They would never admit it publicly, but you have to know Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane and manager Bob Melvin aren't bothered at all to see the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim hanging around in the American League West race.
The A's take the major league's best record 59-36 but just a 1 1/2-game lead in the West into the All-Star break. The competitive nature of the latter belies the common belief that the A's, bolstered by the acquisition of front-line pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs, already are setting their postseason rotation for the inevitable rematch with the Detroit Tigers.
Beane and Melvin went out of their way in the wake of the July 5 blockbuster to insist the A's have a lot of work to do over the final 10 1/2 weeks of the season just to qualify for the playoffs.
"The narrative that this was a postseason move," Beane claimed, "was a bit presumptuous."
A pitcher might be the driving force for the A's in the second half. But it won't be Samardzija or Hammel. Or even Sonny Gray or Scott Kazmir.
It's Felix Hernandez.
You see, if the Angels win the West ahead of the A's, relegating Oakland to the wild-card game, it's quite possible it would run into Seattle Mariners ace Hernandez in that loser-is-done, wild-card contest. With 18 career wins against the A's, one as recently as Friday night, that's an even scarier vision for Oakland than possibly seeing Justin Verlander again in October.
So when Beane insists the big trade was made with the regular season in mind, it's easy to see why. For a while there, he was watching a team with Jesse Chavez, Tommy Milone and Brad Mills composing a majority of his rotation attempting to hold off the red-hot Angels.
Now most teams will see some combination of Gray, Samardzija, Kazmir and Hammel coming at them in a three-game series. To say nothing of Coco Crisp, Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson.
Bring on the Tigers. Anybody but Hernandez.