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Angels' playoff picture has yet to be painted

ANAHEIM -- The Angels had waited since 2009, their last division title. They had waited since 2012, when free-agent acquisition Albert Pujols was supposed to push them over the top. And, on Wednesday night, they had to wait about an hour as they watched from the Angel Stadium clubhouse as the Rangers beat the A's in Oakland.

Oakland's loss, coupled with the Angels' 5-0 win over the Mariners, secured the Halos' sixth American League West title since 2004 and first in five years -- and they might have gotten a sneak peek at their opponent in their AL Division Series.

The Athletics are tied with the Royals for the AL Wild Card spots and had all of the Angels' eyes on them as they blew a 1-0 ninth-inning lead and lost to the Rangers, 6-1. If the Angels hold onto the AL's best record, they would host the winner of the Wild Card Game.

"We celebrated every strike, every ball," closer Huston Street said of the postgame viewing party.

Oakland's loss also tightened the AL Wild Card race, with Seattle only two games behind the leaders. Detroit leads the AL Central by just a half-game. Here are the candidates to face the Angels in the playoffs:

Oakland: The A's were the team the Angels were chasing for most of the season. But then Oakland's collapse opened the door for the Halos to stretch the division lead to double-digits and clinch with nearly two weeks left in the season.

Oakland's pitching depth makes it a dangerous matchup for the Angels, who are piecing together a rotation. The Angels are 8-8 against Oakland this season, but they have won the last five meetings.

"The A's aren't out of it," Street said. "The A's are a good team."

Kansas City: The Angels are a completely different team than the last time they faced the Royals in June, when Kansas City took two of three at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals shelled both C.J. Wilson and Matt Shoemaker in that series as they evened the season series at 3-3.

Since then, the Angels have shored up their bullpen and found the right recipe at the plate to give them the Majors' highest-scoring offense.

Seattle: Like Oakland, Seattle has played the Angels tough this season, beating the Halos eight out of 15 times. Felix Hernandez leads a pitching staff that has held the Angels to a .220 batting average in their 15 games against each other.

Of their 15 games, eight have been decided by two runs or fewer.

Detroit: The Tigers carry a precarious lead in the AL Central and could fall into the AL Wild Card Game if they can't hold off the Royals, which would be welcomed by the Angels.

The Angels took three of four against the Tigers in July, just days after Street was added to revamp the bullpen. Los Angeles won two one-run games during that series and went 4-3 against Detroit. The Angels did not, however, face David Price, who has since joined the Tigers.

In order to play the Wild Card winner, though, the Angels need to hold on to the league's best record, which would also ensure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They lead Baltimore by three games with 10 games left.

Street said Angels manager Mike Scioscia wanted to celebrate the win but not lose sight of the goal ahead.

"He mentioned we still have work to do," Street said, "but to enjoy this moment because he out of all people recognizes how special this is."

The short-handed Orioles seem to have an easier road to finish the season, with series against the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays ahead. The Angels, meanwhile, play contenders Seattle and Oakland seven more times and Texas three times.

While the Angels could lock up home-field advantage, they are also looking to get healthy for a playoff run. Josh Hamilton's injured shoulder hasn't allowed him to play the outfield, and Shoemaker's oblique will hold him out of his next start and, possibly, more.

Hamilton served as the Angels' cleanup hitter for most of the season while Shoemaker is enjoying a breakout rookie campaign, going 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA.

Matthew DeFranks is an associate reporter for
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