With the American League West still up for grabs, and six teams in serious contention for the two wild card-spots, the Angels—should they make the playoffs—could wind up facing any number of teams in their quest to get back to the World Series for the second time in franchise history.
Yet while I’m all in favor of the concept of testing yourself against the best, I’d just assume see the team have the easiest possible road they can find en route to the AL pennant.
To that end, here are five teams I do NOT want to see the Angels matched up against come playoff time.
First year manager and White Sox legend Robin Ventura was once famously known for his 58-game hitting streak in college. That’s rather apt, given that his team is one of the streakiest in Major League Baseball.
Consider that so far this season they have already posted a nine-game winning streak and two five-game winning streaks, not to mention the four separate occasions in which they’ve won four straight.
Led by dark-horse MVP candidate Paul Konerko, the White Sox offense—fifth in the AL in runs scored—has been able to overcome their somewhat inconsistent pitching.
Despite his low average, Adam Dunn, with his 31 HRs and 74 RBI, is still a hitter to be feared, and A.J. Pierzynski is on pace to have the best season offensively of his career.
Those three could give the Angels’ pitchers plenty of problems, and the veteran experience and leadership of trade acquisition Kevin Youkilis has reinforced the team’s belief that it is good enough to win it all.
All-Star pitcher Chris Sale may be showing signs of arm fatigue—he’s projected to return Tuesday after being skipped for his last start—but there is no doubt when he’s on he’s been one of the toughest pitchers in the league.
This would be particularly troubling if the Angels were to face him in a one-game playoff should both teams earn wild cards. For that reason, and the fear that Pierzynski will once again do something screwy to mess the Angels up somehow, the White Sox are fifth on the list of teams I do not want to see the Angels play come October.
The Rays have the kind of deep, talented rotation that can do all sorts of damage in October if they pitch up to their capabilities. The problem is they haven’t been doing so with any regularity this year.
David Price (14-4, 2.64 ERA) is certainly more than holding up his end, but fellow ace James Shields (9-7, 4.24) has struggled with consistency all season, posting only 10 quality starts in 22 appearances.
When he’s on, he’s tough to hit. Just ask Oakland, whom Shields shut out on three hits while striking out 11 in his most recent start. But those type performances have been few and far between for Shields, who gave up four runs or more in six of his seven previous starts and was often discussed as trade bait prior and up to the July 31 trade deadline.
Matt Moore has failed to match his impressive late season performance from last year but he has great stuff and Jeremy Hellickson has been tough to beat despite giving up a team-leading
18 home runs.
If Evan Longoria is able to return to the lineup and regain his All-Star form in time for the playoffs,
it would give a much-needed shot in the arm to an offense that ranks second-to-last in the AL in batting average, but either way it’s the pitching that makes this team dangerous and puts them fourth on this list.
If the season ended today, the Tigers would not even be in the playoffs, yet they remain a dangerous foe that the Angels should try to avoid.
The biggest reason is reigning AL MVP and Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander, who can single-handedly swing a short playoff series in his team’s favor.
He’s come down to earth this year (a stunningly average 11-7 record to go with a stellar 2.63 ERA) after posting one of the greatest individual pitching seasons of all time last season, but he is still among the very best pitchers in all of baseball.
Fellow hurlers Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have been adequate enough to keep the Tigers in games and give their offense, more specifically Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, a chance to do their thing.
For their part, Cabrera and Fielder have been everything the Tigers expected, combining for 43 HRs and 160 RBI. Delmon Young, Brennan Bosch and Austin Jackson also have double-digit home run totals so it’s not like you can simply pitch around that lineup.
They are vulnerable, but in a short series and especially a one-game wild-card playoff I wouldn’t want to be looking out at the pitcher’s mound and seeing Verlander on it, nor do I want it to be a matchup of the Angels bullpen vs. Cabrera and Fielder, which is why they are No. 3 on this list.
Their rotation may be the worst it’s been in 15 years, and their closer situation has gone from automatic to anything but ever since Mariano Rivera went down with his knee injury, but that hasn’t stopped the Yankees from threatening to run away with the American League East.
They’ve been able to overcome their pitching deficiencies because on offense they are once again living up to their nickname as the “Bronx Bombers” with a league leading 168 home runs.
Led by Curtis Granderson’s 29, eight different players have double-digit home run totals. For an opposing pitcher, there is not a single instance where you can afford to relax when facing that lineup.
I have no doubt the Angels can put up runs against the Yankees pitchers, but if the series turns into a slugfest that definitely favors New York. And even in traditionally low-scoring playoff games, a key home run has often meant the difference between going on and going home.
The Yankees have eight guys who can legitimately go deep. That’s what makes this team so dangerous and puts them second on this list.
The Rangers are Joe Frazier to the Angels’ Muhammad Ali. Duke to their North Carolina. The Pittsburgh Steelers to their Baltimore Ravens.
Two evenly matched rivals who have shown they can steamroll everybody else but also know that, no matter how good they are, when they get together, somebody is going to lose.
Sure, their contests between each other are great theater for the fans, but I guarantee you neither team wants to see each other any more than the regular season requires them to.
Texas is showing signs of vulnerability lately as the Angels, prior to Wednesday night’s late-game collapse, appeared to be on the verge of closing the gap that separates them to two games.
But don’t be fooled. They still lead the league in runs scored and MVP candidate and free-agent-to-be Josh Hamilton is bound to snap out of his slump eventually. When he does, Texas will likely go back to being the team that for much of the season had the best record in the American League.
And they will once again be the favorites to advance to their third consecutive World Series. Talented, deep and highly motivated to get back and finish what they couldn’t last season, they are the last team I want the Angels to see in the playoffs, which makes them No. 1 on this list.