There are no concerns about the Los Angeles Angels’ status for the postseason, with their magic number to clinch the AL West already in single digits to start September.
There may, however, be some worries about left-hander Joe Saunders’ struggles, something the All-Star will try to address when he takes the ball for the opener of a three-game set in Detroit on Tuesday.
The Angels (83-53) will have the luxury of giving players plenty of time off as they cruise toward their fourth division title in the last five years.
Saunders (14-7, 3.67 ERA), meanwhile, will hope to use the final month before the playoffs to return to his early season form. The left-hander went 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA in April and was 12-5 with a 3.07 ERA at the All-Star break, earning a ticket to Yankee Stadium.
He hasn’t won since July 30, however, and he’s been especially bad lately. He gave up six runs in each of his last two starts - both losses - and he allowed eight hits in a season-low 1 1-3 innings against Oakland in a 6-5 loss on Wednesday.
That’s the only time the light-hitting Athletics have scored six runs in a game in their last 16 contests.
“I’m a better pitcher than what I’ve been throwing out there,” Saunders told the Angels’ official Web site. “It is not a good feeling to let the team down, and the bullpen can only pick you up so many times and keep us in the game. I just have to do a better job.”
The southpaw also struggled against Detroit this season, allowing five runs and two home runs to Marcus Thames in five innings of a 6-2 home loss on May 28.
Perhaps a return to Comerica Park will help him. He’s pitched in Detroit once before, allowing one run in 7 1-3 innings but taking a no-decision in the Angels’ 7-2, 10-inning win against a World Series-bound Tigers team exactly two years ago Tuesday.
This year’s Tigers (66-71) will not be playing in October. They stumble into this series having dropped five of their first seven games on the homestand, including a 13-9 loss in a makeup game with the New York Yankees on Monday.
Detroit’s pitchers allowed 11 runs in the first three innings against the Yankees, adding to the staff’s woes. The Tigers have allowed at least nine runs four times in the last six games.
“We basically threw a lot of balls when we should’ve thrown strikes and we threw some strikes when we should’ve thrown balls,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said in his 9-second meeting with reporters after Monday’s game. “And, that’s the end of the conversation. I’ll see you later.”
Chris Lambert (0-1, 6.75) didn’t fare much better in his major league debut Tuesday. The right-hander lasted just 2 2-3 innings in Detroit’s 10-4 loss to Cleveland, allowing six runs—two earned—and two homers.
The Tigers are just 2-4 against Los Angeles this year, and would need to sweep the Angels to avoid losing the season series for the eighth consecutive season.
The task figures to be especially tough considering Los Angeles begins a six-game road trip as the only AL club with a winning record on the road. The Angels are a major league-best 40-25 on the road.
They took three of four at home over the weekend from Texas, the second-place team in the West. The Angels could lose two-thirds of their remaining games and still be assured of winning the division.