You hanging in there, Angel fans? Hopefully none of you are too distraught over the Angels becoming the first team ever to have officially been eliminated from the playoffs in August despite being just two games out of the division lead. I'm just as shocked as you are by this turn of events, but we have no choice but to listen to what the national media is telling us, right?
Try not to slip in the puddle created by all the dripping sarcasm, but I'm dead serious about the national media basically declaring the Rangers the unquestioned winner of the AL West all because they landed two high quality middle relievers. Don't believe me, here is a quote directly from ESPN's Steve Berthiaume:
And Berthiaume is not alone, I've seen multiple national media outlets make similar assertions, though not with quite so much certainty.
Ummm, not so fast there, folks. Last time I checked, they still actually have to play the games. And the last time I checked, no team ever ran away with a division because of middle relief.
I'm not going to say that Rangers aren't a good team and not the obvious favorite in the AL West, but I'm not ready to tell the Angels to just roll over and play dead over the next two months either. I just don't think that Rangers have come anywhere close to locking things up because of their trades.
The bullpen was Texas' biggest problem, by far, and they did well to address it, but just because they plugged the hole doesn't mean they are suddenly ten times better than before. In fact, according to WAR, they are probably only a win or two better over the rest of the season as Uehara and Adams had posted WARs of just 1.1 and 1.4, respectively, prior to their acquisitions. That puts them amongst the top relievers in terms of WAR, which shows how little overall impact middle relievers can have on the course of the season.
One or two wins could well prove to be the difference in the AL West this season, but it hardly qualifies as an insurmountable gap for the Angels to overcome. More than anything, their now lethal middle relief makes them a fearsome match-up in a short post-season series, but that same level of intimidation just doesn't apply to the marathon that is the regular season, which is exactly why the Angels trail the Rangers by two games to start August, just like they did to start July. Ain't nobody running away with anything here. A lot more factors come into the play when you are talking about 50+ games and not five or seven.
The Rangers actually better hope that there bullpen pays dividends, because they are going to need it since the Angels have a few advantages of their own that could cancel out that one or two win game the Rangers just paid handsomely for at the deadline.
Texas can trade for all the bullpen arms they want, it isn't going to make up for their disadvantage in the remaining schedule. With 53 games left to play, the Rangers and their mighty 35-21 home record will be put to the test with 28 remaining road games with 16 of those coming against winning teams. As for the Angels, they have just 23 roadies left and only 13 of those are against winning clubs. But where things really break in the Angels favor is in the overall strength of competition. Here is a quick breakdown of each team's remaining opposition, with the 10 remaining Angels-Rangers games removed:
Texas - Detroit (3), Cleveland (6), Seattle (9), Oakland (9), Chicago (3), Boston (7), Tampa Bay (6),
Angels - Minnesota (6), Seattle (10), New York (6), Toronto (7), Baltimore (6), Chicago (2), Oakland (6)
The way I figure it, Texas' 13 games against Boston and Tampa pretty much are canceled out by LAA's 13 against the Yankees and Jays. The same goes for the 12 combined games they each have against the Mariners and White Sox. Now cancel out six games each for Oakland and here is what is leftover:
Texas gets three versus AL Central-leading Detroit, six against the Indians nipping at their heels and then three against the lame A's. Meanwhile, the Angels get to feast on six games against a terrible Baltimore team and six more against a below average Twins team. You're telling me that the Angels can't make back a game or two against that favorable bit of competition?
Of course, none of this may matter since the Angels and Rangers do have the aforementioned 10 games remaining against each other. Those ten games are what will really decide the division and their middle relief will play a role in those games, but they won't be the ultimate deciding factor. So, rather than pass judgment on the division now, I'm going to go ahead and wait until those games are in the books before I assume anyone has locked up anything in the AL West.