Future pitching coach Kelvim Escobar

A couple weeks ago, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim looked to be the front runners for the AL West division title. But, that was before the potential career ending injury to 2007 18 game winner RHP Kelvim Escobar. Escobar has a tear in his pitching shoulder and it is almost certain he will miss the 2008 season. This makes the AL West race a lot more interesting this season. I originally had the Angels winning the division this season, but Escobar was a large part of my projection. Escobar’s 18 wins and 3.40 ERA were instrumental in the Angels division title last season and this is a huge loss for the team. And on top of the possible career ender to Escobar, he will be joining ace RHP John Lackey on the disabled list. Lackey has a strained triceps and will not be throwing a ball for another two to three weeks. Lackey finished third in the 2007 Cy Young voting last season with a 19-9 record and an AL leading 3.01 ERA. Lackey will return this season, but it still raises the questions, how many games will the Angels lose without their ace for approximately a month, and will he return to his 2007 form?

The Angels still have starters Jon Garland and Jered Weaver at the top of their rotation, so they definitely have capable pitchers to last them through the injury to Lackey. But the real challenge will be finding a replacement for Escobar. It is unlikely that any replacement they find will win 18 games like Escobar did, but they will settle for anyone who can get them an acceptable amount of innings and hopefully an ERA under 5. Speaking of ERAs over 5, Ervin Santana needs to step it up this year. Santana was so bad last season that he was sent down to the minors in July, but managed to regain his starting rotation spot in August. He finished with a 5.76 ERA over 150.0 IP. His 26 homers allowed were less than stellar. Despite the poor stats I just named, Santana has shown flashes of a good pitcher. He dominated a playoff game in 2005 against the Yankees when he filled in for the injured Bartolo Colon and went 5 and 1/3 innings for a relief victory. This is the Ervin Santana that needs to take the hill this season. LA is definitely in a tight spot here having to replace Cy Young quality pitchers with a pitcher in Santana who could go either way. The injuries suffered by this rotation make Ervin Santana the new Angels wild card because if Santana cannot contribute, the Angels will be fighting for a wild card berth.

A possible Band-Aid for this situation would be to sign a veteran pitcher. Jeff Weaver is available, but he may still be bitter for being let go to make room for his brother. Also available is Claudio Vargas who just cleared waivers from the Brewers. These guys are nothing special, but could be temporary stopgaps for an injury hampered rotation.

This huge loss for the Angels is a huge gain for the Mariners, who I projected as second place finishers. The injuries to Lackey and Escobar mean that Seattle needs to start off fast and win games when Lackey will not be pitching for the Angels. The games played in the early March and April months could be the deciding factor in what is already projected to be a close division race.

Angels’ Escobar has torn shoulder (LAtimes.com)

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