The American League West is quite possibly the toughest division in baseball. Everyone knows this. But how tough? Well, for starters, all Major League teams play a total of 76 games against their division rivals. So it’s a long battle. It's nearly half of the entire 162 game season. It's a large sample size. And one series win from one hot rival can pull a team out of first place, just like that. It's an all out war. And I love it! But how do the Angels fit into all of this? What do they need to do?
Okay, I'm tired of analyzing this early in the season. I've never done it this much this early in the season before. It's April! The Angels are only 6-8. That's nothing. I don't analyze that deep until June. Because, by then there's a big enough sample size for the percentages to be accurate enough to at least guess who has a chance, and who doesn't. So, until then, I'm putting up my hands, and just looking at the bigger picture. And in doing so, I realized that there's really not much the Angels can do.
That's not to say the Angels shouldn't continue working to improve their team. That would be ludicrous! But with the amount of games the Angels have to play against their own division, it becomes a moot point. So it's not really about bullpens, big contracts, or management. In the current AL West, it's about what a team does against their own division.
Remember when the Angels were winning the AL West every year? Back then it was the Angels and everyone else. Now the A's and Rangers are much stronger. The Mariners even have some future promise. And the Astros are only a couple years away. It's now up for grabs. It's a free-for-all.
That's why the Angels’ record against their own division was such a difference maker last season, and will again be so important this season. The Halos had a winning record against the rest of the league, and interleague play. But they scuffled against the other AL West teams. Meanwhile, the Rangers were the exact opposite: a losing record against the AL East, AL Central, and interleague play, but they dominated their own division. The latter, at the very least, helped them win a Wild Card spot. The Angels have the talent to win the AL West. They just need to step up against the AL West.
Fans will still argue the importance of the Angels having a good bullpen. They have a right to do so. It’s hard watching your team blow a lead in the late innings, especially against a division rival. But in the current AL West, a good bullpen doesn't guarantee anything. Many teams have come into the season with questionable bullpens, and still managed to make the playoffs. And both the Angels' and A's' bullpens blew three run leads late last night.
That 10-9 battle with the A’s was a perfect example of how tough it's going to be for all five teams in the division. The A’s and Rangers both lost two key starting pitchers; Oakland’s ace, Jarrod Parker, is out for the season. There’s also no way Oakland's pitching will maintain their microscopic team ERA of 2.52. Their ERA went up a half a run in just one game last night. Even if they still lead the AL in ERA for the entire season, Oakland’s ERA has to go up at least another run by then. So their pitching will cool off. These are just more detailed examples of how even the playing field really is in the AL West.
The war will continue, however. And for all we know the Angels could easily go on a tear against the their own division starting tonight. But unless the rest of the division takes a big step back again, it will be much tougher for the Angels to make the playoffs no matter what they do. So all they can really do is go out there and play games... and play well against their division rivals.
That will be the difference.