These next three games are crucial for the Angels, as expected, but for surprising reasons.
The Angels were eliminated from the AL West race Friday night, but suddenly have life in the wild-card race. To get to the playoffs, it's likely they will have to sweep these three games against the first-place Texas Rangers. To set up the series, we chatted with our friend Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com.
Q. Give us some insight into how Rangers manager Ron Washington will approach this series now that his team has clinched and can’t get the best record in the AL. Will pitchers be on pitch counts?
A. I would not expect to see C.J. Wilson throw more than three or four innings. All they want to is keep him sharp. Washington has said that his first priority is rest for his regulars and lining up his staff, and that homefield is secondary to that. But judging by how things may or may not go, I think homefield is critical. The Rangers entered Sunday 1 game up on the Tigers in that race. They must finish ahead of them as Detroit won the tiebreaker. If Texas stays ahead of them, they'll open at home against Boston or Tampa Bay (if the Angels don't make the playoffs). If LAA does make it, they'd open at home against Detroit. Either way, it's a big deal. If they don't finish ahead of Detroit, they open at Yankee Stadium. Then, if they faced the Tigers in the ALCS, they wouldn't have homefield advantage. Big difference, if you ask me. So there's plenty on the line for Texas.
Q. What about position players? Will guys get days off or is he trying to keep them sharp for the playoffs?
A. They want to do both. They'll get a day or two for a break, but won't get the whole series off or anything like that. They still want to play the majority of the time. Look for Washington to start many of his regulars, but pull them late in the game.
Q. Who are the Rangers most wary of in the playoffs?
A. Honestly, I don't think they're worried about anybody. But the road is easier if it starts in Arlington rather than Yankee Stadium. And if the Angels make it, they are dangerous with that rotation. Still, at this point, Detroit is playing well and they've got Justin Verlander.
Q. How about 2012? Are the Rangers set up to dominate the division again or are there worries on the horizon?
A. The core of the Rangers will still be intact, so they should be division contenders for a while. But if Wilson leaves to another team, that clearly alters the staff. They've got some good young pitchers, but Wilson has been the horse of this staff next year, so they lose something if he's not back. Otherwise, the group you see now should look pretty similar. They may move Neftali Feliz to the rotation and go with Mike Adams (or someone) as closer next year and other things could change a little. But Jon Daniels and his staff wanted a team that would have a long winning window and it appears they've got that.
Q. C.J. Wilson, an Orange County native, will be a free agent. What is your gut feeling about where he will end up?
A. My gut feeling is that Wilson won't be a Ranger. I only say that because the club has other contracts to worry about the next few years (Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus to name a few) and they may want to be very careful how they spend their money. Plus, some team is going to give Wilson big bucks -- like 5 years at $85 million or more. So I wouldn't be stunned if he's in New York or Boston. Or maybe even Anaheim. He is a California guy, as you know.