There's no doubt that the addition of Zack Greinke to a rotation that already included Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson makes the Angels one of the top teams in the majors. Unfortunately, being baseball's best team has little to do with winning a World Series these days.
Even if the Angels can overcome a four-game deficit and catch the Texas Rangers in the American League West — thereby avoiding a one-game wild card playoff — their fate will likely be determined by how well they are playing in late September and October, not by what they've accomplished during the rest of the season. In baseball — and indeed, in every American pro league — regular-season success is becoming less and less important, with any team capable of getting hot and winning it all once the postseason rolls around.
Just look at the most recent champions in the four major sports. The St. Louis Cardinals clinched the National League wild card on the final day of the season last year and entered the playoffs with the worst record of the eight playoff teams. But they upset the Phillies — who led all of baseball with 102 wins last season — as well as the Brewers and Rangers en route to a surprising World Series title.
Like the Cardinals, the New York Giants had to wait until the season's final day to clinch their spot in the NFL playoffs. They went just 9-7 in the regular season, with two losses to the lowly Redskins. But they were a different team in the playoffs, dominating the Falcons 24-2 in the wild card round before routing the seemingly invincible 15-1 Packers 37-20 on the road in the divisional round. We all know what happened from there.
The Los Angeles Kings may be one of the unlikeliest champs in any pro sport in American history, entering the playoffs as the Western Conference's eighth seed before reeling off a dominating 16-4 postseason run to win their first Stanley Cup.
And even the Miami Heat — who were one of the favorites to win the NBA title before the season began — only finished with the league's fourth-best regular-season record.
The play of the Giants and Kings, in particular, demonstrated how meaningless regular-season records truly are. New York looked like a completely different team in the postseason, and though it played close games in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, it looked downright dominant in its first two playoff games. If you asked someone who only watched the Stanley Cup playoffs who the NHL's best team was, they would say the Kings, without hesitation. Yet that team bore little resemblance to its regular-season self.
But back to baseball, since that's where this discussion started. In the wild card era (since 1995), the team with the top regular-season record has won the World Series just three times. The Phillies finished with the best record in each of the past two seasons but have no World Series appearances to show for it. Yet they did manage a title in 2008, when they finished with just the fifth-best record in the majors.
The point of all this is to show that a seven-game series is no indication of which team is truly better. It's not a huge problem as far as determining a champion is concerned — a seven-game series is fair to both sides, which is the biggest requirement of a championship event — but it's simply too small a sample size to make a judgment on who is the better team.
Adding Greinke was a great move for the Angels and will particularly hurt division rival Texas, which was looking to bolster its rotation following a spate of injuries, including the loss of Colby Lewis for the remainder of the season. It's reminiscent of when the Phillies snuck in and signed Cliff Lee prior to the 2011 season — instead of joining the Rangers, a Cy Young winner ended up with a team that already had a pair of outstanding pitchers. Of course, the Angels also employ Wilson, a former Ranger, which would make a playoff matchup between the teams a sight to see.
But despite a now dominant rotation and a lineup that boasts stars Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, it would be foolish to label the Angels as World Series favorites. Really, that title no longer exists — for any team — because who wins the World Series is so often determined by how a team plays for a two-to-three week stretch at the end of the year.
The Angels are well-positioned for a playoff run, and no team will want to face a rotation of Weaver, Wilson and Greinke in a short series. But all the Greinke trade does is preserve the Angels' status as a team capable of contending for the title if they get hot at the right time.