Sunday, June 7, 2015

First Division: Angels, Dodgers both facing trouble

The Angels and Dodgers both are in First Division trouble coming through the first week of June. Both are at the bottom of the division, which spells relegation to the Second Division for 2016 if they don't rise in the top tier. That means beating top-level clubs, which neither Los Angeles club has done very much of this season.


Angels manager Mike Scioscia won't be able to argue his way into remaining in the First Division for 2016 if his club doesn't improve its performance against this top tier of teams (Googie man/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles

The First Division is heating up with a lot of action during these last couple of weeks, but the Dodgers and Angels aren't heating it up with it.

Far from it. The inability of the Angels and Dodgers to handle top teams has been noted in the First Division standings, among other places. Both Los Angeles teams came through this first week of June fighting against the possibility of relegation to the Second Division in 2016, which is the fate of the two clubs finishing at the bottom of the First Division in 2015.

The Angels lost two of three last week at home against the Tampa Bay Rays, dropping the first two games after winning the opener. The Dodgers have not succeeded in purchasing the goods to take down the two elite clubs in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants, posting a combined 4-11 against the two clubs that have accounted for the last five National League pennants.

The Angels need to get their getting quickly, as they'll play fewer than two dozen games, total, in the First Division. At 3-7 in the First Division, the Angels are defending their 2014 top tier title with a last-place performance, six games behind the front-running Giants. The Angels will get another crack at the Rays next weekend in St. Petersburg. After that, though, the pickings will be slim.

Following next weekend's series at Tampa Bay, the Angels will have only nine games left in the First Division this season – six against the Dodgers and three against the Toronto Blue Jays. Being six games down in the First Division is a lot different from being down 5½ to the Houston Astros in the American League West, which is another position they've taken. The Angels have a lot more time in the AL West, and the Astros (12-10 against clubs at or above .500 and 22-13 against clubs below .500) are likely to cool off as they play against better clubs.

Teams have won ordinal divisions with fewer than two dozen games, but it requires a superior winning percentage for that team, and there can't be another team that's both playing a lot of games and winning a big share of them. The record for fewest wins to take a division belongs to the Texas Rangers, who won the First Division in 2013 with a 13-8 record in their 21 games. The second place team, Tampa Bay, finished 18-15.

The team with the fewest games played to win a division was the Angels in the 2013 Second Division. The Angels played only 19 games, but finished 14-5. The Angels beat the Nationals (25-18) by one game and 156 percentage points (.737 to .581). Both clubs were promoted to the First Division for 2014, and the Angels went on to win it.

That has a way of happening in the First Division. In three of the last four years, the First Division winner had been freshly promoted that year. In addition to the Angels in 2014, the Texas Rangers did it in 2013 and the Rays did it in 2011. It's worth pointing out that the Giants are working on precisely the same achievement, leading the First Division after being promoted to the top tier this season. 

However, the Rangers were swiftly demoted to the Second Division after an injury-plagued 2014 season. That does not appear to be a danger for the Giants.

The Dodgers have a different kind of job in front of them. The Dodgers actually are last in the games behind column of the top tier, seven games down, compared with six down for the Angels. However, the Angels have a lower winning percentage (.300, compared with .333 for the Dodgers), and promotion and relegation ultimately comes down to winning percentage.

Last week was no better than a break-even proposition for the Dodgers, who won two of three at home against the Atlanta Braves, but lost two of three at St. Louis last weekend. All of those were First Division games. The Braves went on to split last weekend on the grounds of the division-leading San Francisco Giants. This weekend, the Dodgers have lost two of three at home to the Cardinals, with the final game of that series coming Sunday night.

The Giants lead the First Division with an impressive mark of 12-4, thanks largely to their combined 10-2 performance against the Dodgers and Angels. The Rays are pressing the closest pursuit, only a game down at 9-3 after taking two of three in Anaheim last week. The Nationals (7-5) and the Cardinals (6-3) are the only other clubs breaking even in the division.

As the schedule lays out, the Giants will play about 40 games this year in the First Division, so their work is far from done. Same with the Dodgers. But the Dodgers are on the other end of the standings from the Giants. While the Giants vie for the leadership and the championship, the Dodgers now hold seventh place, which will get them relegated to the Second Division in 2016 if they do not improve their performance against this top tier of clubs.

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