That stench you smelled across the country after Ervin Santana finished his no-hitter was the the collective group of would-be MLB contenders soiling their pants at the thought of having to face this Angels rotation at some point in the post-season.
Already armed with arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now, Jered Weaver, and the most underrated but almost as dominant ace in baseball, Dan Haren, the Halos were already formidable foes in a best-of-five series, but now add Ervin Santana at the top of his game to those two and the Angels should be striking bowel-evacuating fear into the hearts of any opposing team that dare stand in their way.
As we saw with the Giants last year, a team with similar offensive concerns to the Angels, if you have strong pitching and your underwhelming lineup can heat up at the right time, you can go a long, long way in the playoffs. That is a mold the Halos have been looking to fill all season long, but they didn’t fit in perfectly until Santana’s very public emergence as a force to be reckoned with. It wasn’t like folks didn’t know about Ervin Santana beforehand, after all, he is a former All-Star. But they haven’t seen much of that All-Star caliber Santana since 2008. Nagging arm problems have robbed him of some of his fastball’s velocity and some of his wicked slider’s bite, which led to his abysmal 2009 campaign and his pedestrian (outside of his win total) 2010 season.
What many haven’t noticed is that in 2011, Santana is creeping closer and closer to replicating the magic he had in 2008. His 1.16 WHIP is his second-best mark to date, his K/9 and BB/9 rates are both his best since 2008 and improvements over his career rates. Better yet, his 3.47 ERA is right on par with his xFIP of 3.58, suggesting that he isn’t just getting by on strokes of luck. No, as we alll saw in his brilliant performance yesterday, that once dominant stuff he possessed in his early career is still very much alive and kicking in his right arm, even if it doesn’t show up quite as often and that is why AL contenders should be crossing their fingers that they don’t draw the Angels in the playoffs.
Would you really want to face Weaver, Haren and Santana four times in a five-game series or six times in a seven-game series? Yeah, neither would I. Give me CC Sabathia, underachieving AJ Burnett, broken down Phil Hughes and the veteran pitcher recycling bin of the Yankees any day. With the emergence of Alexi Ogando, the Ranger rotation is solid, but after Wilson and Ogando, the starters are good, but not imposing. The Tigers are scary at first, but that quickly fades once you realize that Justin Verlander can’t pitch everyday. Boston might be the one AL contender with a comparable rotation, but that is only if Clay Buchholz is able to regain his health. All of these teams have better lineups than the Angels, but as they say, good pitching beats good hitting in the playoffs and the Angels have more than their fair share of good, nee, great pitching.
Oddly enough, some aren’t even totally sure that the Halos are “real” contenders at this stage of the season. The Angels are just two games out of the division lead, but those questions about their ability to score runs and there are more than minor concerns about the middle relief. I can’t object to any of those objections, but the fact remains that the Angels don’t look like they are going away anytime soon and I am pretty sure that makes all the true contenders a bit uncomfortable. Some of these doubts about the Angels odds of actually having enough talent to win the division even reside in the hearts and minds of Angel fans themselves, leading them to believe the proper course of action for the franchise is to stand pat at the deadline and maybe sell off a veteran spare part or two in order to focus on loading up for a more serious run in 2012.
To that I say, “silly rabbits.”
I’m not going to sit here and tell you the Angels can definitely hit enough to overtake the Rangers, but I will tell you that it is worth the risk for the Angels to swing for the fences and do whatever they can to get to the post-season because of the damage they could do once they get there. As we saw with the Giants last year, a team with a strong and deep rotation but a meager offense, you just need your bats to get hot enough and the starting pitching can do the rest. Are the 2011 Angels as good as the 2010 Giants? Maybe, maybe not, but the parallels are certainly there.
Jered Weaver is Tim Lincecum. Dan Haren is Matt Cain. And the question mark before the season, Ervin Santana is, hmmm, who could he be? If only the Giants had an inconsistent and enigmatic starting pitcher who didn’t always live up to his talent level? If only they had a guy on their staff who wasn’t always great, but sometimes is so dominant that he could throw a no-hitter just like Santana did?
Oh, right, they do, Jonathan Sanchez. To be fair, Sanchez tossed a perfect game, but I think you get my point.
As much as you think the Halos might need another big bat to push them over the top, they don’t, because Santana pushed them there already as of yesterday. The no-hitter was just one game, but Santana was already showing how good he was the last few weeks, having not allowed more than three runs in any of his last eight outings. The no-hitter was his coup de grace and a pronouncement to the rest of the league that the Angels possess the requisite trio of aces that can not only get them back into the post-season, but maybe even get them another World Series title.