Starting Depth Still Question Mark as Bullpen Fuels Angels’ Drive

Angels’ hitters gave C.J. Wilson an early three-run lead last night in the first game of the latest showdown with the baseball’s world second best team, the Oakland A’s, but Wilson could not hold the lead, and after 5-2/3 innings, the game was tied at three apiece. In stepped the Angels’ bullpen, which has undergone a once-in-a-lifetime mid-season rebuild, turning an arson squad into now maybe the single biggest strength of the team. Five relievers combined to pitch 4-1/3 hitless innings, holding the powerful A’s scoreless through the tenth inning, until a Howie Kendrick sacrifice fly pushed a run across in the bottom of the tenth, for a 4-3 Angels’ win, extending their lead over Oakland to two games. The Angels are also the first team to reach 80 wins on the season.

The final inning was pitched by winning pitcher Fernando Salas, who upped his record to 5-0. By setting down the A's one-two-three in the top of the tenth, Salas has now retired 38 of the last 41 batters he has faced, and he has had a near-perfect month of August, pitching 14 innings while allowing no runs, four hits, and no walks, while striking out 18. And he is listed as the number four guy on the team's depth chart of set-up guys for closer Huston Street.
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Needing to gush over the bullpen does not, however, diminish the fact that the Angels’ offense has also been a significant factor in the team’s recent drive to the top of the American League West. Guys like Kendrick, David Freese, Erick Aybar, and even the recently acquired Gordon Beckham, have made big contributions, but the play of leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun and the recently consistent power and run production provided by the big three of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton cannot be minimized.

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Trout's recent slump is hopefully now a thing of the past, Pujols continues to show he's over last year's injuries and is again a hitter that no pitcher wants to face with a game on the line, and Mike Scioscia's public criticism of Hamilton has lit a fire under him that has produced more in the past few days than over the prior few weeks.

But, if the Angels are to stay atop the West, they need more from the starting rotation. Wilson needs to give the team a reliable big three, and that empty fifth spot needs to be filled, hopefully with a pitcher who not only can solidify the rotation for the final month of the regular season, but with someone who, if needed, can also be counted on for a solid performance in a playoff game.

Bartolo Colon, where are you?

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