Thursday, September 22, 2011
Angels turn wild card into three-team race
By Christina Kahrl
Just when you might have been ready to count out the Angels, the mess in the AL East has helped bring them back into the AL wild-card race. Thanks to the Orioles’ 6-4 comeback win over the Red Sox, which was sandwiched between the Rays’ losing both halves of their doubleheader in New York, hope’s reborn in Anaheim as the Angels pull even with the Rays, and just 2.5 games behind Boston.
With a week left to play, the Rays and Angels have seven games apiece to play, while Boston’s solace is that it's three games up in the win column with just six to play. It’s cold comfort, but fewer games make for fewer opportunities for the Red Sox to bring themselves back to the pack.
AROUND THE SWEETSPOT NETWORK
Fire Brand of the AL
The point I'm trying to make is that due to injuries, the Red Sox have been forced to give 43 starts (or 26.5% of all starts this season) to the number 7-10 guys on their starting rotation depth chart. In comparison, let's look at the American League playoff contenders. The Yankees have been forced to go beyond their number six starter two times; the Rangers five times; the Angels six times; the Tigers eight times; and the Rays 13 times. How have the National League contenders fared in the same situation? The Brewers have been forced to go beyond their sixth starter zero times; the Giants five times; the Braves eight times; the Phillies 14 times; the Diamondbacks 20 times; and the Cardinals 21 times (including [Adam] Wainwright as the ace).
It's About The Money
Polish off the glass slippers, break out that old copy of Hoosiers, and pop the champagne, because Cinderella has done it again. The New York Yankees entered the day with a magic number of three, but after two victories over Tampa Bay and another Red Sox loss to Baltimore, the underdog no one gave a chance to beat the mighty Red Sox and their high priced offseason acquisitions ended the day celebrating a division title.Okay, maybe that's a bit much, but it's not too far off the mark.
In case you missed it, Sandy Alderson appeared with Ron and Gary during the top of the third inning in last night's Mets-Cardinals game. The Mets cooperated, scoring three runs, giving Alderson the time to respond from some frank questioning from Cohen. Alderson admitted that the 2012 closer may not yet be in the organization and that the team will not use next Spring Training to decide on who gets the role. He blamed the recent dreadful homestand on the numerous blown save opportunities by the bullpen. Alderson also dwelled on the concept that this as-yet-undetermined closer may currently be a minor league pitcher on the verge of a breakthrough.
For the Angels, beating the Blue Jays on Wednesday was redemptive in more ways than one, not only as far as keeping their own ambitions alive, but also of redeeming so many opportunities already lost. If you’re a glass-half-empty kind of Angels fan, you might grumble over the failure to win two of three games against the Orioles last weekend with the big three of Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver all starting. And failing to get anything going against Ricky Romero in Monday’s extra-inning loss to the Blue Jays may well have seemed to be the death of hope for the Halos. Happily enough, there’s panic reigning from Boston to St. Pete, so there’s no point in griping about the lost opportunities in L.A. -- one series later, the Orioles are now the toast of the West Coast for taking three of four from the Red Sox.
That’s not to say all things are equal. They’re not. With so few games left to play and so many different things in play for opposing teams, whether they’re looking to evaluate kids or rest gassed veterans after the season’s six-month slog, it isn’t entirely about fairness, leaving us with the sort of surprising outcomes that leave you wondering what the first five and a half months were all about. On Wednesday, the Rays had to deal with a Yankees team with no interest in easing off the throttle while clinching the AL East, while the Red Sox had to face an O’s team using seven regulars and an opposing starter in Tommy Hunter who, however mediocre, was a key contributor to a playoff team this time last year. Meanwhile, Haren chewed through a very September-y Jays lineup.
These are the sorts of things that Red Sox and Rays fans might gripe about if they weren’t so worried about their own teams. Complaints about this kind of annual wrinkle to September baseball will only be amplified by the Angels’ facing rookie Henderson Alvarez in their fourth game with the Jays on Thursday. But with all three teams' stakes raised to win or go home, it isn’t as if there are any guarantees, not for the Angels against Alvarez, nor against an A’s team this weekend, a series the Angels will try to win with just one of the big three pitching.
As a result, while it may not be all the Angels’ doing that they’re back in this thing, if the Rays and Red Sox are intent on backing toward the finish line, Angels manager Mike Scioscia’s team has no apologies to make. If you look at CoolStandings.com, you’ve seen the Angels’ chances hop around from depressing to long to possible, but all along, they’ve managed to stay in the picture.
What’s best about this is that, just when so many of us were confidently predicting that the last two weeks might be about little more than fidgeting over lining up postseason rotations, 2011 just chucked all those expectations out the window. The possibility that the biggest fun of the regular season might yet be ahead of us is one of those unexpected treats the game gives us when we’re lucky. So buckle up and enjoy the ride.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Hang on, just wait for it. It's coming. Just wait. It'll get there in a second. Just be patient.