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3 to Watch: The 'Forget the scraps, win the division' edition

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
The White Sox will send ace Jake Peavy to the mound Friday to face the Tigers ace Justin Verlander. (US Presswire)

If the playoffs began today, the Angels would be in. But you don't hear them talking about that.

When the Tigers beat the Angels on Monday, they moved into the lead for the second wild-card spot, the first time since April they'd been in playoff position. But you didn't hear them talking about it.

The new playoff system, with two wild cards in each league, has helped keep more teams in contention. But the other big part of the new system has -- as planned -- put even more focus and importance on the division races.

The Angels talk about catching the Rangers in the American League West. The Tigers talk about beating the White Sox in the AL Central.

"You don't want [the wild card]," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "Everybody's main focus is to win the division. Nobody likes scraps, but if that's all you've got to eat, that's what you eat."

The wild cards, with the promise of only a one-game play-in, are scraps. It's not fool's gold, as some have described it, because it still allows you a chance to play for the title. But it's a full ticket into the playoffs.

The division titles are the real prize. Which is as it should be.

The division titles are worth more, which is why this weekend's Rangers-Angels series in Anaheim, White Sox-Tigers series in Detroit and Braves-Nationals series in Washington mean more.

"We're going to have to beat them head-to-head, that's for sure," White Sox reliever Matt Thornton said a couple weeks back, looking at the competition with the Tigers to win the Central. (And yes, Indians fans, he mentioned Cleveland, too).

The White Sox and Tigers have 10 more head-to-head meetings left, beginning with the three this weekend. The Angels and Rangers have 13 head-to-head meetings left, beginning with the three this weekend. The Braves and Nationals meet 10 more times, starting with four this weekend.

"All I care about is winning the division," Hunter said.

His Angels begin the weekend six games back of the Rangers. The Rangers are still catchable, for now.

And if there comes a time when they're not?

Well, there's always the wild card. There's always the scraps.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The White Sox originally traded for Jake Peavy because they felt they didn't have an ace, and they felt he could be one. So it's appropriate that Peavy will match up with Justin Verlander in White Sox at Tigers, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Comerica Park. Meanwhile, the White Sox and Tigers will both continue to chase more potential aces, on the trade market.

2. The Angels also remain active on the trade front, seeking a top-level starter and a reliever. One reason they keep looking for rotation help: Ervin Santana has a 7.25 ERA over his last nine starts. Santana, who some in the Angels organization wanted to trade last winter (owner Arte Moreno wasn't interested), will start in Rangers at Angels, Saturday afternoon (4:05 ET) at Angel Stadium. Santana will face Yu Darvish, who the Rangers signed because they thought he might become an ace. Of course, they're looking to trade for high-end starting pitching this month, as well. The Angels will also be looking hard at Sunday's game, when Dan Haren could return from the disabled list.

3. All those teams are looking for a high-end starter. The Phillies have a few, and one in particular who has been talked about endlessly in possible trades. Yes, that would be Cole Hamels, whose next (last?) start for Philadelphia comes in Giants at Phillies, Saturday afternoon (4:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. His mound opponent will be Matt Cain, and that's appropriate. As colleague Jon Heyman reported on Wednesday, the Phillies used Cain's new contract with the Giants as the model for their offer to Hamels, which is expected to be right around the $127.5 million for six years that convinced Cain to sign.


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