With a comfortable lead atop the AL West, one of the few questions the major league-leading Los Angeles Angels may face for the remainder of the regular season is how to line up their talented rotation for the playoffs.
Ace John Lackey will figure prominently in the discussion and he’ll try to win for the second time in as many starts after the All-Star break as the Angels and Cleveland Indians finish their three-game set Wednesday in Anaheim.
Los Angeles (61-39) is nine games ahead of second-place Oakland in the AL West, and the Athletics have already traded away two of their starting pitchers. No other first-place club in baseball has a lead of more than 1 1/2 games.
Normally, Lackey (7-2, 2.58 ERA) would be a lock to start the Angels’ postseason opener, as he did last season against Boston after he won 19 games. But the right-hander missed the first month and a half due to a triceps strain, and though he’s pitched well, fellow starters Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana have combined for 23 wins this season.
Lackey went 0-1 with an 8.49 ERA in his last two outings before the All-Star break, but seemed to correct those problems in beating Boston on Friday. He gave up three runs in seven sharp innings in an 11-3 victory.
“Great defense the whole game, great start to the second half,” Lackey told the Angels’ official Web site.
Lackey is 3-5 with a 2.85 ERA in 10 career starts against the Indians (44-55), and has had trouble against shortstop Jhonny Peralta (8-for-17).
The Angels bounced back from having their five-game winning streak snapped Monday by winning 3-2 on Tuesday. Jeff Mathis hit a go-ahead solo homer in the fifth inning Tuesday and closer Francisco Rodriguez got the final three outs for his major league-leading 41st save to cap a strong effort by the bullpen.
Los Angeles relievers allowed four hits over six scoreless innings after starter Jered Weaver left due to tightness in the middle of his back. Rodriguez moved within six saves of tying the franchise record he set in 2006.
“I want to take this as far as I can get,” Rodriguez said. “One of my goals early in the year was just to have a better year than I did last year. I’ve already passed that, so whatever I get after this is a plus. I just want to stay healthy and keep doing the little things that will keep me strong the rest of the year.”
The Angels will continue to play without Torii Hunter after the center fielder was placed on the bereavement list Tuesday to spend time with his ailing grandmother. Reggie Willits got the start in center Tuesday and went 2-for-3.
Cleveland’s Aaron Laffey (5-6, 3.61) looks to win on the road for the first time this season. He’s 0-3 with a 5.94 ERA in six road starts in 2008 after going 4-1 with a 4.17 ERA in seven away outings as a rookie last season.
The left-hander’s shortest outing of the season came Friday at Seattle as he allowed eight runs—three earned—over 3 2-3 innings in an 8-2 loss. All five runs scored by the Mariners in the second inning came with two outs and were unearned.
“Errors are going to happen, but as a pitcher you’ve got to handle it,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
Laffey won his lone career start against the Angels on Sept. 9 by allowing two runs in five innings in a 6-2 road victory.