Today, the two pitchers who finished second in last year’s Cy Young Award voting after spending much of the year as frontrunners both hit the disabled list. The Angels lost ace Jered Weaver, while the Phillies lost their top gun, Roy Halladay.
The similarities between the Angels and Phillies don’t end there. Each team came into 2012 expected to contend for a division title, but both scuffled out of the gate and needed a strong late-May to return to respectability (the Phillies are 26-24; the Angels are one game worse).
Furthermore, each team is powered by three high-profile pitchers. When Cliff Lee joined Halladay and Cole Hamels in the Phillies’ rotation prior to last season, there was much chatter about their standing among the great rotations of all time. CJ Wilson’s addition to an Angels’ rotation that already included Weaver and Dan Haren was met by less hubbub, but likewise positioned the Angels pitching staff at the top of the AL pecking order.
For reference, Philadelphia’s trio had totaled 17.5 WAR, per fangraphs, the year before joining forces (and combined for an obscene 19.8 in their first year together), while LA of A’s trio was worth 17.9 last year, compiling three of the top five figures in the AL. While Hamels is the youngest of the bunch at 28, all three Angels are younger than Halladay and Lee, which suggests that the Angels’ triumvirate is nearly as good and on the rise (or at least not as likely to decline).
For each of these teams, the problem that plagued them early in 2012 was offense. The Angels are thin behind Albert Pujols, and when Pujols began the season in a six-week funk of epic proportions, the Angels scored fewer runs in April than the anemic A’s and Mariners.
The Phillies lost their two highest-profile bats (Ryan Howard and Chase Utley) to injury before the season began. Of course, their best position player at this point is probably Shane Victorino, but when Victorino got off to a pedestrian start (109 wRC+ to-date) and Jimmy Rollins was downright abysmal early (59 wRC+), the Phils couldn’t buy a run.
Each of these teams is hamstrung over the long term by an enormous contract (though I’d take Pujols’s over Howard’s), and now may be fretting the short term with an ace on the shelf. On the other hand, they’ve each been buoyed by a surprise contributor (Mark Trumbo and Carlos Ruiz) on the offensive end, and each has two healthy aces, with Joe Blanton and Jerome Williams pitching surprisingly well at the back end of the rotation.
The biggest difference between the teams is their competition. The Angels have to contend with a Texas juggernaut that leads the majors in runs scored and the American League in run prevention, and may win 100 games whether Roy Oswalt contributes anything or not. The rest of the division is soft, but the Angels have to hold off at least two of the Rays, Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays to make the playoffs.
The NL East is strong as well, with decent teams in Atlanta, Washington, and Miami, but none of them will run away with the division like Texas is already doing. The rest of the National League could be mistaken for the NY-Penn league, so the Wild Card is there for the taking if the Phillies can play competently when their stars return from the DL.
It’s too early to count out either of these oddly similar teams, but if I’m betting on just one to make the playoffs, it’s the team that’s won five straight division titles.