In a three game weekend, they played 37 innings, scored 11 runs, allowed 10, used 16 relievers, and when the Mariners finally left Anaheim the Angels still trailed the Oakland Athletics by a game-and-a-half with the second best record and run differential in the majors and a reminder verbalized by Jerry Dipoto “that no one wants to play Seattle in a one game play-in. Not with either King Felix (Hernandez) or (Hisashi) Iwakuma and that bullpen.”
Which is why, like Billy Beane, Dipoto decided not to wait until the trade deadline’s midnight hour to finish the rebuilding of his bullpen when he traded shortstop Jose Rondon—whom the Angels considered their best non-pitching prospect (his growth and power prospectus was summarized by the fact that he’s a shortstop with a size 12 shoe)—and three other minor leaguers to the Padres for Huston Street. “Finishing first is now a huge priority,” says the Angels GM. “Unlike the former system, the road for not finishing first and getting into the one game elimination as a wild card is extremely difficult.”
Street is very good, very reliable. When he was drafted by the Athletics out of the University of Texas, he was a power slider/slider/fastball pitcher who is such an extraordinary athlete that he continually reinvents himself, changing speeds, altering his breaking balls, now developing a very effective changeup and, most of all, always throwing strikes without a quickened heartbeat. “Reliable and calm” is what Dipoto calls him. His numbers between San Diego and one outing with the Angels is a 2.22 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 49-8 strikeout-walk ratio in 44 2/3 innings.
Before Koji Uehara moved into the Boston closer position last season, John Farrell was asked what he looks for in his backend reliever. “Strikes,” Farrell answered, adding the element of being anxiety-free. That is the model of the reconstruction in Anaheim. “We used to be a bullpen built on power arms and sometimes some high wire acts,” says Dipoto. “A lot of 96’s with limited command.” Last winter, he signed Joe Smith as a free agent. He brought up Mike Morin. He traded Ernesto Frieri for Jason Grilli. He traded for Joe Thatcher. And the relievers he added have thrown 92 2/3 innings, allowed 20 runs, walked 22 and struck out 90. Point made.
Garrett Richards has clearly emerged as a premium starter to go with Jered Weaver. They hope to get C.J. Wilson back from his ankle injury soon. Matt Shoemaker and Tyler Skaggs backend the rotation, which is fourth in the American League behind the Athletics, Red Sox and Royals in quality starts and fourth in the American League behind the Athletics, Mariners and Rays in starters’ earned run average. Behind the Athletics is the constant, which is why getting this trade done with nearly two weeks before the deadline was so important, just as why it was so important that Billy Beane made his deal for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel as early as he did.
Oakland is still in the market for a second baseman. Seattle has been shopping for a bat, dabbling in the David Price pool. But with Hernandez and Iwakuma, one GM Sunday said “one big factor for them is that the last six to eight weeks they’ll not only have Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, but those two, young power pitchers will be fresh and won’t have any innings restrictions come September. They probably don’t need to make the big pitching deal to be really dangerous right down to the end of the season.”
The Angels lead the league in runs and are second in OPS behind the Tigers. They have the best player in Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are big threats and David Freese has a .777 OPS and .293 average since April 27. Oakland is out in front, but only by a length, a length that could well determine who has to go through the play-in game with Seattle before starting the Division Series on the road.
“Street is calm, he is comfortable in the role at the end of games,” says Dipoto. After two wins in three games over 37 innings in which they outscored those Mariners by one run, the Angels will need all the calm and comfort they can find between Friday’s trade and the Sept. 28 regular season finale.