This is how a pennant race changes, on a routine play with Garrett Richards covering first. That he wasn’t involved in the play in the slightest is bad enough, but the real kick in the pants is that it was just one of those things. Life sucks like that. You bend over to tie your shoelace, and you throw your back out. Band stretches won’t help with that sort of thing. Cover drills in spring prepare you for 200 pounds of determination charging down the first base line, not the left knee buckling just because.
One of the best races in baseball got a whole lot more interesting last night with Richards’ injury, and while the extent of the damage to his knee is unknown at this time, from the way he writhed in pain and was carted off of the field, remaining optimistic means hope for a speedy return to the 2015 rotation. Damn it. Hope isn’t exactly lost in Anaheim. They currently sit 1 ½ games up on the Athletics with 37 left to play, and if it comes down to the wild card they’re currently 6+ games up on Detroit and Seattle. After years of bitter disappointment and failed expectations, this was a Disney movie happening.
The silver lining in all of this is that if the Angels are going to win the West then they’ll get the opportunity to do it against the two teams chasing. Anaheim plays Oakland 10 more times and Seattle seven. That’s half of their games, give or take, against two of the best the Majors have to offer. The other half is against the likes of Houston, Texas, and Minnesota with a series against Miami and a makeup game with Cleveland thrown in for good measure. So, sure, that 97.3% chance to make the playoffs doesn’t move that much.
Let’s be honest, though. Richards was pitching like a 26-year old dynamo this season, and his loss hurts. His ERA of 2.61 (with a FIP of 2.61 as well) is a full run better than anyone else on the team, and his 4.4 fWAR was 8th in MLB for pitchers and was nearly the equal to the sum of the other five who’ve made starts this year for Anaheim (5.9 combined for the quintet). It’d be something else entirely to say that Richards was tiring and maybe he was gassed after far surpassing his career high in innings pitched, but if he was on the decline in the second half it was only by a matter of degree. His first half ERA was 2.55 while his second half was 2.78 in considerably fewer innings. Eh, whatever. This injury hurts both Richards and the Angels, so there’s no spin to make it positive.
What do the Angels do now?
Eric Garcia McKinley on ESPN suggested the possibility of using the unappealing Randy Wolf or the even more unappealing Chris Volstad, since those are in house options, and maybe one of those guys turns into the Tony Danza character in this movie happening before us, the grizzled vet who makes an unexpected start that defies logic and surprises us all into becoming true believers (we’ll skip the whole smoker, soon to expire angle thank you very much), and Bartolo Colon’s name was circulating on Twitter.
Colon is solid, and he’s proven he can pitch well in the AL and particularly in Oakland, but he’d have to pass through waivers, which Oakland could block. It’s a risk, certainly, that the Mets would just stick the A’s with the Bartolo bill, but Sandy Alderson would like a return for his Colon investment. Another Met who has passed waivers is Jonathan Niese, and with the Mets flush with young pitching, trading the lefty to a team desperate to hold off the win-at-all-costs A’s might make for an interesting scenario. Niese isn’t exactly Richards, but he’d be the best the Angels could find this late in the season, and despite his uncanny ability to hover around a .500 career W-L percentage he’s pretty darn good.
Jerry Dipoto could call up the Nationals’ Mike Rizzo and kick the tires on Gio Gonzalez or Ross Detwiler. Pitching has been the Nationals strength this season, and with breakout Tanner Roark’s inning count really climbing Gonzalez will be critical come playoff time, but Detwiler has been underused in the pen. He was a one-time starter, and Rizzo would probably be willing to listen for the right package.
What all of these names are not is Richards. There’s no getting past that. Getting past Oakland to win the AL is now the trick.