Why the American League Should Fear the Angels
Fear is a terrific motivator. That is, unless, it drives you to doing something dumb.
Only time will tell if Oakland's trade of Addison Russell, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel was a smart move. On the face of it, the deal looks like a bit of a panic move for Oakland. They have the best record in the American League at 57-33, are 4.5 games in first place in the American League West, own a league-best run differential of +145, and according to our power rankings, have a Major League best 97.7% chance of making the playoffs and 19.0% chance of being World Series champs.
Obviously those odds went up a bit after acquiring Samardzija and Hammel, but there's no question Oakland was good before the deal was made. But as mentioned by Jim Sannes in his breakdown of the trade a few days ago, there were some strong reasons why general manager Billy Beane pulled the trigger. Many of his young starters will obliterate past innings pitched numbers as the season turns to September, and there is still some hesitancy to allow the come-backing Scott Kazmir to work without a net.
But there is one more reason why the A's jumped on the market and gave up so much when they seemingly had a playoff birth already wrapped up: The Los Angeles Angels, and the threat they pose to Oakland in the AL West.
While Oakland leads baseball with a team-wide nERD of 1.36, Los Angeles is second at 1.14, the only two teams in baseball with a team nERD above 1. Their 52-37 record is second best in the American League and, although they are 4.5 games behind the A's in the West, they're a real and viable threat to Oakland.
Also remember that simply making the playoffs isn't as important as winning the division anymore. The two wild-card winners are at a severe disadvantage, forced to play in a one-game playoff to determine who will move on to the League Division Series. And let's face it, Beane's Athletics have been bounced early from the playoffs too many times to risk allowing one single game to determine his team's season.
As for the Angels, looking below, it's easy to see why they have been so good this year (American League rank in parentheses).
|Angels||.265 (3)||.331 (3)||.332 (2)||.159 (T-3)||437 (2)||97 (4)|
|Angels||3.85 (T-4)||8.38 (4)||3.28 (4)||3.71 (T-4)||18.6 (6)|
The Angels rank in the top five of every single important team statistic in the American League, both offensively and from a pitching perspective. Of course, having the best baseball player on Earth sure doesn't hurt. Mike Trout's 5.5 fWAR is far and away the best in baseball, and his nERD of 4.86 is second best. He's also increased his power game this year, now with 20 home runs through Tuesday, tops on the team and on pace to surpass his career high of 30 in 2012. Everyone should try and go out and get a Mike Trout of their own if they can. That's just some free advice there, kiddos.
The new normal from Albert Pujols, while certainly not up to the monstrously huge standards of the contract he signed a couple years ago, is still decent, with 19 home runs (second on the team), a slash line of .267/.319/.480, and a nERD of 1.19, 72nd in baseball. Erick Aybar has the second-highest fWAR on the team and could have made the All-Star team, with Chris Iannetta, C.J. Cron, Howie Kendrick, Josh Hamilton, Collin Cowgill and Kole Calhoun all posting an OPS over .730. Hamilton in particular has had a decent, if largely power-free season. He's hitting .284/.371/.432, good for an OPS of .803 and a weighted on base average of .350, although with only five home runs so far.
The top two arms in the Angels' rotation have been solid, with Garrett Richards emerging as the ace of the staff. He could have been an All-Star this year too, going 10-2 with a 2.71 ERA, 1.066 WHIP, 119 strikeouts and 41 walks in 116.1 innings. Jered Weaver has been decent as well, with a 9-6 record, 3.50 ERA and 1.141 WHIP. C.J. Wilson, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago round out the rotation, all with ERAs between 4.15 and 4.50, not bad for an American League staff.
However, if the Angels really wanted to solidify their position and make a serious run at Oakland, they probably need to pony up and get themselves both another starter and a left-handed reliever. They currently don't have a lefty in their bullpen, going with an all-righty combination of Joe Smith, Kevin Jepsen, Mike Morin, Jason Grilli and Fernando Salas.
Oakland's trade with Chicago helped put a little more distance between them and the Angels, and now it's L.A.'s turn to answer, if they choose to. If they don't, it's likely the A's will win the division and avoid the dreaded one-game playoff.
L.A., it's your move.