Relaxed Angels beat Texas, 8-5, but playoff roster decisions loom

Written By kolimtiga on Minggu, 21 September 2014 | 12.56

The Angels couldn't ask for much more in September, and they know it.

Before an 8-5 win over the Texas Rangers on Saturday, the players lounged in the clubhouse and luxuriated in the position they have put themselves in. Instead of worrying about a pennant race, they could discuss the college football games or gather around Mike Trout to watch him play a video game.

The team owns the West, the best record in baseball and a 21/2-game lead over Baltimore for home-field advantage in the playoffs.

And, for now, they get to keep a 40-man roster.

If only they could keep that luxury into October.

On Saturday, Jered Weaver turned in another ace-like outing, throwing seven innings, striking out seven and allowing two runs. Home runs by Trout, Albert Pujols and David Freese gave him a comfortable lead.

But from here on out, Weaver is the rotation's only sure thing. And the lack of rotation options could tax the bullpen and limit space on the postseason roster.

Playoff teams typically take four starters and six relievers for a total of 10 pitchers. The Angels could be forced to take 11 or 12, though Manager Mike Scioscia wouldn't commit to a figure

"We're continuing to evaluate stuff this week," he said. "We're going to take it one outing at a time, one day at a time, see where our roster is shaping up and what we need to do to hopefully give us the best look to have depth in that division series."

Taking the typical number of relievers would pose a difficult choice. Kevin Jepsen, Jason Grilli, Joe Smith and closer Houston Street have been reliably excellent and should be safe. Given the uncertainty of the rotation, long reliever Cory Rasmus probably will get a spot.

But that would leave one spot for pitchers such as Mike Morin and Fernando Salas, both major cogs, or Wade LeBlanc and Joe Thatcher.

Thatcher and LeBlanc are the only left-handers in the bullpen, and the Angels could face lefty hitters such as Robinson Cano of Seattle, Norichika Aoki and Alex Gordon of Kansas City or Adam Dunn of Oakland.

General Manager Jerry Dipoto traded for Thatcher in July to neutralize those types of players, but Thatcher has been hobbled with a sprained left ankle. He has returned but says the ankle is not at full strength.

"It's as good as it's going to be for the rest of the year," Thatcher said.

Rasmus will get the start Sunday with a limited pitch count. He hasn't thrown more than 51 pitches in an appearance this year, meaning he wouldn't be an ideal option as an emergency starter in the playoffs.

"We can say, 'Cory go out there and throw 80 pitches,' and he's gassed after 45, what do you do?" Scioscia said. "I think if he had prepared in spring for it as a starter, you might be looking at a guy that would be a solid 90 pitches now. But that's not what happened."

If the Angels do take the extra bullpen arms, that would mean trimming the bench to as few as four position players.

Hank Conger and Collin Cowgill should be safe. But C.J. Cron is eight for his last 25 with two home runs. Does he make the cut over Brennan Boesch or Efren Navarro? John McDonald has served as the backup infielder for much of the year. Will the Angels prefer Gordon Beckham's bat?

"Who doesn't want to be on a playoff roster?" McDonald said. "But it's not up to me to decide."

The calculus would change if Josh Hamilton is not able to return to the lineup in time. Hamilton, who has experienced pains in his rib cage, said Saturday he received five nerve-block shots in his back and two more injections in his chest.

"Whatever it takes to get well enough to get back and play three or four games before the playoffs," Hamilton said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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