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Things Look Good for Dodgers, Bad for Angels

Sometimes baseball is a game of inferences, the assumptions outliving the facts.

Even though the Angels have won more games than the Dodgers (77 to 76), the perception is the Dodgers are having the feel-good season and the Angels are headed toward disappointment.

Some of it’s a matter of location, of course. The Dodgers happen to reside in the National League West, where 76 wins are good enough for first place. (Time for a quick reality check: the NL West is continuously bashed, but the NL Central has more sub-.500 teams, including the two worst in the league, Chicago and Pittsburgh).

Anything the Dodgers accomplished this year would be a bonus. If they could squeeze enough at-bats out of the veterans and maybe break in a few youngsters, maybe they could make a run in a weak division. Not only have Andre Ethier, Russell Martin and Chad Billingsley broken through, veterans Nomar Garciaparra and Kenny Lofton had enough left to be contributors.

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For the Angels, with the biggest, baddest payroll west of the Mississippi, a division title was mandatory. Even though Jered Weaver, Howie Kendrick, Joe Saunders and Mike Napoli have shown they can be valuable big-league players, if the Angels fail to make the playoffs this season, it will feel like a failure.

Here’s a quick snapshot of where the Angels stood Sunday: They needed help from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to make it a successful day. Any time you’re dependent on the Devil Rays, it’s time to reassess your lot in life.

Because the Devil Rays couldn’t beat Oakland, the Angels’ 4-3 victory Sunday over the Toronto Blue Jays didn’t change a thing, it merely kept the Angels within 5 1/2 games of the Athletics -- the same number they’ve been stuck on for a week. Nineteen games are left (seven against Oakland), which is not enough time. The Angels can’t get, or stay, any hotter than they’ve been, winning seven of eight, but they’ve gained only three games on the A’s in that time.

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia was asked if Vladimir Guerrero could be expected to carry the Angels into the postseason the way he did the last two years. In 2004, Guerrero hit .371 with 10 home runs and 23 RBIs in September to clinch the AL most valuable player award. Last September, he hit .330 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

But there was a different dynamic at work that allowed the Angels to capitalize: “The last couple of years, our pitching came together, we had a defense that was playing terrific,” Scioscia said.

Scioscia said a hot hitter can’t be expected to carry a team when the defense has been shaky. It’s cost them games and even series this year.

“It’s been painful,” Scioscia said.

Of course, the biggest complaint about the Angels all season has been their lack of offense. Even in a victory Sunday, they were three-for-13 batting with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base. Which leads to another reason we think of the Angels and Dodgers so differently: general manager activity. I’m not saying Bill Stoneman hasn’t done anything this season -- I did see him hold a door open for a woman in a wheelchair Sunday. But that pales compared with the work done by the Dodgers’ Ned Colletti.

“Colletti has made a lot of moves, when he’s made a mistake or when things haven’t been working, he hasn’t just stayed status quo,” former Dodger Eric Karros said. “Colletti has made moves and has been pro-active, not gone with, ‘Well, this is who we decided on, this is who we’re going with.’ ”

He’s even risked some prospects, most notably Joel Guzman, in a push to win this year. Stoneman has already lost bets such as Dallas McPherson over Troy Glaus.

But let’s give Stoneman credit for assembling this pitching staff, a rotation for which the Dodgers would kill. Although he has barely cracked .500 of late, for the season Jered Weaver has been one of the surer things in baseball; after Sunday the Angels are 12-4 when he starts.

The Dodgers don’t have a sure-thing starter. Their closest is Brad Penny (the Dodgers are 17-12 in games he starts), but with his second-half funk he’s far from a lock whenever he takes the mound.

A West Coast-based scout said, “I think in a mediocre division, their mediocre starting pitching might end up to be their Achilles’ heel. They just don’t have much after their second or third starter.

“I like their club. I love some of the young kids. I love Martin -- to me he’s been such a big addition since he showed up, the pitching staff has been so much better. But unless Penny or one of the young starters step up, it’s going to be real hard for them.”

He said this Friday, before Hong-Chih Kuo and Eric Stults beat the Mets in their first starts of the season. We still have to see if they can be reliable or if those were their Edwin Jackson moments.

Karros actually considers the front end of the Dodgers rotation to be their strength (he’d give Derek Lowe the Cy Young Award if the Dodgers make the playoffs).

“I like the Dodgers’ chances as well as anybody’s in the NL,” Karros said. “I think they’re a good team. I think people should be excited about this club and the fact they’re playing meaningful games in September.”

They’ll turn those games into an NL West division title. As for the Angels, they’ll learn that even the third-highest payroll doesn’t guarantee a trip to the postseason. At least un-miserly has company -- the Boston Red Sox and their second-highest payroll will also be home for the playoffs.

I can’t see the Dodgers winning a playoff series. But with the public perception they currently hold, that wouldn’t make them losers.

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J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read more by Adande, go to latimes.com/adandeblog.


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