With the conclusion of last Sunday’s games, MLB’s first half officially came to a close. And the Angels, along with most of the American League, are still very much alive in the postseason hunt.
The club’s 45-47 record has the Angels just three games back of a Wild Card spot. The Yankees and Rays are currently tied atop the Wild Card standings while the Twins, Royals, Angels, Rangers, Orioles and Blue Jays are all within five games of New York and Tampa Bay.
The Angels are also in second place in the AL West, but the Astros are the best team in the AL and on pace to win over 100 games. If Houston simply plays about .500 baseball for the remainder of the season, they would win 97 games. To get to 97 wins this year, the Angels would have to go 52-18 over their final 70 games, which is... not likely.
But that’s why the second Wild Card exists and since its advent in 2012, the average second Wild Card team’s win total has been 90 games. This is a total that still seems out of reach for a team in the position the Angels are in, as they would have to win about 64% of their remaining games to reach 90 victories.
Fortunately for the Angels, no one team has stood out from the pack of Wild Card contenders to this point, and the two teams currently tied for the two spots are on pace to win 85 games each. For the Angels to total 85 wins this season, they would have go a much more reasonable 40-30 in the second half, which is a .571 winning percentage and would be a 93-win pace over a full season.
Right now, FanGraphs gives the Angels a 14.3% chance to claim one of the Wild Card spots. Among the eight aforementioned teams also vying for one of the spots, this is the third-worst chance. Although, the Yankees are the only ones with a chance greater than 27.1%, and they are also the only team of the nine that’s projected to win more than 82 games.
Six of the other eight teams, including the Angels, fall somewhere between 79 and 82 projected wins, meaning that the Angels making the postseason could come down to them winning one or two games or series that they are not expected to, which is where strength of schedule comes in.
And, frankly, the rest of the Angels’ schedule is rough. FanGraphs rates it as the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the AL. The good news is that Tampa Bay, New York, and Baltimore all have it worse, and Toronto and Seattle only have it slightly better.
The next four series the Angels play are against teams over .500. The first series they play after the break is against the Rays, so they will immediately have a chance to prove if they really belong in the conversation for one of those final two postseason spots.
Then they’ll face three first-place teams: Washington, Boston, and Cleveland. They’ll play eight games against those three before squaring off against another Wild Card contender in the Blue Jays to end the month.
That stretch will be pivotal for the Angels. If they come out of it in a place in the standings similar to where they are now, they’ll be in good shape, as August will give them plenty of opportunities to make up ground in the standings. The average winning percentage of the teams the Angels will face in August is .488, a considerable drop from the .536 winning percentage of their remaining opponents in July.
The Angels will start the month of August with six games against two last-place teams—Philadelphia and Oakland—before playing a couple of key opponents: Baltimore and Seattle, both of which are a game behind the Angels in the standings.
Then they head to the nation’s capital for a couple of games against the Nationals before another three-game set against Baltimore followed by a four-game series against the Rangers, who are currently tied with the Angels. That series against Texas is the beginning of a 10-game homestand in which the Angels will welcome the Astros and A’s to town once Texas departs.
August is crucial for a couple of reasons. The first is that 19 of the 28 games the Angels are scheduled to play will take place in Anaheim, where the Angels are 23-19; they are just 22-28 on the road. Secondly, half of their games will be against teams currently within five games of an AL Wild Card spot—giving the Angels their best shot at establising themselves at the top of the Wild Card race—and nine are against last-place teams while only five are against division leaders.
By the time September rolls around, the postseason picture should be much more clear. And if the Angels are still in it by then, they’ll have a daunting road in front of them. They are scheduled to play Cleveland three times and Houston six times, and they will be on the road for most of the month, playing only 12 of their final 28 games in front of a home crowd.
With 12 combined games against Seattle and Texas, the Angels will again be facing off directly with teams competing for the same postseason spot as them. The Angels will also have a chance to take advantage of a couple of last-place teams when they face Oakland for three and the White Sox for four. Over the final weekend of the season, the Angels and Mariners will play what could be a decisive three-game set in Anaheim.
So will the Angels be able to reach the 85 wins that will likely be the minimum requirement for a trip to the postseason? It might be improbable, but it’s still a legitimate possibility. The key will be surviving the gauntlet that awaits them immediately following the All-Star break when they face the Rays, Nationals, Red Sox, and Indians in succession.
In a 20-game stretch in June, the Angels certainly proved themselves capable of beating MLB’s best, going 11-9 against the Astros, Yankees, Royals, Red Sox, and Dodgers. It would probably take a similar winning percentage (.550) across these next 11 games to stay afloat in the race, which would mean winning six of those games. Then, the race would be on.
The question then simply becomes whether or not the Angels are as good as, or better than, the teams that they’re competing with for a Wild Card spot. On one hand, you could argue that, yes, they are, as their ability to stay in the race while coping with a slew of injuries to vital contributors and dealing with a number of baseball’s most talented teams at the same time demonstrates that the Angels have the potential to take off once some of their players return from the disabled list.
Mike Trout is returning on Friday, and he’ll be a bigger mid-season addition than any other team will be receiving. There’s also the fact that Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, and even Andrew Heaney could all return to the starting rotation at some point in the second half. And then you could account for any trade-deadline acquisitions that would improve the Angels’ weaknesses.
On the other hand, you could argue that, no, they are not as good as those other teams, and that the Angels were hovering around .500 even when Trout was healthy, so their ability to keep themselves from falling into obscurity during his six-week absence can just be chalked up to unsustainable overperformance.
You could also add that there’s no reason to count on Richards and Skaggs pitching this season because they’ve spent such little time on the field over the last two years; that the full extent of Shoemaker’s injury is still unclear, and it could very well end up being more serious than it seems; and that Heaney is barely a year removed from Tommy John surgery, so a 2017 return is just an unrealistic expectation.
And lastly, you would probably say that the Angels won’t make an impactful trade at the deadline because they don’t have the resources to do so, and the teams they’re competing with will because they do, leaving the Angels in the dust.
Which one is it, you ask? Well, that’s why they play the games.