Two of the American League's best teams will face off in Anaheim on Friday night in a possible postseason preview, with both depending on young left-handers who likely wouldn't be in their respective squad's postseason rotation if the playoffs began today.
Nevertheless, both Tyler Skaggs and Drew Smyly have flashed the talent this year that previously made them high draft picks.
The Tigers' Smyly comes into the matchup with better results as of late, as he no-hit Cleveland for 4 2/3 innings in his last outing en route to seven innings of one-run ball.
Los Angeles should present a much harder challenge for Smyly, though, as right-handed hitters have given him trouble this year in batting for a combined line of .307/.369/.525. The Angels, of course, possess two of the best right-handed sluggers in baseball in Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. In Smyly's only start against the Halos this year, he lasted just three innings and gave up six hits and four runs on April 18.
On Sunday against Cleveland, however, Smyly's breaking ball flummoxed the Indians' batters for most of the afternoon, no matter what side of the plate they hit from. The contact he did allow generally wasn't solid.
"I don't think it's anything different," Smyly said. "I just think it's executing pitches. It's still the same pitches. I have to go out there and execute my game plan."
Skaggs, meanwhile, fell victim to two bad innings in his last start against Seattle, as the Mariners scored a combined five runs in the first and seventh. In the five innings in between, however, Skaggs faced the minimum 15 batters and only one registered a hit.
"I think I just turned it up a notch because I was kind of [ticked] off that I just gave up three runs in the first inning," Skaggs said. "I think I need to start going out there with that attitude."
He'll be supported by one of MLB's best offenses, though it hasn't performed that way since the All-Star break. In the last six games before the series, the Angels hit just .225 (57-for-253), scored 21 runs and batted .188 with runners in scoring position.
Tigers: Soria slotted into seventh-inning role
In being dealt from the Rangers to the Tigers, Joakim Soria was traded from the last-place team in the AL West to the leaders of the AL Central, which the Tigers have finished atop three years running.
But as a byproduct of making that desirable move, Soria will be seeing far fewer appearances in the last two innings of games.
The Tigers have indicated that their plan is for Soria to pitch the seventh inning when the team's bullpen is at full strength, only filling in during the eighth or ninth innings on days when Joba Chamberlain or Joe Nathan are unavailable.
But the former Rangers and Royals closer doesn't mind pitching in the seventh as long as he's contributing to wins in some manner.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make this team win the most games it can," Soria said. "I'm able to whatever they want me to do. My goal is to win the World Series."
Angels: Tough stretch continues
Having already faced Seattle and Baltimore to begin the second half, the Angels are taking on another postseason contender in Detroit. All three teams would make the playoffs if the season ended today.
Thursday's series opener with the Tigers was the first of 14 games for the Angels against teams that have a combined 216-187 (.536) record. After concluding their series with the AL Central leaders, the Halos travel to Baltimore and Tampa Bay before returning to Southern California to take on the Dodgers.
"I don't think there's any such thing as a soft part of your schedule or tough part of your schedule," Scioscia said. "These games are all tough. The fact that we're playing a team in first place in their division, I don't think it changes what we need to do on the field."
• The Angels and Tigers each rank in the top three in the AL in runs, total bases, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and extra-base hits.
Will Laws is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.