Angels’ playoff hopes hang on the Beltre curve

The Angels curse Adrian Beltre. The Angels toast Adrian Beltre.

They could hang on his every at-bat the rest of the way. If the toasts outnumber the curses, the Angels just might live to see the playoffs after all.

The Dodgers? They’re on life support.

That is where the Angels were five days ago, when Beltre hit a mammoth ninth-inning home run in Anaheim, the one that appeared to lower the curtain of doom over the home team. The Angels were 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot with 13 to play, and the fat lady was warming up in the bullpen.

But then came last weekend, as the Angels swept the Chicago White Sox and the Oakland Athletics stumbled against the New York Yankees. And then came Monday, and then came Beltre.

The A’s led the Texas Rangers into the seventh inning, when Beltre tied the score with his 35th home run of the season. In the ninth, Beltre hit a walk-off single, and all of a sudden the Angels are two games behind the A’s for the last American League wild-card berth, with nine to play.

This could be fun, and a little insane. The A’s have six games left against Beltre, three against the Seattle Mariners. The Angels have three games left against Beltre, six against the Mariners.

Say the Angels and A’s tie. That would mean the Angels could close the regular season next Wednesday in Seattle, break the wild-card tie next Thursday in Oakland and play the wild-card playoff game next Friday in Anaheim.

The A’s are vulnerable. Three of their top starting pitchers are out for the season: Bartolo Colon (drug suspension), Brandon McCarthy (brain surgery) and Brett Anderson (strained oblique). In the ninth inning of Monday’s game against Beltre and Co. — in a tie game — the Oakland pitcher wore 66 on his uniform jersey and 6.50 as an earned-run average.

Yet the A’s might win for losing. The Rangers lead the A’s by five games, with nine to play. If the Rangers clinch before their final three games — against Oakland — perhaps Texas Manager Ron Washington rests Beltre and some of the other regulars during that series.

Would that be unfair to the Angels? Don’t try telling that to Davey Johnson, the manager of the Washington Nationals.

The magic number for the Nationals to win their division is five, same as the Rangers. When the Nationals clinch, Johnson said Monday, he plans to rest his regulars and align his pitching for the playoffs.

That could mean the Nationals would not field their best team against the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend. The Dodgers are chasing St. Louis for the final National League wild-card spot, not that Johnson has any sympathy for them, or any team other than his own.

“I’m resting my regulars. End of conversation,” Johnson told reporters in Washington. “My responsibility is to get my club ready for the postseason.”

The Cardinals beat the Houston Astros on Monday. St. Louis leads the Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers by 3 1/2 games; the Cardinals have eight to play.

That means the entire NL postseason field could be set without any dramatics in the final days — the Cardinals and Atlanta Braves as the wild-card entrants, with the Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants as division champions.

In the American League, however, two division championships could go to the wire. The Rangers appear poised to clinch the AL West, but the New York Yankees lead the Baltimore Orioles by 1 1/2 games in the AL East.

That race has been so tight that the Yankees’ current lead marks the first time since Sept. 3 the teams have been separated by more than one game. In that race, a wild-card consolation prize should be available.

The AL Central, however, is win or go home. The Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers each won Monday, with Adam Dunn hitting his 40th and 41st home runs for the White Sox and Justin Verlander earning his 16th victory for the Tigers.

The Angels would be leading the AL Central by two games, if they played there. Instead, they trail by two, and trust in Beltre.