Saxon: Angels rely on top-3 starters

Our buddy Mark Saxon at ESPNLosAngeles.com wrote a piece on how the Angels hope they can somehow catch the Rangers behind critical starts from Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana and Dan Haren.

Part of Saxon's story:

"So much goes into the end of the year, whether it's adrenaline or these guys making pitches with cobwebs and dust," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "They may not have as much gas in their tank, but they're still making pitches and getting outs."

Only Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez have thrown more pitches in the majors this season than Haren. Weaver also is in the top five and Santana is 13th. Each of the Angels' big three has seen his effectiveness wane to some degree in recent starts. Weaver and Santana haven't been quite as sharp since they went on three days' rest two weekends ago in Texas.

Weaver has had trouble throwing his dominant slider lately. Haren barely touched 90 mph in his most recent start.

"Obviously, my stuff hasn't been as sharp in the last couple games as it has been," Weaver said. "Maybe there was a little wall that I hit, but physically I feel fine. I don't know if it's one of those dead arm-type things. I think my body is kind of telling me that I've thrown a lot of pitches, but it's nothing that noticeable."

While Scioscia appears intent on riding his three horses either into the ground or into October, the Rangers' Ron Washington is laying off the whip.

The Angels might take advantage of off days to use their three best starters in as many as 14 of their final 19 games. You can't blame Scioscia. Clearly, that's what has gotten him here. His bullpen is unreliable, his offense hit-or-miss. In games started by Weaver, Haren or Santana, the Angels are 53-36. In games started by anyone else, they're 25-29.

It's going to be interesting to see how starting on three days' rest for the Rangers series impacts Weaver and Santana. This is when you discover if that had any lasting effects. I still believe the Rangers approach is the right one: Give the young starters some time off when you can and ride C.J. Wilson every five days. I also think the Angels have little choice but to try to ride the top-3.

We'll see which team can get to the finish line. It's still a lot more difficult being the team chasing as time runs out. The Rangers just have to win series, the Angels have to play very good baseball the final three weeks and get some help. But their pitching staff should allow them to give the Rangers all they want down the stretch.