Score If you know someone who doesn't really get interested in baseball until the playoffs begin, tell them to tune into the series commencing in Anaheim on Thursday. It may not be the postseason yet, but results from the four upcoming games between the Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Rays could very well determine who does, or does not, get there.
Welcome to the American League pre-playoffs and a clash between a pair of clubs whose best hopes right now for a spot in the actual postseason are by claiming one of the two wild card slots. The Rays and Angels bookend a 5-team bunch only 2.5-games apart vying for those spots heading into Wednesday's action. Tampa Bay and the Baltimore Orioles are deadlocked at the top of that list while the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers are knotted between them and the Halos.
There's plenty of great pitching in store in the four games at the Big A, starting with a battle between Tampa's David Price and LA's Dan Haren. Early odds for the series opener (10:05 p.m. ET) had the Rays favored in the -115 to -120 range with a 7½-run total ('under' -120).
Price was one of five pitchers to have reached the 15-win plateau before play got underway Wednesday, and the Rays were 15-8 behind their lefty for the year (+4.6 units). He could easily have reached the 18-win mark or higher by now with a little more offensive help along the way. Price has won seven straight on his personal ledger, and the three no-decisions in his 10 most recent starts saw him pitch to a 1.63 ERA only for the Rays to eventually lose those games.
The Angels certainly didn't have an answer for him at Tropicana Field when the clubs met in April. Price went the distance with a 5-hit whitewashing in a 5-0 win as $1.50 chalk.
Of course, that was during the Angels' slumbering start to the campaign, and four days before rookie phenom Mike Trout arrived to jumpstart the lineup. The problem is that while the Halos offense has been far more potent with Trout at the top of the order, pitching has been a big problem so far in August. Responsibility for a 4-9 record in the first 13 games of the month sits squarely on the shoulders of the staff with the opposition scoring 90 runs in the stretch (6.9 rpg).
Haren will be looking to rebound from a rough outing at home against Seattle last week when the Mariners tallied seven runs (5 earned) in his short 3-1/3 inning session. He looked fine in his three previous starts after he came off his first career disabled list stint, working six frames each assignment and allowing four runs combined.
One of those contests was a win vs. the Rays in Anaheim on July 27, bringing his lifetime record to 7-3 with a 2.60 ERA against Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay has ruled this series dating back to April 2011. The Rays have won five of six from the Angels this year, including two of three in Anaheim a few weeks ago, and nine of the last 11. All six collisions this year have stayed 'under' the total.
Neither team is reporting any new injuries a day before the series was set to begin. However, each club was involved in Wednesday contests that were still pending, so keep an eye on the Don Best injury report for updates prior to Thursday's affair. The Angels were 170 favorites at home against the Cleveland Indians and the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona, who was making his season debut following a suspension. Tampa Bay was getting +125 on the road in Seattle opposite Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.