With a 2012 MLB season that will feature a fortified Los Angeles Angels squad challenging a similarly bolstered Texas Rangers team for the AL West title, the Angels have everything to gain from a year ago while the Rangers have everything to lose—and with Wednesday's news of an added wild-card slot, the Angels also have a safety net.
Angels GM Jerry Dipoto recently spoke with the MLB Network about acquiring Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, moreover stating that, "[The Angels'] job is to go in there as a team and compete with [Texas], night in and night out -- even on the days we're not playing them."
Outfielder and de facto clubhouse leader Torii Hunter added, "We were on top [winning the AL West for three consecutive seasons] and they pushed us away and took it from us...We're going to do everything we can to get it back. This is going to be fun—for us and the fans."
So when MLB ultimately makes that official announcement and confirms the addition of a second AL Wild Card, Angels fans should rejoice.
The Rangers are presently experiencing a great deal of momentum in the American League, having won the pennant in both 2010 and 2011. And, according to both Dipoto and Hunter, the Angels have been tasked in 2012 with reversing that Texas-sized inertia.
Sure, the Angels have added Pujols, Wilson, Hawkins and Iannetta, though America (or at least 4,628 voters) seems to believe the Phillies and Yankees will be top two MLB contenders in 2012, followed by the No. 3 Angels and No. 4 Rangers.
No matter how you slice it, the LA Angels and Texas Rangers are riding neck-and-neck in the top five of the baseball world and their home division—the AL West—is the only division consistently represented twice in the top five in most preseason power rankings. The Yankees are also a top-five squad, but the Red Sox and Rays are considered worse than both Texas and Anaheim by many analysts.
So what does that mean?
Well, if preseason power rankings are to be believed—ESPN ranked the Rangers No. 3 in 2011's Week 1 release, with the eventual World Series champion Cardinals buried at the No. 22 position, coincidentally one slot worse than the Angels—the Angels and Rangers will both make the 2012 playoffs, even if the 2012 season were to take only one AL Wild Card team.
The new format provides the Angels and Rangers with a crucial buffer, though the ultimate prize is still the AL West championship.
Still, if the Angels were to finish 2012 as wild-card Team No. 1 and the Red Sox or Rays finish as wild-card Team No. 2—as the next non-division leaders consistently listed on multiple power rankings—the Halos would host Boston or Tampa for a one-game Wild Card playoff.
With Jered Weaver starting and a one-game bullpen that could potentially include Wilson, Haren and the like, the Angels would do well at home during the potential winner-take-all contest.
And if the Angels do capture the AL West title, the Wild Card play-in will be none of their concern.
In any case, the Angels—and Rangers—should both be very pleased with the news of a second wild card: though both teams may very well enter the 2012 playoffs on their own merits, the new playoff slot allows both teams some leeway throughout the season—as well as greater incentive to win the AL West outright.
No one wants to have their season decided by one game, even if that team (the Angels) were to be a virtual lock for that single game playoff.