Rivalries are one of the greatest parts of baseball, and sports in general. A good rivalry is like an accelerant to an already entertaining affair. While it is still enjoyable to watch the Texas Rangers play the Baltimore Orioles, the intensity gets cranked up exponentially when it’s the Los Angeles Angels in the other dugout. Particularly in the last five years, the rivalry between the Angels and Rangers has intensified to become one of the more interesting in the MLB. Boston Red Sox-Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers - San Francisco Giants have always been there, but the Angels-Rangers feud is still in its infancy, which gives it the greatest opportunity to grow.
In 2007, the Angels won the AL West by 7.5 games, finishing 19 games ahead of the Rangers. In 2008 and 2009, Texas managed to finish in second place, but only by margins of 21 games and ten games behind Los Angeles. In 2010, however, the little brother Rangers won their first division title since 1999, finishing nine games ahead of Oakland Athletics and ten games ahead of the Angels. In 2011, the Rangers once again took the AL West by ten games over the Angels. None of the finishes in the last five years have been very close, despite the undeniable existence of this rivalry. 2012 was supposed to be the year that the rivalry turned into a true pennant race, without a double-digit gap between the two team’s win totals.
In response to the Rangers back-to-back division titles, and in an attempt to get back to their winning ways, the Angels had an active offseason. They brought in Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, and Chris Iannetta, all of which were significant improvements to the team. During the season, they’ve added Mike Trout, Ernesto Frieri, and Zack Greinke, who were also upgrades from a talent perspective at the positions they play. The Angels entered the season as the team with “too many talented players” to the point that they couldn’t field them all at the same time, and since then they’ve added even more talent.
The Rangers kept essentially the same team in 2012 that they had in 2011, with a handful of key subtractions and additions. They weren’t going anywhere in 2012, so with the Angels loading for bear, everything was in place to have a true blue fight to the finish that would see one team finally being declared the winner in the last week, or even games of the season. The battle would be intense, the casualties of the war expansive, and after the dust settled heroes would be revealed and a champion would stand victorious.
It was a beautiful dream that appears will never come true. The Rangers burst out of the gates in 2012 to a 16-5 start, while the Angels struggled and blew enough leads to fall to a flat 7-14. Ever since that point on April 28th, the Rangers have been taking a season-long victory lap. The Rangers were ahead of the Angels by nine games on that date, and today that lead is just one half-game smaller. The window of opportunity for the Angels to win the AL West in 2012 is closing quickly, and is almost completely snuffed out. Things heated up on July 31st, when the Angels beat the Rangers for the second straight day to pull within three games. Then, the Angels jumped to a six-run lead in the fourth inning on August 1st, and it seemed the race was on. But LA couldn’t hold that lead, or a three-run lead in the tenth inning, and the Rangers won in a walk-off. Since then, the Angels have struggled and Texas picked up another 4.5 games in the standings.
Now, with just 40 games left to be played in the 2012 season, the hope of a pennant race in the AL West may only be satisfied by a wild card race between the Angels and Athletics. The Rangers are on pace to win 94 games. The Angels are on pace to win 83 games. The Rangers Pythagorean record suggests they’ll finish with 93 games, while the Angels points to 84 games. If the Rangers finished the season 20-20 from this point forward, the Angels would need to go 28-11 (a .718 winning percentage) to tie for the division. If the Rangers played at the same winning percentage they have to this point in the season (.582), the Angels would need to finish 31-8 to tie for the season. Baseball Prospectus gives the Angels a 1.4% chance of winning the division, and Cool Standings agrees, putting their odds at 1.8%. These are all facts that should suggest to you that the Angels are just about out of the race for the division crown.
It seemed like it would be inevitable that September would be filled with meaningful baseball for the Rangers and the Angels, all the way down to the wire. It may still be that way for the Angels, but not in the same way that so many pictured at the start of this season. It could also still be that way for the Rangers, too. In 2011, the Red Sox and Braves had similar odds of making it to the postseason before September, only to collapse and see the Rays and Cardinals overtake them. It could happen, and it’d be beyond exciting if it did, but it seems that 2012 will be the year of the great Rangers-Angels pennant race that never happened.
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