will have to come out of the AL West.
Plus, you have to wonder how much Harden, Duchscherer, and Street will actually improve the team. The A's already have the fewest runs allowed of any AL team; only the Padres, in their cavernous ballpark and non-DH league, have been stingier. It's the offense that needs improvement, and it's hard to understand how booting Milton Bradley off the team is going to help matters. On the other hand, the offensive production from the outfield hasn't been the problem--the problem has been the three major sinkholes in the lineup: Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, and Jason Kendall.
I am certain Chavez will improve his first-half numbers in the second half. He says his arms are finally healthy after 1 1/2 years of pain, and he looks like he says. In the last two weeks, the ball has been jumping off his bat in a way we haven't seen in, well, 1 1/2 years. So consider that sinkhole filled, at least.
But Crosby and Kendall are still problems. Kendall's hole can be filled by giving more playing time to Mike Piazza and Kurt Suzuki, and the A's have taken steps in that direction, so that's good.
Crosby, on the other hand...he's the unsolvable problem. Sure, every once in a while, he'll crush some pitch with such force that your eyes pop out, but his high-effort swing contains more holes than the Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corporation. He's everything that Moneyball talked about the A's avoiding: the player who looks real good in every way except one: the ability to hit a baseball. And they're pretty much stuck with him, because they don't have anybody else in or near the majors who can handle shortstop defensively on a long-term basis. Marco Scutaro is OK in an emergency, but he just doesn't have nearly the range that Crosby does. So the A's will remain with the status quo: hoping that somehow, someday, Crosby figures something out and starts hitting. Good luck.