Thursday, April 5, 2007

Granted, it's not exactly Yankees vs. Red Sox, but when the Angels take the field tonight for the first of a four games series versus the Oakland Athletics, it will renew a rivalry that has evolved into one of the best in baseball this decade.

Only once since 2000 has a team other than the A’s or Angels won an American League West championship. The teams have finished one-two in the division in four of the last five seasons, and head to head are separated in that stretch by just a handful of runs.

In 2002, fans were treated to a back and forth battle royale, which saw the A’s take the division in the end, with the Angels landing the Wild Card, and ultimately their first and only World Championship.

In 2004 and 2005, the Angels clinched Division championships in Oakland on the final weekend of the season.

Of course it was Oakland in 2006 that held off a second half surge from the Angels to capture the AL West crown.

While the Yankees – Red Sox rivalry is perhaps the greatest in all of sports, the west coast version may be as intriguing. If so, for different reasons. New York and Boston have a history behind them that need not be mentioned. The Bambino. Bucky Fn Dent. Aaron Boone. The 2004 ALCS. Okay,’s worthy of a short mention. But while, the east coast homers salivate over their Goliath vs. Goliath match-up, the west coast version may be a bit more authentic.

The Yankees and Red Sox are eerily similar in both make-up and organizational philosophy. Loaded with star power throughout their line-ups, the Yankees and Red Sox are a reflection of each other, combining to provide the American League with the bulk of it’s annual All-Star roster. Seemingly, it is only the uniform that distinguishes the two.

Both teams call historical landmarks home.

Off the field, their respective front offices are equally competitive in their pursuit of free-agents, trades and international talent.

Conversely, the A’s and Angels could not be more different.

The A’s, a small market team, who call a football stadium “home,” consistently play home games in front of less than 20,000 fans despite their prolonged on-field success. As a result, they have been forced to operate on a strict budget, which has been masterfully manipulated by General Manager, Billy Beane, who, despite his immediate disadvantages, has been able to develop talent through the draft and acquire bargain priced talent through free agency and trade.

The Angels face no such economic dilemmas. Arte Moreno has spent willingly on free agents to compliment home grown talent, which has been the staple of the Angels’ success since current General Manager, Bill Stoneman took the job in 1999. They play their games in a revamped, if not state of the art facility, located in the heart of southern California, in front of a consistent 40,000 fans. If that’s not enough, Moreno and the Angels secured their foreseeable financial future with a $500 million cable contract last season.

The A’s – Angels rivalry is indeed in the mold of David and Goliath.

But it is on the field, where the differences can truly be seen. Both teams rely heavily on pitching to win, and there is not another team in baseball that plays the game as stubbornly as these two. But that is where the similarities end.

Offensively, the A’s are the classic passive team, built around patience and power. The goal = Avoid outs at all costs. They rely on working counts, drawing walks, and the proverbial 3-run homer. They rarely steal, bunt, hit and run or aggressively run the bases. They are the epitome of a station to station offense.

The Angels, on the other hand may be the most aggressive team in all of baseball. They consistently finish near the bottom of the American League in on base percentage. The Angel hitters are hackers, reliant on frenzy hitting to produce offense. They bunt at the rate of a National League team, hit and run, steal bases, and pressure defenses by attempting to take extra bases whenever possible.

Also noteworthy - other than the fight of two years ago between John Lackey and Jason Kendall, the teams have been quite civil and complimentary of each other.

So more than just a battle of two teams, the A’s and Angels present fans with a battle of style and wills. And what a battle it has been! The teams have played virtually even since the start of 2002 and are once again expected to battle it out in a two team race this season.

What’s missing? Why hasn’t this rivalry garnered national attention? Well aside from the East Coast bias, which in inherent in all sports, and the longevity of other rivalries, notably Red Sox – Yankees, Cardinals – Cubs, and Dodgers – Giants, the A’s and Angels, despite their consistent status at the top of the AL West Division, have yet to meet in the post-season, for all the chips. Perhaps then will the baseball world recognize the fierce, yet respectful rivalry on the left coast.

Perhaps 2007 will be the season in which the best of the AL West meet in the ALCS. Perhaps this weekend’s series will be a preview of what’s to come. Regardless of where the teams end the year’s journey, fans are certain to see a competitive season series., beginning tonight at the Big A.
Love to hear what you think!


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