The Angels' trio of right-handers -- (from left) Ervin Santana, Dan… (Photos by Associated Press,…)
Reporting from Oakland -- Mike Butcher, the Angels' pitching coach, said he would take Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana "over anybody's top three starters in the game."
That would include the Philadelphia Phillies, who have the best record in baseball and a rotation led by Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, who have three Cy Young Awards between them, and Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.
"Absolutely," Butcher said. "We're not pitching to a pitcher. I obviously respect what they do in Philadelphia. Those four guys are all very good. You can't deny their stuff.
"But I love our three guys. They all give us a chance to win and match up well with anyone in baseball. Those three guys are as good as it gets."
Those three guys are why many think the Angels, despite their unpredictable and often unproductive offense, soft middle-relief corps and shaky back end of the rotation, could be extremely dangerous if they reach the playoffs.
They are why the Angels, who for most of the last decade were built more for the demands of a grueling 162-game schedule, seem better suited this season for a short series, much like the pitching-rich, power-poor San Francisco Giants were during their run to the 2010 World Series championship.
"These guys are all capable of being No. 1 and No. 2 starters," Angels right fielder Torii Hunter said of Weaver, Haren and Santana. "They're not just quality starters, they're … elite pitchers in the game. Having these three guys in a five-game or seven-game series? That would be awesome. I would love my chances."
The problem is getting there. The Angels are 56-37 in games started by Weaver, Haren and Santana and 26-30 in games started by others. The Angels were three games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West standings after Wednesday.
Weaver, who beat Oakland on Wednesday, is 17-7 with a 2.40 earned-run average and has struck out 188 and walked 55 in 2211/3 innings. He has a WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) of 1.02 and has gone seven innings or more while giving up one run or no runs in 17 (or 61%) of his starts.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last pitcher to give up no more than one run in at least 60% of his starts, with a minimum of 30 starts, was Bob Gibson, who went 22-9 with a modern-day National League record ERA of 1.12 in 1968.
Haren, who will start Friday, is 15-8 with a 3.06 ERA and has struck out 176 and walked 28 in 2171/3 innings. He has a WHIP of 1.01 and three shutouts, including a four-hit gem against the New York Yankees on Saturday night.
Santana, who will start Saturday, is 11-11 with a 3.30 ERA and has struck out 170 and walked 64 in 2152/3 innings. He has a WHIP of 1.21 and threw a no-hitter in Cleveland on July 27.
"Weaver is an ace — he's earned the right to be called that," said a National League scout who regularly follows the Angels. "Haren is like a great racehorse; you get on him and go for a ride. He's a competitor. And Santana threw a no-hitter and has great stuff. All three are capable of being top-of-the-rotation guys."
But is the Angels' Big Three the best trio in baseball?
"They're the best in the AL, not the NL," the scout said. "That group in Philadelphia is special. Real special."
Indeed, Halladay (18-5, 2.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP), Lee (16-7, 2.44 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) and Hamels (14-8, 2.71 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) are superb; Oswalt is 7-9 with a 3.88 ERA; and the Phillies have an outstanding fifth starter in Vance Worley (11-2, 2.92 ERA).
Halladay threw a no-hitter against Cincinnati in his first-ever playoff start last October. Lee led the Rangers to their first World Series last season and is 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 10 career postseason starts. Hamels won World Series and NL championship series most-valuable-player honors for the Phillies in 2008.
"Those are four No. 1 or No. 2 guys," Hunter said. "They're good, probably the best in the game. But if we got to the World Series, I'd be happy to face those guys. I mean, really. Just get us there!"
Time is running out for Hunter, 36, who has been to the playoffs six times — four times with Minnesota and twice with the Angels — but has never reached the World Series.
"In all my years of going to the playoffs, I've never been on a team with pitching like this," Hunter said. "There's a real chance of winning with these guys. That's why I really want to get there. With Minnesota, we had Johan Santana and not much else. We had no chance."
Outside of Philadelphia, no other playoff-bound team has a three-starter package comparable to the Angels.
Milwaukee comes close with Shaun Marcum (12-7, 3.40 ERA), Zack Greinke (14-6, 3.87) and Randy Wolf (12-9, 3.44).
Atlanta's rotation drops off after Tim Hudson (14-10, 3.32) and Jair Jurrjens (13-6, 2.96), and Arizona's rotation declines after Ian Kennedy (19-4, 2.99) and Daniel Hudson (16-10, 3.39).