Wild-card playoff could pit Halos vs. Tigers
The primary target is still the American League West title, as it should be. But it’s quite possible that the Angels just finished a three-game series against the team they might see in a wild-card playoff if they can’t catch the Texas Rangers.
Angels fans would prefer not to think about that likelihood. There are still 69 games remaining on their team’s regular-season schedule, including 13 against the division-leading Rangers, who visit Angel Stadium for a weekend series starting Friday night.
But what if? What if the Angels don’t win the West? If the season ended today, their one-game wild-card opponent would be the Detroit Tigers, whose 5-1 win Thursday gave them three of four games and sent the Angels home with a 2-5 record on their post-All-Star trip.
The Angels shut out the Tigers on Tuesday 13-0 but dropped the final two games by a combined 12-3 score and totaled a combined six hits.
The Tigers got off to a sluggish start this season, but they’ve won 10 of 12 games to close ground on the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central. But how would they match up against the Angels in a wild-card game?
Here’s a preview. Remember, the Angels still have six games left against the Tigers, who were favored to win the Central when the season began. Detroit could still catch the White Sox, just as the Angels could still catch and pass the Rangers.
But in case they don’t …
The dream matchup would be Jered Weaver vs. Justin Verlander. Neither pitched in this week’s series, but a wild card could pit last season’s Cy Young and MVP winner vs. this season’s Cy Young leader. The only caveat is that one or both of them might be used in the final days of the season if a postseason berth is at stake, leaving others to decide a playoff. Verlander is 5-1 over his past six starts, but Weaver is 11-1 overall and ranks second in the AL with a 2.26 ERA. Even better, he’s 6-0 at home this season, and a playoff would be in Anaheim if the season ended today.
Both teams are close statistically. They’re tied in batting average (.269) and OPS (.753), although the Tigers hold a slight lead in runs scored (424-418). The Angels possess a dangerous leadoff hitter in Mike Trout, who leads the AL in average and runs, but the heart of their order — Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales, with 52 home runs and 157 RBI — is evenly matched with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Delmon Young, who have a combined 46 homers and 183 RBI. Worth noting: The Tigers are a far better team with runners in scoring position, hitting .295 with 305 runs driven in compared with the Angels’ .251 mark with 277 RBI.
Each team has made 58 errors, but the Angels have a solid edge with Gold Glove winners at first base (Albert Pujols), shortstop (Erick Aybar) and right field (Torii Hunter), although Aybar has occasionally been erratic. The Angels have a solid outfield group with Hunter, Trout and Trumbo, although Trumbo is usually is replaced by fast and reliable Peter Bourjos with late-game leads. The Tigers rank last in the league in double plays.
The Angels would prefer to discount their bullpen slump since the All-Star break ended. After horrid performances against the Yankees and in the first game at Detroit, the bullpen began to regain its footing Thursday when Hisanori Takahashi, LaTroy Hawkins and Ernesto Frieri combined to work two hitless innings. If they get themselves right again, the late-inning tandem of Frieri and Scott Downs would be tough to beat in a one-game playoff. Detroit’s Jose Valverde is 17 for 21 in saves with a 3.86 ERA. He’s no sure thing.