Angels, Orioles looking great for different reasons
It seems utterly foolish, if not stupid, to pick against the Angels as baseball's postseason is poised for its unpredictable October run.
The Angels, the best team of the 30 on paper, have it all: A vaunted rotation led by Jered Weaver, rookie Matt Shoemaker and C.J. Wilson, though Shoemaker is uncertain because of a mild left oblique strain.
There's the offense powered by certain-to-be American League MVP Award winner Mike Trout, who's driven in 110 runs and blasted 35 homers. Albert Pujols is not far behind with 28 homers and 105 RBIs. And, assuming he's healthy enough for the postseason, Josh Hamilton.
Closer Huston Street has saved 17 of 19 games with an impressive 1.71 ERA.
As an aside, I believe the affable Trout is my choice to take over the feel-good "face of baseball" that Derek Jeter has so ably owned.
Pulling this all together is Halos skipper Mike Scioscia, longest-tenured manager in the Major Leagues and no stranger to postseason pitfalls.
It's not surprising that the Angels, who trailed first-place Oakland by four games on Aug. 10, have gone 30-12 since then, compiling the best record in the Majors and breezing to the AL West title. The Athletics, now relegated to an AL Wild Card berth, are looking up, 11 1/2 games back.
Yes, the Halos have all the pieces necessary to play in the World Series for the first time since 2002, when they disposed of the Giants in seven games.
But that's on paper.
Just like the pitching-rich Dodgers, led by 21-game winner Clayton Kershaw, the toast of Hollywood.
Folks on the West Coast are already salivating about the possibility of an Angels-Dodgers World Series.
That said, if there is such a thing, I believe the Orioles have been playing like a team of destiny.
Baltimore has shrugged off the critical losses of catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado to injuries, not to mention the 25-game suspension of slugger Chris Davis, who will miss the first eight games of the postseason, assuming the O's go that far.
Buck Showalter is my choice for the AL Manager of the Year Award because he's been able to convince his players they could overcome potentially crippling adversity. The Orioles responded by winning the rugged AL East for the first time since 1997.
Unsung players such as Steve Pearce and Caleb Joseph believed in their skipper's words and performed accordingly.
You have to root for the O's because they're baseball's best story heading into the postseason.
"When you want something as bad as this group does ... they're very mature about what they're in the midst of," Showalter says. "They don't take anything for granted. I can't say I've always felt that way, but with this group I do."
The Orioles live by the home run (they've hit 205), with the late offseason addition of designated hitter Nelson Cruz the key. He leads the Majors with 40 homers and has driven in 108 runs. Center fielder Adam Jones has 27 homers and 93 RBIs. Davis had 26 homers at the time he was suspended.
"I didn't expect 40, the number," Cruz told MLB.com. "I think the aim for any player is to stay healthy, play as many games as he can, stay on the field. That was my main goal, to try and stay healthy, to try to put up numbers. I was able to put up the numbers. ... My main concern was to stay healthy."
Among the top teams, O's pitching has been suspect, but with Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen, it will stand up well in the postseason.
Closer Zach Britton has saved 36 of 40 games and put up a 1.70 ERA. When you consider the path the Orioles have taken, they have to be a team of destiny.
Former Indians and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has guided six teams to the postseason, all as division champions.
"The last time the Orioles were in the playoffs, in 2012, they lost the Division Series to the Yankees," he says. "It was a close series, and that experience will be so important this time around."
Showalter has refused to let the O's coast after clinching the division title. Manuel says that is extremely important.
"When a team is playing well and has momentum, you cannot let up," he says. "Rest is good, but you don't want too many off-days before the playoffs begin. You definitely don't want to be off four or five days."
Winning in the postseason, Manuel adds, is all about strong pitching.
"In a short series, that's the most important, but you have to play good defense to support that pitching," Manuel says. "Young teams that have never been there before usually have a tougher time. In 1995, the Indians went to the World Series, but it was the first time for most of our players, and just getting there was the key. Atlanta had won all those divisions and it gave them the edge. We were just happy to be there.
"In Philadelphia, we clinched our division in 2007 and were swept by the Rockies. But the next year, we came back with that experience behind us and won it all."
Manuel believes the Angels are best-equipped to go all the way.
"They have good pitching, but it has to come out early in the first round," he says. "And don't forget, Detroit has three Cy Young Award winners (Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price), but their bullpen has been shaky."
Manuel likes the Dodgers in the National League, but believes the Nationals could surprise, "and their starting pitching is almost as good as L.A.'s. When you look at the Dodgers' starting pitching, you know they'll take them deep into games."
And that brings us back to Baltimore.
"All things said, Baltimore has probably had the best year of any team in the American League, because they've played in the toughest division," says Manuel. "Their pitching has been tremendous -- very surprising to me.
"I agree this is a team that could go all the way. Aside from the Wild Card [Game], you have to win 11 postseason games to take everything. Believe me, there are a lot of bumps along the way."
That's why the games are played on the field, not on paper.