Angels facing tougher road in West

Angels facing tougher road in West

The AL Best?

Strange as it may seem, a case can be made that the American League West -- the shallowest of the six divisions with four clubs -- has been the deepest, most competitive, best-balanced alignment in the Majors over an 11-year period.

Starting with the 1998 season, the Athletics (.548), Angels (.538), Mariners (.509) and Rangers (.489) own a combined .521 winning percentage.

Next, at .508, is the AL East, followed by the National League East (.503), NL West (.501), NL Central (.490) and AL Central (.483).

"It's been the toughest division in baseball for a good 10 years," said Mike Scioscia, embarking on his 10th season as Angels manager. "The only way you can evaluate that is on how your teams do outside the division -- and our records are better than any other division."

When it comes to postseason play, however, the argument breaks down. The 2002 Angels, a Wild Card entry, are the only AL West club to have claimed a World Series title -- or reached a World Series -- over that 11-year stretch.

Going back to the advent of six divisions in 1994, AL West teams are a combined 43-64 in postseason play for a .402 winning percentage.

Before those 2002 Angels, the AL West hadn't been represented in a Fall Classic since the Twins belonged to the division in 1991. The West was loaded that year, with all seven clubs finishing .500 or better.

The tide swiftly turned, however. The East has carried the AL banner into the Fall Classic in nine of the past 13 seasons, establishing clear-cut dominance.

To the dismay of their fan base, the Angels have gone 5-15, losing four of five postseason series, since center fielder Darin Erstad squeezed the final out of that 2002 Fall Classic at Angel Stadium in Game 7 against the Giants.

Three of those five postseason wins came when they eliminated the Yankees in the 2005 AL Division Series. Since then, the Angels are 2-10 on the grand October stage, and restless fans are looking for answers.

One popular explanation is that the AL West is too weak to prepare its champion mentally for the demands of the postseason.

That might have been the case in 2008, when the Angels took flight in the second half and blew away the competition, winning by 21 games with an MLB-best 100 wins. But neither Scioscia nor his players subscribe to that theory, pointing out that it's more a matter of execution and health than the lack of a razor's edge.

The 2008 Angels, unlike the injury-riddled '07 version, were primed for the Red Sox, only to fall in four games.

"I'd much rather win the division by 20 than by one game," Torii Hunter said. "It's an advantage to get your guys some rest and get your rotation lined up for the postseason.

"I really thought we were going to go all the way. We just didn't get it done. No excuses."

The Angels have made one major offseason move, signing free-agent southpaw Brian Fuentes to fill the bullpen void created by the departure of Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod took his big curveball and record 62 saves to the Mets.

When Mark Teixeira took Yankees millions over their own, the Angels decided to leave first base in the hands of Kendry Morales. With Garret Anderson, their offensive cornerstone for 14 years, apparently leaving as well via free agency, they have resisted any impulse to pursue Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn or Bobby Abreu.

Also fielding offers in free agency is Jon Garland, creating an opening in the rotation. Here again, the Angels seem content with what they have, electing not to pursue the Padres' Jake Peavy in a trade or bid for a free agent such as Ben Sheets.

Kelvim Escobar could provide a huge lift if he's ready to discharge bullets around midseason in his recovery from shoulder surgery.

"We're going to give our young guys a chance to show what they can do," Scioscia said. "We have a lot of depth in our organization. I think we've shown that."

Yes, but impatient fans clearly would prefer a Ramirez, Dunn, Peavy or Sheets added to the mix.

The A's have beefed up the middle of their lineup significantly with the arrivals of Matt Holliday, in a deal with the Rockies, and free-agent Jason Giambi, a familiar figure in Oakland. Manager Bob Geren, quite understandably, is calling his club a contender.

The Rangers, who already own a loaded lineup, figure to play a lot of 9-7 games. They have had conversations with Sheets' representatives, and he clearly would do wonders for Texas' rotation.

Not much is expected of the Mariners, who lost Raul Ibanez to the Phillies while improving the outfield defensively with Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez. But it was just a year ago that they were the darlings of insiders, the trendy pick to claim the AL West with southpaw Erik Bedard joining Felix Hernandez in a potentially lethal tandem atop the rotation.

If the critics are right, and the division is tougher top to bottom, it could play to the Angels' advantage in October -- assuming they are able to navigate their way to a fifth division title in six seasons.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.