Setting the LA Angels' Playoff Pitchers: Who Should Stay, Who Should Go?

Johnathan KronckeCorrespondent ISeptember 13, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 10:  Brian Fuentes #40 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ninth inning at Angel Stadium on August 10, 2009 in Anaheim, California. The Angels defeated the Rays 8-7.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

For years, the pitching staff of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was an embarrassment of riches.

The starting rotation and bullpen rosters over the last decade have read more like the baseball equivalent of a Forbes Fortune 500 list, with names like Bartolo Colon, Francisco Rodriguez, and a healthy Kelvim Escobar throwing hostile takeovers from the mound each night.

That was then.

This year, the Angels' staff has turned into a derelict group of recession-stricken CEOs in front of Congress asking, in truest Oliver Twist fashion, “Please sir, we'd like some more.”

More experienced arms, more reliability, more confidence turning over leads late in games.

They begged and hoped and prayed all year for some form of federal mound bailout.

Then Scott Kazmir arrived.

Like an AIG golden parachute, Kazmir unfurled his pitching arm just in time to save the Angels and help guide them safely back to the postseason.

True, he has yet to record a win for the Halos, but that is hardly his fault. 

In two starts as an Angel—both of which came against the Seattle Mariners—the strike-throwing lefty pitched into the seventh inning, giving up just three hits and one earned run in each outing. 

And it's not just Kazmir who is getting the job done on the mound. Since his arrival, the rest of the Angels' pitchers—both starters and relievers—have stepped up their games as well.

The Angels have given up five or more runs just five times in the last three weeks, and lost only four of those contests.

As the bats have finally quieted down, the arms are just starting to heat up.

All of this has lead, inexorably, to one question: With so many pitchers throwing so well, who will and who will go when playoff time rolls around?

The tenant “all things in moderation” is key to life. Don't go too overboard in either direction of any situation and you'll be fine. 

But baseball is not quite a perfect reflection of life, and in the game it is far better to have too much than too little.

This year, after an endless summer spent in the poor house, the Angels are finally rich once more in pitching depth. Now, it's time to put that wealth to good use and gear up for the postseason.

For starters, let's take a look at the starters.

Barring any serious physical setbacks, or a meteor crashing through the team bus, the top three spots in the Angels' starting rotation appear to be set. 

Kazmir, John Lackey, and Jered Weaver have all excelled on the mound down the stretch, and manager Mike Scioscia is likely to hand the ball to them on a nightly basis in the playoffs.

Now, in a best-of-five series like the first round, teams really don't need more than three starters. 

The series is short enough and the games are spaced far enough apart that you can run your best arms out there much more often than the other rounds.

With the top three spots locked up, No. 4 and 5 starters Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders would be moved to the bullpen and used as long relievers, along with rookie Matt Palmer, who's been lights-out since being taken out of the starting rotation.

However, the relative ease of choosing the starters ends at the first round.

Should the Angels advance to the American League Championship Series, they will face a bit of a conundrum.

A best-of-seven battle for the pennant, the ALCS requires at least four different starters to take the mound. That means Scioscia will be forced to choose between Santana and Saunders, and that is no easy feat.

Both have had extended periods of shaky play this season, both spent time on the 15-day Disabled List, and both have bounced back to their previous All-Star forms over the last few weeks.

Aside from the fact that one is a lefty and one is a righty, not much separates the two.

Fortunately, there is no more sound-minded skipper than Scioscia, and he will likely use their final few regular season starts to audition Santana and Saunders for his playoff roster.

The same process will likely be repeated for that schizophrenic bunch who make up the so-called “relievers.”

An unreliable and often inconsistent group for most of the season, the bullpen has started to come around over the last few weeks, and guys like Jason Bulger, Kevin Jepsen, and Darren Oliver seem to have finally gotten their heads—and their arms—on straight as they approach the postseason.

However, there are still question marks that surround two potential 'pen performers, and they have nothing to do with which starter will be forced out of the rotation.

The first is Jose Arredondo.

After his stunning Major League debut last season, in which he went 10-2 with a 1.62 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP in 61 innings, Arredondo struggled mightily in the early part of this season and was sent back to the minors to work out his mechanics.

He did well at Triple-A Salt Lake and was eventually recalled after posting a 2.18 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 20-2/3 innings. 

But since his return, Arredondo hasn't shown a great deal of improvement at the Major League level, giving up 12 earned runs, including five long balls, across 13 appearances.

Scioscia appears to want the young fireballer on his postseason squad though, but his place in the playoffs is far from set. If he still wants a job when the regular season is over, Arredondo will have to earn it down the stretch.

The second question mark for the bullpen in October has to be closer Brian Fuentes.

It's hard to believe a guy who has racked up 40 saves might be moved from that role come playoff time. But then, that's just the kind of season Fuentes has had.

He's been up and down, good and bad all year long. He had a miserable first month of the season, finishing April with a cringe-worthy 7.88 ERA.

But, to his credit, Fuentes appeared to turn things around and headed into July with the Major League lead in saves. He was even picked to join the All-Star team, an unimaginable accomplishment just two months prior.

Since the break, however, Fuentes has been nothing short of lackluster. Every time he looks like he's going good, he gives up a game-tying lead-off home run to Mike Sweeney.

Yes, I was at that game on Tuesday, and I was none too happy.

Scioscia will assuredly include Fuentes in his playoff plans, but what role he occupies should still be taken into consideration, instead of being decided by the job title he was hired to fill.

Using a closer just simply because he's your closer is foolish at best and dangerous at worst, and Scioscia is too postseason savvy to fall into that trap.

Success in the playoffs, as he well knows, is built on flexibility. With their new found wealth of reliable arms on the mound, the Angels finally have the room to be flexible come October.

But they must put that wealth to good use, lest they familiarize themselves with another tenant of life: A fool and his money (or in this case, his World Series trophy) are soon parted.


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