99.7% and 97.3%.
Those are the current odds of the Angels reaching the post-season according to Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs, respectively, as of this morning. That would be the morning after Garrett Richards’ season presumably came to an early and agonizing end. Now take a deep breath or two and let that sink in.
The Angels are going to be OK. They can survive without Garrett Richards. It will take a disaster (well, another disaster) for them to not qualify for the playoffs.
Losing Garrett Richards both sucks and blows at the same time, but it isn’t a deathstroke to the Angels season. With a 1.5 game lead on the A’s and a 6.5 game lead on the two teams tied for the final Wild Card spot, the Angels have a very nice cushion in the playoff hunt. What they really lost in Richards is just six starts. Framed that way, it doesn’t seem all that bad does it?
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that their degree of difficulty to actually make some noise once they reach the post-season just went way, way up. When it comes to securing one of those three available playoff slots, those six lost starts are a small hindrance. But when it comes to winning the AL West and avoiding the coin-flip Wild Card game, the difference could be huge.
That game is chancy enough as it is, but it is much more chancy when a team can’t roll out their best pitcher against the other teams’ best pitcher. Weaver vs. Felix? vs. Price? vs. Lester? vs. Shields? vs. Scherzer? CAN I HAZ ALL DA NOPE?
That looks even worse once you start picturing match-ups in the ALDS and ALCS as the rotations get deeper. The Angels, unfortunately, probably have the weakest rotation of all the possible playoff teams in the AL now. That isn’t necessarily the final nail in their coffin. As you surely all recall, the Appier-Washburn-Lackey-Ortiz rotation in 2002 didn’t exactly have people shaking in their boots. What won the World Series for the Halos that year was their high-powered offense, quality defense and deep bullpen. It just so happens that the Angels have those three things again this year. Lucky them!
Still, having an actual ace (sorry, Jered) in the post-season would be great. It isn’t going to happen though. There is no such pitcher on the market. A more realistic goal would be to target a reliable veteran to take Richards’ remaining six starts to marginally increase the odds that the Halos win the division.
Nothing against Wade LeBlanc, Randy Wolf and Michael Roth, but they can’t be counted on. They could very well fake it for six starts and the Angels will be just fine, but they could just as well get firebombed for the rest of the season and watch their division crown aspirations go up in smoke. That latter part is something the Angels should look to avoid. That won’t be easy though.
By virtue of them having the best record in baseball, they are now last in line to put in waiver claims to make a trade. That means the A’s and others can block any pitcher that hasn’t already cleared waivers from getting to the Angels if they are so inclined. A guy like Jorge De La Rosa would be a perfect fit for the Angels, but Billy Beane is too smart to just let him fall into the Halos’ hands. That leaves the Angels left to choose from guys who have already cleared waivers and guys who have contracts so onerous that teams would be too scared to claim them.
From the unclaimed bunch, the only known pitcher worth pursuing is Jon Niese. He’d actually be a tremendous addition, but he is also going to cost an arm and a leg in terms of prospects, a price the Halos may not be able to afford. Then again, they may not be able to afford the guys with bad contracts either. John Danks and his bloated contract should sail through waivers, but would severely impact what the Angels would do in 2015 and 2016 when he’ll be making $14.25 million per year. Plus, he sucks.
That’s really about it. There isn’t a whole lot in between those two on the spectrum. Maybe the A’s let Bartolo Colon through waivers, but more than likely they don’t. That whole series of waiver wire gymnastics may prove to not be worth the effort for Jerry Dipoto. In all likelihood, whoever they might acquire (if anyone) would also be the guy getting booted to the bullpen when the playoffs do start. As such, giving up real assets for what amounts to six starts may not be worth the possible upgrade over whatever the Angels can get from their minor league teams.
One idea I’d love to see them consider is going with a tandem starter in Richards’ slot once the rosters expand in September. Having some pairing of LeBlanc, Wolf, Roth, Rucinski, Clay or Grube to pitch three or four innings each would mitigate their exposure to the time through the order penalty but also not egregiously tax the bullpen either. It isn’t an arrangement that would work for a full season, but for a handful of starts in September when you can carry an expanded pitching staff, it is worth a shot.
If none of these possibilities inspire you, well, they shouldn’t. There is no easy way to lose a #1 starter for the season and carry on as if it is no big deal. At least take solace in the fact that the odds still strongly favor the Angels ending the playoff drought. As for the World Series hopes, the best thing you can hope for is that the post-season is unpredictable.