Thursday, October 21, 2010

By David Saltzer, Senior Writer

In a typical year, it’s hard to care much about who’s playing in the post season if it doesn’t involve the Angels. But this year hasn’t been typical, and I’m finding myself wanting to see the Rangers win it all more and more.

While it would be easy for me to say that I want the Rangers to win because I’d rather see the Yankees lose (much like voting for the lesser of two evils on a ballot), that’s not the case here. I want the Rangers to win because if they do win, it will make the Angels a better team.

Part of what led to the failure in 2010 was a bit of complacency by the Angels. Having won the A.L. West for the previous three years, and in five out of the previous six years, the A.L. West had become the Angels’ playpen. With Oakland’s financial shortcomings and Seattle’s chronically bad offseason moves, winning the A.L. West was more of a given for the Angels than a challenge.

But, if the Rangers advance to the World Series, and better still, win it all, the Angels will finally gain a legitimate rival within their division. With their new ownership and their infusion of money, the Rangers will be able to hold onto their key players and challenge the Angels for years to come. This will be a good thing because it will force the Angels to reassess their approach to the season and will force the Angels to make the necessary improvements for 2011.

In years past, the Angels had an attitude that games earlier in the season were less meaningful than games later in the season. That attitude allowed Mike Scioscia to hold onto struggling players a lot longer than he should have. Without a major competitor in the division, Scioscia could afford the luxury of indulging a struggling veteran in the first half of the season because he knew that he could always win the A.L. West in the second half.

But, if the Rangers become a legitimate competitor, Scioscia will have to shorten up his approach early in the season. There will be less time for tinkering with lineups and situations and more emphasis on winning all the time. The Angels won’t be able to afford many losses from Rodney or other players because they will be in a wire-to-wire fight to win. Games and standings in April will matter as much as in September.

With more competition within the division, the Angels will also have to stay more focused until the end of the season. Unlike 2008 when the Angels won the A.L. West by 21 games and coasted into the post season, the team will have to stay sharp for the whole season. Being more focused, they will be far more likely to be mentally sharp and play better baseball in the post season. That will help the Angels advance further than when they rested up and took it easy.

Additionally, because of Arte Moreno’s commitment to winning, having a legitimate rival means that the Angels will have to work harder to solve their shortcomings this offseason. They will have to sign an impact bat. They will have to make a trade or two to solve other problems like third base and the bullpen. They will have to be more creative to field a superior team next year. While the Angels may publicly say that they don’t need an overhaul, with a legitimate rival in the division, they will have to do more to fix the team than they would without one.

From a fan’s perspective, having a rival in the division will make more games more exciting to watch. Knowing that every game against Texas will have more of an affect on the standings will make every series with Texas more special. There will be an electric charge in the air that can only be felt in a playoff-like series. As divisional rivals, it would cause more of a playoff stir throughout the season than currently exists.

While normally it’s not wise to wish a divisional rival well in the post season, I think this year qualifies as an exception. The Angels have the nucleus of a very strong team and have the talent in the Minor Leagues to sustain a winning franchise. If the Rangers win it all this year, I could see that being the spark that ignites Moreno to make bold moves this offseason. And that will make the Angels a better team overall. So, go Rangers, by which I mean of course, go Angels!
Love to hear what you think!

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