If you’re wondering how the AL West race might play out, the Angels have just four series and 13 games in 14 days to somehow make up three games on the Rangers. The Angels’ odds already weren’t good before the Rangers won on Wednesday night, ranging from 15 percent according to CoolStandings.com, down to around 7 percent according to Clay Davenport, and 6 percent via Baseball Prospectus.
So, Angels manager Mike Scioscia’s team needs to win at least 10 of those 13 games to have a shot at this. While he gets to lead off with Dan Haren on Friday to help make it so, just nine of those 13 games will be started by the big three of Haren, Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver. Scioscia’s already looking ahead to the final regular-season matchup against Texas and is moving Weaver up to start on three days’ rest against the Orioles on Sunday to help get Weaver in line for a last-game start against the Rangers on Sept. 28.
It’s a good idea, even if starting Weaver on short rest didn’t turn out so well last month. The problem is that it’s just one tweak to a desperate situation, when the Angels could try to squeeze at least one more start from the big three in the next two weeks. Otherwise, they are risking almost a third of their remaining schedule on the uncertain contributions of Joel Pineiro and Jerome Williams. That’s four acts of faith with a pair of erratic pitchers, or optimistically banking on an equally inconsistent offense to show up and outscore that duo four times.
How big is that risk? Using BP’s support-neutral winning percentage (SNWP) to gauge starter performance without reference to run support, the per-game difference between the big three and the little two is huge: Pineiro’s SNWP is just .446, while Williams is at .458 in his four turns; the lowest SNWP among the big three is Santana’s at .547. Between those two groups, that’s a 10 percent swing on how likely you are to win an individual game with a single nightly elective decision over who starts. If the Angels are going to make up the difference, they need to squeeze every percentage of possible advantage.
Getting Weaver lined up to start on the last day of the season is nice, but very probably irrelevant. By the time Weaver’s start on the last day of the regular season rolls around, it may not matter if Weaver makes that start, or Geoff Zahn, or Brendan Fraser for all the good it’d do the Angels, because chances are they’ll already be done. The Angels’ problems exist beyond Sunday’s game against the Orioles.
The Angels need to do more than beat Baltimore, they need to beat time, and the best way to do that will be to start their best. Scioscia could squeeze out a 10th game in 13 from his big three if he moved all of them up a day to face Toronto, their next opponent, because even if the Angels sweep the O’s, they’re sure to still be chasing the Rangers. So why risk starting both Pineiro and Williams in the first two games against a good Blue Jays ballclub?
Instead, the Angels should bring all three of the power trio forward a day, and see about starting all three on three days’ rest in Toronto. Doing that puts their best starters in six of the next seven games, and gives the Halos a small prayer of making up ground. Rather than making plans for what to do on the last day, the Angels need to be thinking about the fact that they’re about to run out of tomorrows.
If Texas keeps its lead or expands it in the next week, Scioscia can chuck this short-rest gamble. It certainly won’t matter who’s starting on the last day. But by moving everyone who matters up next week in Toronto and not just Weaver on Sunday, he could still start Santana and Weaver in the first two games against Texas on regular rest. If Haren makes the middle start against Oakland on three days’ rest, he’d also be available on the last day of the season -- again, on three days’ rest -- if the Angels are still playing for something. They can worry about that when and if they get there.
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Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.