Not so long ago it seemed like the Angels were going to have a hard time finding a reliable second and third starter for their playoff rotation, but my how things have changed lately. Now the question isn’t who is good enough to start in the post-season for the Angels, but which of their five excellent starters is going to get the shaft?
No, not that kind of shaft.
The first two members of the playoff rotation are pretty obvious. We all know that John Lackey has the top spot in the playoff rotation locked down. He is far and away the Angels best pitcher and the unquestioned locker room leader of the pitching staff. Even if he sucks hard the rest of the season, he’ll still almost certainly be the Angels Game 1 starter. But Jered Weaver isn’t far behind Lackey in terms of production. Though Weaver has had an up-and-down season, it has been mostly up, especially of late. He’s generating more strikeouts and going deeper into ball games than in seasons past, a very important factor considering the lack of depth in the Angel bullpen. He is also one of the few Angel starters with a decent track record against the Red Sox, which should assure him of being the second man up in the ALDS rotation.
The third starter spot used to be considered the weak link in the Angels’ quest for a title, but now the Angels went from having no good options to three strong ones. Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana all have legitimate claims to the job, but the obvious answer has to be Kazmir. Though some loyal Angel fans might prefer to see Mike Scioscia call on the homegrown talent of Saunders or Santana, this is what Kazmir was acquired for. He has the exact kind of power arm that plays so well in the post-season. He also has great career numbers versus the Red Sox (3.59 ERA) and Yankees (2.53 ERA). Really you can’t ask for much more. Besides, the Angels didn’t trade one of their top prospects and lock themselves into paying so much for Kazmir in the next few years so that he could work in long relief during the post-season.
Who will be the fourth playoff starter?
That leaves Saunders and Santana locked into a game of musical chairs for the fourth starter spot in the post-season, assuming one is even needed, depending on how the off days are scheduled. Saunders has been the most dominant starter of the two recently, but there is real concern that his high contact rate will lead to a post-season disaster against the potent line-ups. Those concerns appear to be unfounded though after Saundo dominated the Yankees last night. On the other hand, Santana has been a solid performer of late as well and his electric stuff portends to make him a more reliable option in the playoffs.
What it ultimately might boil down to is match-ups. Voodoo has ERAs north of 5.00 against both the Yankees and Red Sox on his career whereas Saunders is 4-1 with a 3.41 ERA against Boston, although his ERA versus the Yankees is 6.28 even after his strong outing on Monday. Both New York and Boston feature left-hand heavy line-ups, which plays right into the hands of Saunders. So even though Santana might be the more talented pitcher, Saunders has the match-ups strongly in his favor. There is also the added bonus that Ervin’s stuff would play very well out of the bullpen and Saunders less so. Nor can the Angels ignore the fact that Saunders just somehow wins games. He is having a fairly bad season by all measures, yet somehow he is 14-7 while Santana has been only moderately worse and is saddled with a losing record (7-8). The more I think about it, the easier the decision seems to be. Sorry, Ervin.
Whoever Mike Scioscia ultimately chooses to leave out of the playoff rotation, and possibly off the post-season roster altogether, is bound to be pretty pissed. But these are the kind of problems you have when you have too much good pitching. Since good pitching almost always beats good hitting in the playoffs, it is a very nice problem to have.