Texas Rangers fans can breathe a little easier after Wednesday night's thrilling win over the Los Angeles Angels. That win ensures that the Angels will be at least three games out after the series concludes on Thursday.
With a four game lead in the American League West, the Rangers have some room for error -- but make no mistake, they're not a lock to win the division. Four games at this point in the season isn't much. In case baseball fans have short term memory, let's just think back to 2011 when the St. Louis Cardinals were 10 games out in late August. I don't think I need to remind folks what happened next.
If there exists a team that is basically guaranteed a division title at this point, it's the New York Yankees, who appear to be coasting to another American League East crown. Up seven games in the loss column, the Yankees have a run differential 64 better than the second place Tampa Bay Rays. New York didn't make a major deadline move, apologies to Ichiro Suzuki, but there weren't many moves for them to make.
As of today, you'd have to consider the Yankees the favorite to capture the pennant. But hey, October is crazy, so you never really know what can happen. They're clearly the most complete team, though, with a solid bullpen, a scary lineup and a legitimate ace in C.C. Sabathia.
Over in the American League Central, the White Sox and Tigers figure to be in a fight to the finish. Both teams attempted to fortify their rosters at the deadline, with the White Sox adding Francisco Liriano, while the Tigers added Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez.
On paper, the Tigers were supposed to run away with the division. However, Detroit sits just five games over .500, and only have a +9 run differential. Miguel Cabrera can hit, but he's not exactly a third baseman. To say the Tigers have a brutal defensive corner infield would be an understatement the size of both Cabrera and Fielder.
At the end of the year, I'd expect the Tigers to manage to overtake the White Sox, despite Chicago owning a better run differential and being three games back in the loss column. Still, the White Sox are going to be a threat until the end -- and very well could win the division.
Then, of course, there's the American League West. The Rangers have made a few moves, acquiring Geovany Soto and Ryan Dempster from the Chicago Cubs. Texas, though, has also had a few blows over the past week too, losing Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz for the remainder of the 2012 season.
The Angels, meanwhile, added the top prize on the trade market, in the form of Zack Greinke. To date, the only pitcher that has been better than Greinke is Justin Verlander, and even the difference between the two is marginal (.1 WAR). Verlander also has 30 and 2/3 more innings to his credit than Greinke.
Regardless, the Angels made a significant move, and the Rangers didn't. It can certainly be argued that the Rangers didn't have to, and those people could be right. We'll see. Either way, Texas is five up in the loss column headed into Thursday's game against the Angels. If the Rangers win, and go six up, the Rangers can breathe easy. An Angels win, however, puts the division well within striking distance for the Angels.
The wild card is a bit of a mess, as you'd expect it to be. Currently, both the Angels and A's would make the playoffs if the season ended, which is quite amazing. Detroit, Tampa Bay and Baltimore are two games back in the loss column of both Oakland and Los Angeles, while the Red Sox sit four out. None of the trailing teams, besides Detroit, really made any big deadline moves. Perhaps Tampa Bay and Boston did the right thing in that regard, as both clubs were rumored to sell. The Rays will be adding All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria shortly, and he should provide a huge boost.
Here's the bottom line with the Rangers: they're going to make the playoffs. They'll probably win the division, but it's not a guarantee, not yet. The Angels improved themselves more than any team at the deadline, and they're a dangerous team. Come the end of the year, I'm expecting the Rangers still to win the division, with the Angels and Rays grabbing the two wild card spots.