Watching the Angels battle to get a win at Minute Maid park, I couldn’t help but think back to the last 3 games where I watched the 2012 American League championship Detroit Tigers get swept by the Angels for the second time this year and I asked myself, why can’t we play the Tigers all the time? Ok, I concede that that can’t happen, but you gotta admit, it sounds like a good idea. The first time the Angels swept the Tigers was in Anaheim at the beginning of the season, April 19th-21st.
The Angels were 4-10 going into the meeting, while the Tigers had gotten off to a 9-6 start. It was widely accepted that after the second slow start in as many seasons, the Tigers were easily going to win. It was a huge shock when the Angels swept a team that went to the World Series last year, most notably because the Tigers had strengthened both their offense and defense by adding Torii Hunter, who came blazing back into Anaheim with a .418 batting average; in stark contrast to another disappointing Angels start, and specifically that of the big name and bat they had replaced Hunter with, Josh Hamilton, who entered the contest batting .200 and whose average had dropped to .176 by its end. Despite expectations and the woes of their newest slugger, the Angels won all three games and fans thought: this is when they become the winning team everyone expected.
As it turned out, that was not the case. They continued to lose more games than they won. and I’ve lost track of how many times we thought we had seen the spark that was going to turn it all around But, after watching the second series sweep of the team that won the American League Championship last year and is at the top of its division now, more questions come to mind:
Why can’t they at least play every game the same way they do against the Tigers?
The Angels have a .320 batting average against them as a team. Peter Bourjos is in beast mode at .583 in 12 appearances (on a side note, get well soon Petey, we miss you!) and Mike Trout is batting .419 facing them. But it’s almost like they find creative ways to lose against division rivals, with the running joke on Twitter being that they’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, with the only exception being when they play the Mariners.
In encounters with the Mariners this year, they’re hitting .307 and have a 6-4 record. Alberto Callaspo has amazing numbers against Seattle, averaging .500 in 22 at bats. Even when down 7 runs squaring off against Felix Hernandez, the team somehow managed to come back and win, but for some reason, they can’t capture that magic to bring it when they play the rest of the AL West.
The Angels’ record in the division is 13-20, seven games under .500, it’s like they get sucked into a black hole when they play the divisional teams, and in the universe through the black hole, the only team against whom they can win is the Mariners. When playing anyone else in the West, it’s been absolutely abysmal; six games with the Rangers have led them to a 2-4 record, hitting .273, Erick Aybar is managing only .167, Mike Trout is actually un-Trout-like at .130. It doesn’t seem possible, but they’ve played the A’s even more poorly, 1-5 in 6 meetings, batting .266. Worst of all, opposite the Astros, the Angels are a disappointing 4-7, including being swept in 4 games at home at the end of May/beginning of June, while hitting only .240.
What makes all of this worse, is looking at the divisional records of our opponents; not the Mariners, who we’ve already established are the only team the Angels have success against, you almost feel bad for them, they’ve have had the hardest schedule to this point, playing 42 games against the AL West, and are 19-28. But in 38 games, the A’s are 23-15, most impressively 9-0 against the Astros. Houston, who was supposed to be the easy opponent, has a record similar to the Angels: 13-22 in 35 games. The best record against division teams goes to the Rangers who are 23-9 in 32 games.
To put into perspective just how important these inter-division games are, the Angels are 20-15 against the rest of the American League and 24-23 when including the National League. This shows how critical it is for the Angels to win more games when playing the A’s, Rangers and Astros, because they are 6 games below .500 overall and 10 out of first place, but have a winning record without including division games.
The two teams battling for first place in the AL West are the ones that have winning records, the A’s and Rangers. With a better divisional record, the Angels become part of that equation, so they need to examine what it is they’ve done to win against the Tigers and Mariners this season and bring that to every other game they play, most especially the ones they still have to play against divisional opponents. If they intend on making the playoffs, they have to figure out how to win divisional series against more teams than the Mariners.