It’s a debate that’s constantly being argued all around you, in dorms, frats, bars, even the secluded Daily Nexus sports office. It’s a question that epitomizes the NorCal/SoCal clash: A’s or Angels, Angels or A’s. Which side of the 805 do you come down on?
The two American League West frontrunners have gone back and forth over the last five years, with Oakland winning three division titles and Los Angeles of Anaheim Somewhere in Southern California taking two. Since 2002, the A’s lead the series 52-51, with 40 of those contests being decided by a single run. Throw in their conflicting styles and the occasional Jason Kendall-John Lackey brawl, and this rivalry is quickly becoming the American League version of Giants-Dodgers. With all due respect to Rangers fans and all three Mariners fans, the AL West once again looks like a two-team race. So, who has the edge this season?
Neither team will score runs in bunches, and once again it looks as if the lineups are pretty even – just like last season, when the A’s outscored the Angels by only five runs over the course of the season. The Angels have the best all-around player in Vladimir Guerrero, but if Mark Kotsay and Milton Bradley can ever get healthy, the A’s will have more depth up and down the lineup. In the end, the better offense will probably be the one that gets more out of its top prospects. Oakland’s Travis Buck is already entrenched in right field, while on-base machine Daric Barton should arrive sometime this summer. Angels fans, on the other hand, are anxiously awaiting a regular role for slugger Brandon Wood, who hit 68 home runs the last two seasons.
Luckily for fans of both teams, the average offenses are more than made up for by two of baseball’s best pitching staffs. With Rich Harden back in his familiar spot on the disabled list, the underrated Dan Harenis leading the way for Oakland with a league-leading 1.60 ERA. Lackey leads an outstanding Angels staff that will only get better as Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver continue to mature. When the starters are done, the teams bring out two of baseball’s best bullpens. Oakland’s Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street do a great job of closing out opponents, but the Angels take the edge here with baseball’s best late-inning duo, Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez.
Both teams have already spent time in first place this season and once again, the A’s and Angels appear poised for a late-season battle for the division crown. It’s no coincidence that these teams will finish the season playing each other, as their late-September three-game series will likely crown the AL West winner for the sixth consecutive year. Will Street close out the Angels, or will K-Rod’s slider signal the end of Oakland’s season? Only time will tell, but either way you can be sure that this debate will rage on for years to come.