Pitching Match-ups Key to Angels’ Division Series Fate

As the Angels prepare to open their American League Division Series against Kansas City, they have gotten a lot of good news, but manager Mike Scioscia, one of the very best at his job in all of baseball, is going back on some of the earlier decisions he made, and it looks from here that that is a mistake.

First, the good news: For whatever misguided reason, Royals’ manager Ned Yost has decided to go with former Angels’ starter Jason Vargas as his opening game pitcher. In the first year of a multi-year deal paying him $7 Million this season, Vargas started the year well, but faltered badly down the stretch, going 1-3 with a 6.57 ERA for September. Worse, over his last four starts and 18 innings, he allowed 18 runs, which translates, of course, to an ERA of an even 9.00. He also lost five of his last six decisions. But, hey , we saw what Edinson Volquez did yesterday, and he had a super hot September, and history shows that such numbers, good or bad, no not automatically carry over into the post season.

The other good news is the report that Matt Shoemaker is totally healthy, and ready to go. But, that leads to bad decision number one on Scioscia's part, that he has changed his original plan and will now start Shoemaker in game two at home, moving C.J. Wilson back to game three, in KC. While you certainly, all else being even, would want your clear number one and number two pitchers opening a playoff series, and having Jered Weaver and Shoemaker one-two will help
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get the Angels off to a fast start, you have to look beyond that. And the “beyond that” is the fact that C.J. Wilson is clearly two different pitchers, as I have discussed before: Wilson is 9-2 with a 3.82 ERA at home, but only 4-8 with a terrible 5.31 ERA on the road. You definitely want Wilson pitching at home and NOT in Kansas City.

And this gets to the second bad decision that Scioscia seems to be leaning towards, and that going with a three-man starting rotation, bringing Weaver back on three days rest, and then presumably the same with Shoemaker, if the series goes the full five games.

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A year ago at this time, I wrote a lot about the horrible decision that don mattingly made in doing the same with Clayton Kershaw, and he was young and healthy at the time. Well, Shoemaker is coming off arm pain and late season time off, and Weaver, at 31 and having pitched the most innings he has thrown in three years after two injury shortened or interrupted seasons, is not the
invincible powerhouse one would assume he is from his size and build.

And, it is not like the team does not have other options. Hector Santiago is a viable fourth starter, and he finished the regular season off strong, keeping Oakland and Seattle scoreless over 7-1/3 innings in his last two appearances. But, the “Starter by Bullpen” fifth spot, with Cory Rasmus starting and then a parade of relievers, has worked pretty well, and that would be my choice for game four, especially if both Weaver and Shoemaker can each go seven innings, preserving arms in the bullpen for games three and four. After the three starters, the Angels have nine arms in the pen, and that strength needs to be exploited to the fullest extent possible.

Finally, Yost has also now named Yordano Ventura his game two stater, over ten-year veteran Jeremy Guthrie who last pitched on Friday. The young righty Ventura had an excellent rookie season, going 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA, but he was hit hard in his last start on Sunday, and then again when he was brought in in relief in the wild card playoff against Oakland. This could just be good news item number three for Scioscia and the Angels.

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