The Los Angeles Angels may not have the most dominant No. 1 starter in the majors, but they feel as a whole, their starting rotation is one of baseball’s best.
The Angels’ Joe Saunders(notes) looks to carry the success he had over the final six weeks of last season into this year when he takes the mound Tuesday night against a Minnesota Twins team trying to avoid opening with consecutive losses for the first time in 16 years.
After the departure of John Lackey(notes), a mainstay in Los Angeles’ rotation since the championship season of 2002, the Angels were left without a true No. 1 starter. Manager Mike Scioscia gave Jered Weaver(notes) the reigning AL West champs’ opening day starter, but that honor could have easily gone to Saunders, Ervin Santana(notes), Joel Pineiro(notes) or Scott Kazmir(notes).
“The rotation, from what I’ve seen, has been really good,” Saunders said. “We’ve got five great arms. I don’t think we have a bona fide one, but when you have five 2s, who needs a No. 1, really?”
Weaver was solid enough in Monday’s opener against defending AL Central champion Minnesota, giving up three runs and five hits with six strikeouts in six innings of a 6-3 win. New Angel Hideki Matsui(notes) drove in the go-ahead run in the fifth and added an eighth-inning homer for a Los Angeles team seeking its fourth straight AL West title.
“Hideki’s talent, along with his experience, we hope it adds up to a very productive season for him,” Scioscia said.
Scioscia will now give the ball to Saunders, as the Angels try to open with consecutive wins for the first time since starting 3-0 in 2007.
The left-hander went 16-7 with a 4.60 ERA in 31 starts in 2009, and his 33 victories over the past two seasons rank second in the AL behind Roy Halladay(notes), who won 37 and is now with Philadelphia.
Despite the impressive victory total, Saunders labored through much of last season while dealing with left shoulder tightness that eventually landed him on the disabled list in early August. The time off seemed to be just what Saunders needed, as he went 7-0 with a 2.55 ERA in his final eight regular-season starts.
Saunders is typically at his best early in the season. He’s gone 8-1 with a 2.64 ERA in 11 starts over the past two Aprils, and has yielded seven hits in 14 2-3 scoreless innings over his last two season debuts - both wins. One of those outings was a 1-0 victory over the Twins at the Metrodome on April 2, 2008, when he allowed four hits in eight innings.
Blackburn went 11-11 with a 4.03 ERA in 33 starts last season after a nearly identical 2008, when he was 11-11 with a 4.05 ERA in 33 starts. The right-hander went 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in his final four starts of 2009, with Minnesota winning each of those games.
He’s winless in five career starts against the Angels, including an 0-1 mark and 7.56 ERA in three outings last season. He’s had his most trouble pitching at Angel Stadium, posting a 9.72 ERA and losing both of his career starts there.
The Twins, who haven’t opened a season with back-to-back losses since dropping the first two games of the 1994 season to the Angels, have lost 15 of their last 20 in Anaheim.