In golf, the term “Moving Day” is a reference to the third round of a tournament, where those players who are trailing the leaders start to be more aggressive in an attempt to move up the leaderboard in advance of Sunday’s final round.
If the Angels’ 2012 season was a golf tournament, these next two weeks would be considered “Moving Day”, as the team faces a critical stretch that may be their best opportunity to close the 5.5 game lead their hated rival Texas currently has on them.
That’s because, starting Friday, the two teams play each other seven times in 14 days, beginning with three in Anaheim followed by a four-game set in Arlington a week and a half later.
The quickest way to make up a deficit is to beat the team you are trailing when you play them head-to-head. With the dog days of August right around the corner, it’s safe to say the Angels will have a clear idea where they stand after they depart the Lone Star State.
Can they challenge for the division title and avoid the one-game, sudden-death, anything-can-happen wild card round? To do so, they are going to need some super-human performances from multiple players.
I’m talking like leading-the-league-type results. They don’t have the offensive balance of a
team like the Rangers or Yankees where every player in the lineup is capable of hurting you. And they don't have a superstar rotation like the Nationals or Giants have over in the National League, the type of rotation that can lead to long, sustained winning streaks.
If the Angels are going to achieve anything of substance this season, beginning with winning the division, they are going to have to continue riding on the shoulders of four players: Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Jered Weaver.
It’s not a horrible formula, as similarly constructed teams have gone on to win championships, most recently the Cardinals of 2011. Usually those teams qualify as wild cards, but with the addition of a second wild card team and the win-or-go-home format that goes along with it, winning your division gives you a huge advantage.
That’s why for this formula to work for the Angels, they are going to likely need a sweep of the three major postseason awards: league MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year. Without those types of performances, I don’t see them being able to catch a powerful Rangers team nor beat them in the playoffs.
Rookie of the Year looks to be a shoo-in. Mike Trout could sit the rest of the year and probably still get enough votes to win it. That’s how dominant a season he’s had despite spending the first month of it in Triple-A.
Jered Weaver is once again in the hunt for the American League Cy Young award, if not leading the way, with his 11-1 record and 2.26 ERA. His main competition is coming from White Sox lefty Chris Sale, who is tied with Weaver for third in the AL with 11 wins but leads the league with a 2.11 ERA. The Rangers’ Matt Harrison, Rays’ David Price and last year’s winner Justin Verlander figure to be in the mix as well.
That means for Weaver to pull away from the pack, he’s going to need to go something like 11-3 in his final 14 starts and keep that ERA around 2. Four of those final 14 starts, beginning with Friday’s, are against the Rangers, so you can see how the team’s outlook is tied to his individual performance.
If Wilson, Richards and Co. can hold their own against the Rangers and Weaver performs at a
Cy-Young-caliber level, the Angels can close the gap.
On the other hand, they have to score plenty of runs when the pitching staff isn’t on to keep winning, which is why in addition to Trout they need a league-MVP type performance from Trumbo or Pujobs.
Right now Trumbo is the more serious threat to catch early-season leader Josh Hamilton in the MVP race. It’s no coincidence that as Hamilton—who was superhuman himself in April and May—has started to come back to earth, so have the Rangers. They limped into the All-Star break going 2-5 in the seven games preceding it and are only 3-2 since despite playing the Mariners and A’s.
Meanwhile, the Angels were on the road against two playoff-caliber teams in Detroit and New York, and while they have struggled to put up wins, Trumbo has been crushing the ball, so much so that he is now the unquestioned clean-up hitter behind Pujols.
Heading into Thursday’s action, Trumbo was hitting .309 with 26 HRs and 65 RBI. The latter two numbers are good for fourth place among AL leaders. More importantly, he’s trending upward, having hit 10 HRs and driven in 23 over his last 30 games, compared to Hamilton’s 6 HRs and 16 RBI over the same 30-game stretch. Of course, Hamilton is far from the only competition for this award. Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera are having great seasons for their respective teams.
All of which underscores the need for Trumbo to continue to put up monster numbers for the remainder of the season. If he can finish with MVP-worthy stats, those results will have likely translated into many victories for the Angels.
The dark horse is Pujols. We all know what he’s capable of, and lately he’s been showing it, hitting .352 over his last 30 games. If he can keep up that torrid pace, which is par for the course for him historically, he has an outside shot of nabbing his first AL MVP award. And that type of performance would be a boon to the Angels’ chances to win the division.
Can the Angels sweep the three major postseason awards? And if they do, will it be enough to move them past Texas and into the division title? The answers to those questions will begin to be answered on Friday.