The Angels as of Saturday, August 2nd (when this article was written) are only a game back of the Oakland A’s. Normally, this would be a cause for celebration for Angels fans but with the new Wild Card format it’s become more of a source of stress than joy. You’d think the rest of the country would be quite interested in what’s going on in the AL West, but the A’s and the Angels reside too far West for the rest of the country to truly be invested. They’d rather pay attention to the collection of mediocre teams in the AL East fight for who can suck the least or the three teams in the NL Central just slaughter each other. But there are reasons to pay attention.
First off, these two teams don’t like each other. You don’t see it on the field necessarily because they are a well-managed and respectful group, but the A’s and the Angels have no love-lost, as evidenced by the quiet but real tension between Bob Melvin and Mike Scioscia. Second, this is a clash of cultures. The big spending, high scoring Angels are facing off against the financially limited staff of aces and over-performers in the Oakland. It’s the epitome of a So-Cal vs. NorCal face-off. And finally and most importantly, these are the two best teams in baseball. We aren’t talking about “also-rans” or a great team and a competitive team. We are talking about the two biggest heavyweights trading blows for supremacy.
And therein lies the unique situation the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A’s find themselves in. The winner will likely have the best record in baseball. That means home-field advantage all the way through the World Series and an automatic ticket to the ALDS. The loser will be forced into a one game playoff against a not-terrible team like the Blue Jays or Mariners. The worst part is ANYTHING can happen in a one game playoff. It doesn’t matter if the host team won 105 games and the visitors won 20 less, anyone can win. The biggest possible advantage in this game is the presence of an “ace”, and outside of Garrett Richards, the Angels don’t have any elite arms like that, which puts them at a distinct disadvantage.
Then here comes the really crazy part. The Wild Card winner automatically has to play the #1 seed in their league in the first round of the playoffs. The #1 seed is likely going to be in the AL West. So imagine for a second the Angels actually caught and surpassed the A’s and won the American League West. The A’s would then host a playoff game and if they won that playoff game they’d turn right around and have to face the Angels in round one of the playoffs. The team that they’d already faced 18 times this year. So the situation for both the Angels and the A’s is this. Win and host a series against the second best team in baseball in the first round of the playoffs. Lose and play a game to see who gets to play your division rival, the “best” team in baseball. Either way, the Angels and the A’s are so interconnected for the remainder of the regular season and headed into the post-season that there should be little doubt who the better team is. After all, they’ll likely face each other ten more times in the next two months.