Buckle up: Angels suddenly alive in Wild Card race

Vernon Wells
Believe it or not, this man could very well lead the Angels' postseason charge

I’ve been so caught up in the Angels’ race for the 2011 A.L. West crown that I completely forgot about two of the most wonderful words in the baseball lexicon: Wild Card.

Lo and behold, I’m checking Twitter to see what kind of shenanigans my friends are up to, and I see a tweet from SB Nation outlining the current American League Wild Card race: Tampa Bay 2.5 games back. Los Angeles 2.5 games back.

Wait, what?

Don’t get me wrong, I was well aware that the Angels weren’t quite dead in the Wild Card race, but that was about a week ago, and the Halos were still about 4.5 games or so back.

I had heard about Tampa Bay taking it to the Red Sox over the weekend, but I shrugged it off, imagining the Rays were probably going to be too hot for the Angels to catch. Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers were steadily widening their lead in the West.

I figured October baseball in Anaheim was pretty much out of the question.

But in came the Yanks to sweep the Rays, and the Red Sox kept losing. The whole time, the Angels were red-hot.

Now, I’m rubbing my eyes, wondering if these standings aren’t some cruel prank from a pissed-off Dodgers fan hacking SB Nation’s Twitter account. Nope, it’s the real deal: the Angels may very well make the playoffs.

I’m excited. I’m pumped. Suddenly, those e-mails advertising Angels ALDS tickets don’t seem quite as idiotic. I might even buy one of those ridiculous “Wild Card Champion” T-shirts if the Angels manage to squeak into the postseason.

The situation seems too good to be true – the Angels are locked in a race with two struggling teams, one of which is a hated rival who has owned the Halos for most of their recent history.

My lip curls into a cruel, self-satisfied sneer when I picture the Angels knocking the Boston Red Sox out of the playoffs without having to actually play against them (If the Angels tied the Sox for the spot, they wouldn’t force a one-game playoff because Boston holds the head-to-head advantage). This scenario alone would make the Angels’ entire 2011 campaign worthwhile, regardless of whether they went on to win a pennant or a title.

(For what it’s worth, we all remember what happened the last time the Angels won the Wild Card. So we’ve got that working for us, too.)

Here’s the issue, though – the Angels still have to face Oakland and Texas in the final two series of the season. The Halos have struggled against both clubs this season, and they’d both jump on the opportunity to knock the Angels out of the postseason, especially Texas. So nothing is guaranteed.

Compare the current outlook for the Angels to last season, and you’ll see two vastly different scenarios. 2010 ended in fairly boring fashion for the Angels; they stunk all year, Texas clinched early, and the Halos were never quite in contention for even a Wild Card spot. 2010 is probably best summed up with a disinterested shrug of the shoulders.

This year’s result, though, will be the polar opposite – Halos fans are looking at either a moment of ecstacy or a few months of coping with crippling disappointment. And quite frankly, having the outcome in doubt in the first place should have you excited (or nervous) if you’re an Angels fan, regardless of how things pan out.
It’s a feeling I’ve missed dearly, and I’m sure the Angels feel the same way.

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