The Angels, 15-3 since their at-the-time disastrous sweep at Tampa Bay’s hands, rode a 6-0 week against wild card contenders Oakland and Detroit to climb to only one game back of Baltimore for a wild card berth and 2.5 games behind the A’s for the wild card lead. And if you’re into that sort of thing, Cool Standings has the Angels’ chance of reaching the postseason at 39.6%, about 25% higher than at the beginning of last week. For what it’s worth they’re “only” six games behind Texas for first place in the AL West. Keep dreaming.
It’s amazing what, like, pitching well will do for you. Scoring hasn’t been the problem for a while and certainly wasn’t when the Angels staff feel victim to some unsustainable poor performances and likewise lost ball games at an alarming rate in August. In the past two weeks the staff ERA is 1.85 (3.50 FIP) and, presto, they’re 11-1. Small sample size and due for regression, yes, but also the type of performance that more closely reflects the caliber of pitchers the Angels possess than the group that threw a 5.68 ERA (4.80 FIP) in August with a laughable 14.9% HR/Flyball rate.
More important than just winning six games last week was that they came against teams in direct competition for the wild card. The A’s, under hidden bylaws from MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement that they’re only allowed to lose to the Angels in September, have won 9 of 12 (the sweep against the Angels the lone blemish) — the Angels failing to sweep may have meant Oakland would be out of their reach. And Detroit has been reduced to a 1.4% chance of earning a wild card berth (4.5 behind Baltimore and need to leapfrog three teams), meaning winning the AL Central is likely the only route for them to make the postseason.*
* Also, if the Angels play in the Flukey Coinflip Game Sponsored by Bud Selig Laughing His Way to the Bank, they get to avoid Justin Verlander. They beat him on Saturday but he scares the hell out of me.
The Angels have a chance to make up further ground on Oakland this week, as the A’s come to town for a 4-game series that marks the last time the two teams meet, excluding playoffs. The sweep last week didn’t knock Oakland off course at all, as they went to Seattle and swept the M’s to maintain their supremacy in the wild card hierarchy. Unfortunately for them they will be without Brandon McCarthy’s services, who is still recovering from last week’s scary incident when Erick Aybar lined a baseball off his head.**
** It can’t be said enough, but my thoughts go out to McCarthy and his family and I’m glad to read he seems to be on track for a full recovery. Great pitcher and a great Twitter personality as well. Overall seems like a cool dude. And I want the Angels to sign him this offseason. So there.
Oakland’s reign as top wild card dog might not last much longer, though. Starting Monday, here’s the schedule for their next 17 games: 4 at LAA, 3 vs Baltimore, 3 at Detroit, 3 at NYY, 4 at Texas. I don’t wish that on anybody. Well I do, but still. If the A’s advance to October baseball, they’ll have to earn it. That’s five straight series against thumping offenses with 14 of the games on the road, where Oakland’s ERA is 3.81, a good number but still a big jump from their 3.09 home ERA. And they’ll be without McCarthy and the suspended-Bartolo Colon. Good luck.
The Angels end the week with a trip to Kansas City to play the Royals in a weekend set. Usually seeing Kansas City on the schedule would be a welcome sight, but don’t tell Detroit or the White Sox that. KC swept Detroit two weeks ago and took two out of three from Chicago this past weekend, because they love trolling.
It was a disappointing year for the Royals and their fanbase, one that has been waiting since 1985 for a playoff berth. For a frame of reference of how long ago that was, gas was cheaper and The Dark Knight Rises hadn’t come out yet. The Royals were probably hoping to finish in the .500-range and maybe compete for a wild card spot, but there is still reason for optimism. Reason #1 is Wil Myers, one of the top 5 prospects in baseball and named Baseball America’s minor league player of the year. All Myers did this year was post a .314/.387/.600 slash between Double-A and Triple-A, while also adding 37 homers for good measure. Many in the game have felt Myers was ready for a call up months ago, but he’ll be starting everyday in Kansas City next summer. Pinky promise.
More reason for optimism? The big league squad is still loaded with talented young ballplayers. Alex Gordon proved 2011 wasn’t a fluke. Mike Moustakas upped his isolated power by 77 points and posted some impressive numbers defensively (15 runs saved at third base). Salvador Perez is only 22 and on his way to becoming one of the best catcher’s in the game, evident in his 2.1 fWAR in only 58 games. Even Eric Hosmer, who is having a poor sophomore season (-0.4 fWAR) after a breakout rookie campaign in 2011, showed some encouraging signs of improvement. Despite depressed power numbers and ill-will from the BABIP Fairy (.266), Hosmer has improved his walk rate 3.1%. Silver lining in a poor season? Perhaps, but he’s still only 22 and has tremendous potential as a middle of the order bat. If in 2013 he replicates his 2012 season then we can start to worry.
As we saw at the All Star Game, Kansas City is craving good baseball. Even the stupid Celebrity Softball game was sold out and that’s not because they wanted to see Jon “Bones” Jones take some hacks or see Don Draper make a diving catch. It’s because they’re baseball crazy, love the Royals, and are dying to support anything the Royals have a hand in. Here’s to hoping their patience is rewarded sooner rather than later.
But just not this weekend. The Angels have hopes for October. Don’t be a jerk, Kansas City. Go watch the Chiefs lose or something.
Probable Pitchers, according to ESPN
Monday: Dan Haren (4.46 ERA) vs Jarrod Parker (3.67)
Tuesday: Ervin Santana (5.21) vs Dan Straily (3.18)
Wednesday: TBA (Maybe Weaver, who missed his last start due to biceps tendonitis. If not, then likely Jerome Williams.) vs A.J Griffin (2.21)
Thursday: C.J. Wilson (3.69) vs Brett Anderson (0.69 in four starts since his comeback from Tommy John)
Friday: Zack Greinke (3.68) vs Bruce Chen (5.36)
Saturday: Haren vs Jeremy Guthrie (5.06)
Sunday: Santana vs Will Smith (5.45)
3 Bold Predictions
1) Weaver starts on Wednesday
2) Marondemania ends at some point this week when he allows a run to score in a high leverage situation.
3) Trumbo swings and misses at a throw over to first base.
“Mike Trout for MVP” Sewing Circle
A new feature where I fawn over Trout’s awesome-ness and plead that he win MVP. Today, Trout’s Baseball-Reference WAR is 10.0, with the next closest being Robinson Cano at 6.3. I usually use FanGraphs WAR, but they only list Trout at 8.5 (1.3 head of Braun), which is evil and shows that FanGraphs is obviously biased. Come at me, Dave Cameron.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher