All season long, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been looked at as the premiere team in baseball. They’ve had everything you could possibly want out of a club: good hitting, quality pitching, effective base-running, and team chemistry. They finished the season with a league-best 100 wins and a 21-game lead in the American League West division.
Up Interstate 5, the Los Angeles Dodgers struggled to keep pace with the Arizona Diamondbacks early on in the worst division in baseball. As the season carried on, the D-Backs found themselves barely clinging on to first place just as the Dodgers started a slide highlighted by an eight-game skid to end August. Arizona, however, faltered late in the year and the Dodgers escaped with the National League West title and a total of 84 wins.
But even with 16 less victories on the year, in a far worse division, it is plausible to say that the Dodgers are in fact better than the Angels.
With the entire baseball universe giving them absolutely no chance to defeat the Chicago Cubs in their division series, they did. Emphatically. With a swing of the bat by James Loney on a 1-2 pitch in Game 1, the Dodgers took the lead in the contest and never looked back.
Meanwhile, the Angels are eliminated from the playoffs by a Boston Red Sox team that’s riddled with injuries. Their timely hitting vanished, their aggressive running hurt them more than it helped, and bullpen-ace Francisco Rodriguez melted down in pressure situations.
The Dodgers wouldn’t have made the playoffs if they played in any other division in baseball. Therefore, it would seem downright idiotic to say that the Boys in Blue are better than their Los Angeles counterparts.
Who wouldn’t take Torri Hunter and Vladamir Guerrero over Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp in the outfield? Or Mark Teixeira over Loney at first base?
On paper it’s easy to say the Angels are superior. It’s simple to see it from watching them play throughout the season as well. They’ve been consistently dominant through the majority of the year.
On the other hand, the Dodgers have been on a rollercoaster ride. They started the season with a third-string third baseman in Blake Dewitt. They watched offensive catalyst Rafael Furcal go down to injury one month into the year. They made Andruw Jones the fifth-highest paid player in the Major Leagues and watched him hit a dismal .158 and strike out 37 percent of the time.
But to crown the Angels as the kings of Southern California baseball is not the correct thing to do.
The Dodgers have been the best team in the National League since the beginning of September. It took them over 80 percent of the year to do it, but they finally reached their full potential. The young players like Kemp, Loney, Ethier, Russell Martin and Chad Billingsley are playing at the level that the organization knew they could reach. Veterans Derek Lowe, Casey Blake and the returning Furcal are performing as they have throughout their entire careers.
If they had been playing at this level for the whole season, there is no telling how many wins they could have racked up in 2008. A similar number to the 100 that the Angels earned definitely doesn’t seem far-fetched.
So it’s no surprise that Los Angeles ran through the Cubs on the 100th anniversary of Chicago’s last World Series win. The same Cubs that were supposed to end that drought this season. It was destiny.
Meanwhile the Angels were supposed to finally end their losing string against Boston in the playoffs. They were supposed to represent the American League in the World Series. After all, as the best team in baseball, that’s what they should have done.
But the tides have changed and with the addition of Manny Ramirez, the Dodgers have flourished. He has changed the entire dynamic in Southern California baseball. There is more excitement at Chavez Ravine. Team chemistry is better. More importantly, the play is better.
Now the Dodgers are on track to seize the prize that has eluded them for the past 20 years. And the Angels face yet another early-October exit. The fair-weathered fans of So Cal are ready to trade in their red caps for blue ones as the only Los Angeles team continues its journey forward.
So now that it’s known who reigns supreme in Los Angeles, the only question is this: If the Angels have been regarded as the best team in baseball all year, but the Blue Crew is actually better than them, does that mean the Dodgers are tops in the league?
The answer to that question is eight wins away.