There should not have been a sense of urgency surrounding this weekend’s series between the Angels and Oakland Athletics.
The Angels have the best record in the major leagues. The A’s have the second-best record. The teams might joust over the American League West championship, but the A’s have a six-game cushion in the race for a playoff spot. If the Angels win the AL West, the A’s would figure to get a wild-card playoff spot, and vice versa.
However, as the two teams open a three-game series in Oakland on Friday, followed by a four-game series next week in Anaheim, Garrett Richards’ season-ending knee surgery has changed the focus for the Angels.
The Angels need to win the AL West.
To the division winner: a spot in the division series. To the wild-card teams: a one-game playoff for a spot in the division series.
With Richards injured, the Angels do not have the kind of dominant starting pitcher desired for a sudden-death game.
According to the ERA+ statistic, in which 100 represents a league-average starting pitcher, Richards is the only Angels starter significantly above average.
Jered Weaver, the Angels’ longtime ace, rates exactly average, according to the statistic. C.J. Wilson, who signed for $77.5 million as a free agent in 2011, has an ERA+ of 80. Dan Haren, the Dodgers’ struggling veteran starter, has an ERA+ of 78.
In a wild-card game, the A’s could turn to Jon Lester, or Scott Kazmir, or Sonny Gray, or Jeff Samardzija. The Seattle Mariners have options in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. The Detroit Tigers? David Price or Max Scherzer.
The Angels? Just win the division, baby.