By Chuck Richter - Angelswin.com Executive Editor
Going into the season most thought John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar would be counted on again as aces of what was to be a solid rotation, but 6 weeks into the season neither of them have thrown one pitch in big league action due to injuries.
Amazingly enough, none of the starting pitchers who were counted on to perform and tagged as Aces of the staff at one point or another in their careers, have come out of the gate strong to begin the 2008 season. Lackey has been injured so he gets a pass, but Jon Garland and Jered Weaver early on have been anything but spectacular.
Outside of two 8 inning 1 run efforts against the Twins and Orioles, Jon Garland has been hit hard thus far, posting a 5.08 ERA with a .309 BAA. His sinker isn't sinking as he's given up more fly balls than ever, while his walks to strikeout rate is at an awful 13/10 ratio. But Jon who was the ace of the White Sox staff at one point in his career isn't this bad and going forward he should anchor the back of the rotation, hopefully moved to the 5th spot after the All Star Break so he can oppose other club's 5th starters. If I'm a betting man I'd say we'll see more ground ball outs from Garland from here on out instead of the pitches he's elevated early on. He needs to realize the defense behind him in the infield and Torii in centerfield are some of the best in Baseball.
Jered Weaver dominated at Long Beach State, made minor league hitters look silly and after his big league promotion dominated in '06 after replacing his brother in the rotation, Jered in '08 has been more Jeff-like early on. Jered is 2-5 with a 5.59 ERA through 8 starts and has given up more hits (55) than innings pitched (46 2/3). Weaver does have 4 quality starts out of 8 however and for Jered it's all about location and right now he's not hitting his spots. Jered is not this bad and should post totals similar to his 2007 totals.
John Lackey who led the American League last season in ERA (3.01) going 19-9, came up with a triceps injury in Spring Training that derailed this Texan's locomotive from going full steam ahead into the 2008 regular season. The plan is for Lackey to stretch out to approximately 80 pitches, then make his season debut in the Angels' rotation Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox. The Angels will welcome back their ACE of the staff with open arms as he replaces an unproductive Dustin Moseley and the unpolished Nick Adenhart who filled in for him while he was out.
The Angels have had some good stories so far this season. The solid 22-14 start, Torii Hunter's contributions, the defensive gems at SS from Erick Aybar, the home run power the club has displayed early on, and Francisco Rodriguez league lead in saves with 14, to name a few.
But no, it is none of those. The headline story has been the Santana - Saunders 1-2 punch in the rotation. Both hurlers have gone 6-0 to start the season, posting sparkling ERA's and giving the Angels a boost in what was their main flaw heading into the season according to the pundits.
Santana currently sports a 2.02 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP and has walked just in 9 in 49 innings, fanning 38 batters. Opposing batters are hitting just .193 off him. The reason for Ervin's success is quite simple as he's always had the stuff. He's locating his 93-98 MPH fastball, incorporating the use of his secondary pitches more (above average slider & changeup) and he's driving towards the plate more, a simple mechanical flaw that Butcher worked out with him in the offseason which also saw him accomplish positive results in winter ball.
No longer is pitching on the road a burden for Ervin. He's a man on a mission that intimidates the opposition no matter where the ball game is played. What we're seeing from Ervin is what you see from a #1 starter and ace of ones rotation. He has shown that he can dominate a good offense.
Joe Saunders has been the other bright spot. The former #1 pick of the Angels in the 2002 amateur draft, has paid 1st round dividends. Joe like Ervin has gone 6-0 and has posted a 2.61 ERA. Saunders has done a great job moving the ball around the strike zone, giving opposing hitters fits. The southpaw from VT looks poised for a great season and one that the Angels needed from both him and Santana.
The job has been given and the contracts have been signed. Five adorned in red, equipped and armed differently, yet extremely talented to get the job done and shut down the opposition. These Smoking Aces will rise to the challenge and help the Angels make it to the top and accomplish the task at hand. A task that should be completed and celebrated in late October.