So here’s the skinny, folks. The Angels have nine games remaining and trail the A’s by 2.5 games for the final wild card slot. 2.5 games is a lot to make up in just nine games when you’re chasing a team like Oakland. With Oakland’s pitching, it’s difficult for them to fall into sustained ruts, especially since their final six games come at their pitcher-friendly home ballpark.
If the Angels have an advantage, it is their schedule is slightly easier. The Angels have six with Seattle (lined up to face Felix Hernandez twice) and three with Texas, while the A’s have seven with Texas and three with Seattle (they miss Felix). Texas leads the A’s by only four games, so they will want to give max effort to clinch the division as soon as possible, too; at least for this week, Texas won’t be taking a victory lap and trotting out their “B” team to face Oakland.*
* It can’t be understated how important this is for the Angels. Texas is clearly the better team, but they’ve also developed a bit of a rivalry with the Angels the past three years and you have to figure they would love to see the Angels miss the postseason, especially given the pissing contest the two teams had this offseason (Pujols/CJ to LAA, Darvish to Texas and they courted Prince Fielder). And if I’m Texas, I would rather meet up with the A’s in the playoffs than the Angels. In the playoffs, Oakland’s depth in the starting rotation is mitigated, while the Angels can trot out Jered Weaver and Zack Greinke (not to mention a superior offense to Oakland’s) maybe three times in a 5-game series. Jarrod Parker’s been great, but would you rather face him of Weaver in a do-or-die game?
The Angels open the week with their final home series of the season, welcoming the Seattle Mariners for three games. For the Angels to have a chance, they likely need to win at least five of their six games against the M’s, although sweeping all six is obviously preferred. As I mentioned last week, the Angels are 8-5 against the Mariners this season but other than the first meeting between the two clubs in late May, they’ve struggled against a team they should be defeating easily. In May, the Angels swept four games in Safeco, but since are only 4-5 against the Mariners, including losing two series at Angel Stadium. Yes, the four early wins count, but losing home series to the Mariners is a big reason the Angels are in the mess they’re in.
The Angels close the week with three games in Arlington, a house of horrors for them this season. You may remember the previous trip to Texas, which came right at the trade deadline. The Angels were feeling good, having just acquired Zack Greinke and winning the first two games of a crucial four-game set (this was back when the Angels still were in the division race). Then, the now infamous 8/1/2012 game, when the Angels led 7-1, blew the lead, but then took a 10-7 in the 10th inning. Atrocious starting pitching, questionable Scioscia decision making, and the blowpen all made in appearance to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. A win would have put the Angels only two back. The loss made them four back and for all intents and purposes ended their pursuit of the division race. It was a crushing loss at the time and one of those games Angels fans will look back on if they miss the miss the playoffs by one game.
The starting pitcher for the Rangers in that game was Yu Darvish, the Japanese import that all season has flashed great stuff but has struggled with command (4.29 BB/9 on the season, third worst of all qualified AL starters, ahead of only Ubaldo Jimenez and Ricky Romero). In that game, Darvish allowed six walks and seven runs in five innings of work. Watching the game, it was obvious he was laboring in the Texas heat (if memory serves, it was well over 100 degrees for much of that series). After that game, his ERA ballooned to 4.38, then rose to 4.57 after his next start, the highest it had been all season since his third career MLB start. The narratives that soon followed were obvious. Yu can’t handle major league hitters. Yu is wearing down like ALL Texas pitchers do in the dog days of August. The Rangers paid way too much for the next Daisuke.
Nope. In Darvish’s last six starts, he hasn’t walked more than two batters and has struck out at least eight batters in five of those starts. His ERA now sits at a very respectable 3.90, while his FIP is 3.30 (6th best in the AL), mostly due to his elite 10.43 K/9 (2nd in AL). Darvish’s stuff has never been lacking. We’ve all heard about his diverse arsenal and the “mystery” pitches that he threw in Japan. For Darvish, it was just a matter of focus and working on his command. If he works in the strike zone, the stuff will do the rest. The Rangers have been rewarded for their investment in Darvish**, who has a 4.8 fWAR and has developed into a legitimate ace that will obliterate the AL West for years to come and compete for Cy Young awards.
** Darvish’s deal with Texas pays him $56M through 2017, a bargain for a pitcher that looks like he’s routinely going to put up 5-win seasons. Even if you factor in the approximately $51M winning bid that allowed the Rangers to negotiate directly with Darvish, that’s still only about $107M for a 26-year old pitcher entering his prime who might already be one of the AL’s 10 best pitchers.
It’s safe to say the Rangers were correct in signing Darvish and letting CJ Wilson walk. Wilson has had a good year (I guess), but hardly what the Angels were anticipating when they signed him for $77.5M in December. His numbers are down across the board, and maybe there should have been some red flags given that the Rangers were all too willing to let Wilson walk after his stellar 2010-2011 seasons in which he combined for 10.7 fWAR. Credit to the Rangers, who rolled the dice on Darvish and were handsomely rewarded. Not only did they acquire a stud pitcher, but they also let their rivals sign Wilson to a deal which he almost certainly won’t earn. Best case scenario for Wilson is he regains his Texas form and becomes a 5-win pitcher again. Worst case? He’s Barry Zito 2.0.
Probable Pitchers, according to ESPN
Tuesday: Zack Greinke (3.47 ERA) vs Erasmo Ramirez (3.28). Glad Mike Scioscia moved Greinke up a day.
Wednesday: Ervin Santana (4.93) vs Felix Hernandez ( 2.85)
Thursday: Dan Haren (4.35) vs Hisashi Iwakuma (3.41)
All the Angels starters are TBA for the Texas series. Bet on Weaver starting the series opener, with Wilson throwing Saturday and Greinke throwing Sunday. That would set up Weaver throwing next Tuesday on three days rest, if need be, or starting the regular season finale on regular rest, with Greinke starting a tiebreaker on Thursday on three days rest (might only have him for 9 more days, may as well use him). The Texas pitchers the Angels will face are same as last week: Ryan Dempster, Derek Holland, and Darvish.
3 Bold Predictions
1) The Angels head to Texas trailing the A’s by 1 game.
2) The Angels leave Texas trailing the A’s by 2 games.
3) The blowpen has one more game they would like to blow on a scale of epic proportions.
“Mike Trout For MVP” Sewing Circle
Tough week for the Sewing Circle. Trout continues to struggle in September (by his standards), with only a .780 OPS. He looks gassed and you have to wonder if the Angels even make the playoffs if he’ll have anything left in the tank. Might sound like I’m making excuses, but he’s only 21 and this is the first time he’s played baseball this deep into a season on an everyday basis. It was unreasonable to expect him to not hit a rookie wall.
Meanwhile, in Detroit, Miguel Cabrera continues to rake and looks like he’s going to win the first Triple Crown since Yaz in 1967. The Trout vs Cabrera debate is really interesting in that it looks like it’s boiling down to New School vs Old School. On the one hand, you have Trout, who doesn’t have the power numbers and counting stats Cabrera does but compares favorably on offense when you use tools like wOBA and wRC+ and obliterates Cabrera in WAR and looking at the overall value he brings on defense and the basepaths. On the other hand you have Cabrera, who is ZOMG RBI!
All the narrative advantages Trout seemed to possess (Possibly the best rookie season of all time; age-20 season and the Angels started playing better immediately after he arrived; etc) have also shifted to Cabrera. Cabrera has the Triple Crown angle, he’s closer to making the playoffs,*** he showed “leadership” moving to third base upon Fielder’s arrival (even if he’s one of the worst rated defensive third basemen using DRS and UZR and even if the team would have been better off had he played DH), he’s “carrying” his team in September, because the games in September count more than the ones in July, you guys.
*** Even if the Angels have a better record while also playing in a tougher division. But still, voters mustn’t be disturbed with such trivialities.
If Cabrera wins the Triple Crown, he’s a shoo-in to win MVP. Look, Cabrera is a phenomenal player and I think he’s the best hitter in the game. Right now, he’s my #2 MVP choice. But him having one more home run than Josh Hamilton should have no bearing on how someone votes and it’s unfortunate that voters are going to get snookered into voting for Cabrera just because he’s accomplishing something that is, while impressive, a poor evaluator of overall value one brings to a team.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrewkarcher