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Yankees 2015 possible playoff opponent: Los Angeles Angels

The Halos have faltered, but if their MVP surges them back into the mix, they could give the Yankees fits in a Wild Card playoff matchup.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

As the regular season enters its final couple weeks, it appears that the Yankees are destined for the AL Wild Card playoff game. They trail the AL East-leading Blue Jays by 3 1/2 games with 13 to go, but they do have a fairly comfortable lead in the Wild Card. The Astros are tussling with the Rangers for the AL West lead, and they also currently have a good hold on the second Wild Card spot. The Twins are three games behind Houston, and the Angels are looking up at a similar 3 1/2 game deficit.

However, any team that employs Mike Trout cannot be fully declared dead until their "tragic number" hits zero. Furthermore, they have six head-to-head games left with the Astros and Rangers, plus six against the also-ran Mariners and Athletics. Despite their other struggles, no one should be surprised if Trout goes ballistic over the past few weeks to push the Angels over the edge. So if they do end up against the Yankees in the Wild Card game, how would the two teams compare?

The Wild Card Starter

Provided that Masahiro Tanaka's hamstring is healed by October 6th, he is the man most likely to receive the ball in a one-game playoff. It is possible that he doesn't recover properly, and there is a scenario where the Yankees might start him in the final series of the season against the Orioles attempting to win the AL East if they can draw closer to Toronto, but both scenarios appear unlikely at this point.

Mike Scioscia would have a fascinating choice to make for his Wild Card starter. Hector Santiago was an All-Star in the first half, but he has slumped to a 5.62 second-half ERA with an .844 OPS against, and he doesn't currently line up to start a game on October 6th anyway. The Angels will not probably not have any flexibility to set up their rotation for that game anyway. Jered Weaver is a shadow of his former self, C.J. Wilson had elbow surgery, and Matt Shoemaker has looked very little like the pitcher who was runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting in 2014.

The most likely starters are either 2014 ace Garrett Richards or rookie Andrew Heaney. Although his 101 ERA+ and 1.8 WAR might seem pedestrian, Richards has been the Angels' most consistent starter all year long. He was dominant last year until a torn knee tendon ended his season in August, but he has made a nice comeback, pitching a team-high 29 starts and 188 1/3 innings with a 3.73 ERA and 3.87 FIP. He's the safe pick, so that's who Scioscia would probably choose, particularly since despite a superior 3.30 ERA, 3.58 FIP, and 1.154 WHIP in 16 starts, Heaney has not been quite as sharp the past couple months.

Advantage: Yankees. Tanaka > Richards.

The Bullpen

The Angels' bullpen has been steady, albeit not spectacular. They have a fine closer in Huston Street, who currently leads the AL with 38 saves and has a terrific 88% success rate. He's not a strikeout machine like Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller, but he doesn't walk too many batters and he rarely fails. An 83 ERA- and .625 OPS against are certainly acceptable from a closer.

Their 'pen gets a little dicey after Street. Cesar Ramos leads the group with a 2.16 ERA and has allowed just two homers all year, but Scioscia seems more content using him as a LOOGY even though there isn't much of a platoon split. Jose Alvarez has not allowed a run in September, giving Scioscia another lefty weapon. Although he did make more full-inning appearances in August, he has only made two such appearances in September. Setup man Joe Smith's numbers are only okay, and a recent stumble down a flight of stairs led to a sprained ankle. Trevor Gott was a nice seventh inning addition for awhile after a midseason call-up, but he has an ERA north of 6.00 in the past month. (He might be suffering from Chasen Shreve-itis.) Fernando Salas has had a weird season, posting terrific strikeout and walk numbers (10.7 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9) despite a 4.27 ERA, so he's better than he would appear at first glance.

Advantage: Yankees. Ultimately, Miller, Betances, and Justin Wilson are too much to ignore.

The Lineup

Michael Nelson "Mike" Trout (born August 7, 1991) nicknamed The Millville Meteor, is an American professional baseball center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Major League Baseball (MLB). Trout was the American League (AL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 2014, is a four-time All-Star, and a two-time All-Star Game MVP since becoming a regular player in 2012.

Trout was a first round pick by the Angels in the 2009 MLB draft, and made a brief major league appearance in 2011. He became a regular player for the Angels the subsequent season, and unanimously won the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Award. Trout finished second in--

Okay fine, I won't make this section a word-for-word copy of Trout's Wikipedia entry. There have, in fact, been crucial Angels contributors outside Trout, who would be the favorite for a second straight MVP if not for the existence of Josh Donaldson. David Freese at last resembles the 2011 Cardinals' playoff hero, as he has come alive in September since recovering from broken finger with a .333/.362/.455 triple slash, though no homers. Their 25-year-old first baseman C.J. Cron has belted eight homers since the beginning of August with a .503 slugging percentage. Right fielder Kole Calhoun has been quite good with 23 homers and a 107 wRC+ all year long, and David Murphy proved to be a solid trade deadline pickup thanks to .438 slugging percentage in 38 games.

On the downside, Shane Victorino and David DeJesus have both been dreadful additions. Matt Joyce has been atrocious from day one, none of their second baseman can hit, and even the All-Star comeback of Albert Pujols has fallen on hard times. At the end of June, the future Hall of Famer had 24 homers and an .891 OPS. Since then, he's hit an appalling .206/.264/.357 in 70 games, and he's now restricted to DH duty due to a sore right foot.

Regardless, the absence of Mark Teixeira from the Yankees' lineup leaves a glaring hole that has been evident in his absence despite Sunday's 11-run outburst. Trout simply outclasses everyone on the ballfield in a head-to-head, and the Yankees don't have anyone in the lineup remotely nearly his talent level. If Teixeira was active, the offense as a whole might be better even with Trout on the other side, but without Tex, it's the Angels by a nose.

Advantage: Angels.

The Yankees' old 2000s playoff nemesis has hurdles to jump to just make the second Wild Card spot, but if they do, watch out. Superstars like Trout can rise to the occasion, even against the best the Yankees have to offer on the mound.