Angels Bullpen may be the Key to Contention

By David Hill

September 25, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels relief pitcher Dane De La Rosa (65) pitches during the eighth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The back of the Angels rotation is considered to be a work in progress. Although Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs may end up being better options than expected at this point, it still appears as though the Angels are going to need to rely heavily upon the bullpen. That realization is likely why the biggest free agent signing of the offseason was former Indians reliever Joe Smith.

It may well turn out that Smith, Ernesto Frieri, Dane de la Rosa and the rest of the bullpen actually end up with more work than expected. It helps that C.J. Wilson has pitched over 200 innings in each of the last four seasons, and that Jered Weaver has surpassed that mark in three of the last five, but cracks may be beginning to appear in that armor. Weaver has slipped over each of the past two seasons, seeing his line drive rate increase and his velocity decrease. Wilson rebounded from his 2012 season, and may be the only relatively sure option in the Angels rotation.

A deep, and heavily used, bullpen was a major key for the Angels World Series championship in 2002. Ramon Ortiz and Jarrod Washburn were the only pitchers to throw over 200 innings that year. Kevin Appier and Aaron Sele were approaching the end of their careers, and a rookie named John Lackey ended up as the fifth starter by the end of the season. Even Scot Shields started a game for the Angels.

Is it possible that same strategy could work again? If Frieri can rebound from his struggles last season, and the rest of the bullpen can perform at a relatively high level, the Angels may be able to replicate their success from 2002. The lineup has improved, and if Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are healthy, they should score enough. If the Angels are able to get six solid innings from the back of the rotation, they may be able to control the final three innings.

It may be expecting a lot from the Angels bullpen to need them to perform at that level. However, this strategy did work once before. Perhaps the Angels can find a way to make it work a second time.