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McDonald’s potential last AB: An RBI double …

John McDonaldJohn McDonald is open to playing next season, but he also understands that it’s hard to get a job at his age. So he kept the ball from his ninth-inning RBI double in Sunday’s regular-season finale.

“Just in case,” said McDonald, fighting back tears at his Safeco Field locker postgame. “You never know. You have to be prepared. That’s what my career has been about more than anything.”

McDonald, who seems unlikely to crack the Angels’ postseason roster because Gordon Beckham fills a similar role, turned 40 on Wednesday. On Saturday, he got his first at-bat as a 40-year-old and flied out, just a few feet in front of the left-field warning track.

“We credited him with a home run on that at-bat because that’s about as far as he can hit a ball,” Mike Scioscia cracked. “We credited him with a home run in our hearts.”

McDonald got another chance, though, with two outs and Brennan Boesch on second, and he lined a Danny Farquhar offering down the left field line, ensuring that the Angels would go an entire season without getting shutout on the road.

“It’s a good feeling to get one more hit,” said McDonald, who carved out a 16-year career mostly as a backup infielder. “It might have more meaning later.”

Alden

Big days for Shoemaker and Hamilton …

Matt Shoemaker threw a 30- to 40-pitch bullpen session from Safeco Field on Sunday morning and feels “very” confident he can start for the Angels in the American League Division Series, barring an unforeseen setback.

Josh Hamilton spent the regular-season finale taking swings off a tee, then threw long toss, did some running exercises and tracked pitches during Shoemaker’s bullpen session, but will need to push it harder on Monday and Tuesday before knowing if he can play in the first round, which kicks off Thursday.

Hamilton, who will finish the season playing in just one of the Angels’ last 22 games, didn’t feel the “spasm” around his right chest/ribcage that occurred when he hit off a tee earlier in the week, a sensation that made it difficult for him to even breathe. But he finished his swing with two hands on the bat, which he never does in games.

“I’m going to have to just swing,” Hamilton said. “I can’t be over here trying to remind myself every time I swing to just swing with two hands. So, tomorrow will be another big day.”

Hamilton is slated to take batting practice on the field at Angel Stadium on Monday and Tuesday, and see some live pitching at some point before ALDS rosters are due on Thursday morning. Throwing is no longer an issue, his back no longer bothers him when he runs, and the pain he felt while swinging on Sunday was tolerable.

“The pain isn’t the issue; it’s the spasm part of it,” said Hamilton, who took four days off from striking a baseball because of those spasms. “As long as I can play and not spasm, I’ll be fine. That means I have to get after it the next couple of days, push it a little bit, because I can’t baby it, then get in the game Thursday and it happens.”

Shoemaker, rehabbing from a mild strain in his left oblique since Sept. 15, played catch for six straight days leading up to his first bullpen, gradually ramping up the intensity and the distance until taking part in an unrestricted long-toss session on Saturday.

The 27-year-old rookie threw all his pitches Sunday, finished throwing at full intensity and felt only “a touch” of tightness, which diminishes with each passing day.

“Hopefully in a couple days, I won’t even feel it all,” Shoemaker said. “I think that’s a big possibility.”

The next step for Shoemaker is to face hitters at Angel Stadium on Tuesday or Wednesday, then start either Game 2 or 3 of the ALDS. Asked if he’s confident he’ll start in the ALDS, Shoemaker said, “Very much.”

“Each day has felt better,” he added. “This is the first time we got full intensity off the mound. We’ll find out more tomorrow.”

Alden

Matt Shoemaker keeps marching forward …

Matt Shoemaker, strained left oblique played catch for a fifth consecutive day on Friday, prior to the series opener from Safeco Field. The 27-year-old rookie backed up to about 150 feet, after throwing from 110 feet during the off day on Thursday. Shoemaker still has some hurdles to compete before getting cleared to start in the American League Division Series, but he continues to move in the right direction.

Asked how confident he is that Shoemaker will be ready for the first round, Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher said: “Right now, based on how he’s feeling, how he’s throwing, I’m very confident that he’s going to be OK.”

“He’s getting better every day,” Butcher added. “Just keep progressing on an everyday basis, see how he feels every day coming into it, then once we get to a point where he feels like he’s getting after it on flat ground, maybe do some one-hope drills, get him on the mound, and that’s really the big task right there.”

Josh Hamilton did some defensive work pregame and will resume swinging the bat on Saturday, after what ended up being three days off (Wednesday’s recovery day, Thursday’s off day, then Friday). Hamilton isn’t expected to play this weekend, but can see some live pitching either during a simulated game in Anaheim or instructional league in Tempe, Ariz., next week.

“He has to see some velocity, whether it’s done in a simulated environment, just to get some perspective of velocity,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He did it in Spring Training when pulled calf muscle, got into a game and was very comfortable. He will see velocity in some form.”

Some other pregame notes …

  • Mike Trout is back in the lineup after exiting Wednesday’s game with a stomach illness.
  • I previously reported that C.J. Wilson was being moved up from Sunday to Saturday, which may be an indication that he’s starting Game 2 of the ALDS, but Scioscia said he was starting Saturday all along. It was just listed in the wrong order in the game notes. Scioscia said “we haven’t made any decisions” for who starts after Jered Weaver.
  • The Angels officially walked away from negotiations with the city of Anaheim.
  • ALCS tickets will go on sale Oct. 1.

Alden

What Wednesday meant to the Angels’ postseason

Hector SantiagoThe American League Division Series kicks off from Angel Stadium next Thursday, Oct. 2. Between now and then are eight days, three regular-season games and a couple of workouts in Anaheim, at which point Josh Hamilton (right ribcage) will hope to see some live pitching and Matt Shoemaker (left oblique) will hope to get off the mound. Who knows; maybe they’ll even face each other!

At any rate, games aren’t necessarily about wins and losses anymore — they’re about looking ahead to October.

With that in mind, here are some takeaways from Wednesday’s 5-4 win over the A’s

Hector Santiago: Mike Scioscia wouldn’t commit to Santiago getting a start in the ALDS postgame, but he provided some encouraging signs while throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings after recording a combined nine outs in his previous two starts. The problem with Santiago — and C.J. Wilson, for that matter — is that you’re still not quite sure what you’ll get from start to start. But he did finish the year with a 3.81 ERA, and he did post a 2.71 ERA from June 10 to Sept. 9. That’s a very solid three-month stretch.

Howie Kendrick: Scioscia is committed to Kendrick batting cleanup, at least to start the ALDS. Part of it has to do with Hamilton not seeing much live pitching, and part of it has to do with how well Kendrick has hit there while Hamilton has been out. The veteran second baseman had a couple of key two-out hits on Wednesday and is now batting .403 (27-for-67) with 18 RBIs in 18 games behind Albert Pujols.

Joe Thatcher: It remains to be seen whether the Angels will carry their veteran lefty specialist on the postseason roster. Thatcher has a 3.41 ERA on the year, but lefties are batting .300 against him this year and the 32-year-old is still affected by the left ankle sprain that forced him to miss more than seven weeks. Said Scioscia: “I don’t think we’re seeing him at his best yet, but he’s going to get the ball, and hopefully he’ll make some pitches. He looked a little more crisp today.”

Vinnie Pestano: I didn’t list him as a candidate, but perhaps there’s a spot for the 29-year-old sidearmer, who recorded the last two outs of the sixth inning and has allowed just one run while striking out 13 batters in 9 1/3 innings with the Angels.

Gordon Beckham: He started at shortstop, ahead of the birthday boy, and has now made five appearances there this month. Beckham came in as a solid defensive second baseman and has played well at third base, and Scioscia clearly wants to give him some reps at shortstop for his forthcoming role as the Angels’ utility player in the ALDS.

Alden

Narrowing down the Angels’ postseason roster …

The Angels have a lot of questions to sort through before their postseason roster must be submitted to Major League Baseball on the morning of Oct. 2, must prominent of which is the health of Josh Hamilton and Matt Shoemaker. Assuming Hamilton and Shoemaker are healthy (-ish), here’s a look at the players I deem locks to crack Mike Scioscia‘s ALDS roster …

Starting lineup

Chris Iannetta
Albert Pujols
Howie Kendrick
David Freese
Erick Aybar
Hamilton
Mike Trout
Kole Calhoun

Starting rotation

Jered Weaver
C.J. Wilson
Shoemaker
Hector Santiago

Relievers

Huston Street
Joe Smith
Kevin Jepsen
Jason Grilli
Fernando Salas
Mike Morin

Reserves

Hank Conger
Gordon Beckham
Collin Cowgill

That’s 21 of 25 spots. Now here’s a look at the guys who are perceivably on the bubble (again, just my educated guess here) …

SS/3B/2B John McDonald: The 39-year-old has had a very set role all year, as a late-game defensive replacement for Freese at third base, but it would be tough to carry him given the fact Beckham — acquired with the playoffs in mind — can essentially fill the same role.

DH/LF/RF Brennan Boesch: The power left-handed hitter has started 10 games in September, and entered Monday with six hits (and two homers) in his last 16 at-bats. Scioscia clearly likes playing him, but not in the field, and he may have to if Hamilton can only DH.

1B/LF/RF Efren Navarro: He doesn’t bring as much power as Boesch, but he’s another lefty bat who has adjusted quickly to the outfield and is a very disciplined hitter.

1B/DH C.J. Cron: I expect at least one of Boesch or Navarro to make the team, and I’d be shocked if Cron didn’t make it as a right-handed power bat who can start (or pinch-hit) against a lefty.

CF/LF/RF Tony Campana: Campana can play a very particular role on this team, as a Chone Figgins-esque pinch-runner. His placement on the roster could hinge greatly on whether the Angels go with a 12-man pitching staff (commonplace for the regular season) or 11-man pitching staff (commonplace for the shorter ALDS).

LH Joe Thatcher: It seemed like a given that Thatcher would crack the roster as that critical lefty specialist when the Angels traded for him in July, but he’s been slowed by an ankle injury and hasn’t fared well against lefties this year, and Scioscia has often said he won’t carry a lefty if he isn’t getting outs.

RH Cory Rasmus: The Angels have plenty of right-handed power arms in their bullpen, but Rasmus has pitched well and provides length. Who knows, maybe he even starts a playoff game.

LH Wade LeBlanc: LeBlanc doesn’t seem to have a chance at cracking the roster if Shoemaker is healthy, but what if he has another solid start on Tuesday?

Alden

Hamilton, Shoemaker progressing; Kendrick fine …

Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton “feels pretty good today,” manager Mike Scioscia said prior to Monday’s series opener in Oakland. The 33-year-old hasn’t started doing baseball activities, but he did hit off a tee. Hamilton previously said he hopes to play on Wednesday, but Scioscia said that’s “a little aggressive.” Friday looks like his earliest return date.

Matt Shoemaker, out since last Monday with a strained oblique, said he’s “very optimistic about getting on a mound again.” The 27-year-old rookie continues to make steady progress and played light catch prior to Monday’s game, Scioscia said.

“Last two days,” Shoemaker said, “I’ve noticed the best progress, getting into a lot of physical activity, moving around, getting ready to go.”

Still, Scioscia said it’s “very remote” that Shoemaker appears in a game before the end of the regular season. So he’d probably have to throw in some sort of simulated game to get ready for the postseason, if healthy.

Howie Kendrick was held out of the lineup as a precautionary measure for the left hamstring injury that forced him out of Sunday’s game. Kendrick said he felt good enough to play, and went through all the pregame activities.

“I don’t think it’s anything major,” Kendrick said. “I’m going to go out and do what I would normally do. He just told me I wasn’t going to play today. There was no need to really push it.”

Alden

You can win in October without dominant starters …

Mike Scioscia, Dino EbelIt’s no secret. If the Angels — considering a three-man rotation for the American League Division Series — are to go far in the playoffs, they’ll have to rely heavily on their deep bullpen.

The question is: Will it work?

One of baseball’s dogmas says teams that are “built for the playoffs” are the ones that have dominant starting pitching. But in the Wild Card era, that hasn’t proven to be true. Consider: Since 1995, the Major League quality-start percentage has been 48.88 in the regular season, 48.88 in the postseason and 51.96 in the World Series; in terms of innings per start, it’s 5.91 in the regular season, 5.76 in the postseason and 5.88 in the World Series. That’s a very negligible difference, especially when you consider all the bad teams that are lumped into that regular-season category.

Now here’s a case-by-case look at each of the last 19 World Series champions, with the first stat being innings per start and the second being the amount of quality starts throughout the postseason …

2013 Red Sox: 5.81 IP, 8 of 16 QS
2012 Giants: 5.64 IP, 6 of 16 QS
2011 Cardinals: 5.11 IP, 7 of 18 QS
2010 Giants: 6.44 IP, 11 of 15 QS
2009 Yankees: 6.29 IP, 11 of 15 QS
2008 Phillies: 5.9 IP, 10 of 14 QS
2007 Red Sox: 6 IP, 6 of 14 QS
2006 Cardinals: 6.20 IP, 10 of 16 QS
2005 White Sox: 7.66 IP, 9 of 12 QS
2004 Red Sox: 5.61 IP, 9 of 14 QS
2003 Marlins: 5.66 IP, 8 of 17 QS
2002 Angels: 5.02 IP, 2 of 16 QS
2001 D-backs: 7.08 IP, 14 of 17 QS
2000 Yankees: 6.42 IP, 8 of 16 QS
1999 Yankees: 6.58 IP, 10 of 12 QS
1998 Yankees: 6.79 IP, 9 of 13 QS
1997 Marlins: 5.83 IP, 5 of 16 QS
1996 Yankees: 5.42 IP, 5 of 15 QS
1995 Braves: 6.64 IP, 10 of 14 QS

That’s nine of 19 champions that got less than six innings per start during the playoffs, and seven that won the World Series despite receiving a quality start in less than half of their postseason games. Look at the 2002 Angels. Stunning. Managers tend to have quick hooks in the playoffs, because it’s all hands on deck and because the off days tend to keep bullpens relatively fresh.

So, you can win in October with a deep bullpen, a good offense and a rotation that keeps you in the game. And the Angels have the potential for that. Since Garrett Richards went down, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago have allowed three earned runs or less in 20 of 23 starts (includes tonight).

Just something to think about.

Alden

Hamilton dealing with ‘sharp pain’ in chest area

Josh Hamilton is shut down again, this time with what the Angels’ outfielder described as “a sharp, stabbing pain” near his chest and right ribcage, underneath his armpit.

Hamilton first felt some pain in the area in the second round of early batting practice on Monday and continued to feel worse throughout Tuesday night, his first game back after missing 11 straight contests with stiffness around his right shoulder.

“As I played, as I ran, as I swung, it got worse and worse, to the point where it hurt to breathe,” Hamilton said. “It just felt like my shoulder blade and everything was pretty locked up.”

Hamilton wasn’t with his teammates when they clinched the American League West title on Wednesday. He had MRIs in the morning, all of which checked out fine, then left the team right around game time to see a chiropractor, having a 40-minute session at his office and then getting worked on again at Hamilton’s house later that night. Hamilton was still feeling pain on Thursday, but was going to try to throw.

Asked of his concern that this could prolong, and keep him out of the playoffs, Hamilton said: “You’re always concerned about it. If I woke up today and felt great, then I wouldn’t be concerned about it. I don’t know what to tell you as far as long-term, short-term or whatever, but the thing I’m going to do is whatever I need to do to get back on the field.”

Hamilton — batting .263 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs — has played in just one game over the last 14 days, and only nine games will remain before the AL Division Series after Thursday. The 33-year-old recently missed time with an injury that began in his right AC joint and spread to his trapezius muscle, prompting him to get three cortisone shots and a couple of trigger-point injections.

Asked if he considers Hamilton’s latest ailment is a setback, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, simply, “I consider it something new.”

“Hopefully it’s a minor blip,” he added, “and we’ll see where we are in a day or two.”

  • Jered Weaver was scratched earlier today, with Wade LeBlanc taking his spot. Now, Weaver will start Saturday, the spot vacated by Matt Shoemaker and his left oblique strain, and then again on the last Friday of the regular season and then for Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday, Oct. 2. So, Weaver’s next three starts will come on six days’ rest, five days’ rest and five days’ rest, respectively.
  • Shoemaker said his left oblique is “definitely better,” which marks the third straight day he’s said that. He’ll continue to get treatment these next few days and then see when he can pick up a ball again.
  • As expected, the Angels trotted out a Triple-A lineup against Felix Hernandez, with none of the regulars playing. After the party died down at Angel Stadium on Wednesday, the players went to Goat Hill Tavern in Costa Mesa, which shut down the bar after 2 a.m. and left it just for members of the Angels. Cabs were lined up outside to take guys home.
  • The Angels entered today with a three-game lead on the Orioles for the best record in baseball. Scioscia, on the importance of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs: “It’s important. We’re going to keep our edge and keep playing hard. But I don’t think it has importance of putting guys at risk for injury.”

Alden

Weaver scratched vs. Felix, LeBlanc to start …

One night after clinching the American League West title, the Angels scratched Jered Weaver from his Thursday start against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, opting to go with left-hander Wade LeBlanc, instead.

The Angels also have an open spot on Saturday because Matt Shoemaker is nursing a strained left oblique. Weaver could presumably fill that spot, then start on five days’ rest in the last Friday of the regular season – against the Mariners at Safeco Field – and then be on five days’ rest again for Game 1 of the AL Division Series on Thursday, Oct. 2.

LeBlanc, 30, has gone 20-33 with a 4.60 ERA while accumulating 434 innings in the big leagues from 2008-14. With the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate this season, he posted a 4.43 ERA, a 1.45 WHIP and a 2.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 innings.

Alden

Sound bites from the Angels’ clincher …

Jered WeaverHere’s what several members of the Angels had to say after clinching the American League West on Wednesday night

Leadoff man Kole Calhoun, on popping the first bottle of champagne after the A’s lost: “I was more nervous to pop that first bottle of champagne than I was to play baseball.”

Catcher Hank Conger, on watching the game from the clubhouse: “They came back that ninth inning, and everybody was like, ‘Don’t jinx anything, don’t pop anything yet.’ As soon as they made that last out, that groundball, everyone erupted, man. Everybody was hugging each other, champagne was flowing everywhere, man, it was unbelievable.”

President John Carpino, on the fans sticking around to watch: “It’s so special. It’s so special. Look at these people. It’s 11:15 and the game has been over for an hour and a half. Angels fans have a lot of passion.”

Third baseman David Freese, on battling adversity: “You look at every team, up and down the league, and every team goes through adversity, things like that. This group just keeps plugging away. It shows. To win a division like this, it’s unbelievable. What a great group.”

Ace Jered Weaver, on coming out and seeing the fans: “Indescribable, really. This is the only reason why they’re here; they want to see us win. It’s been long overdue. Hopefully we can make a good push here in the postseason.”

Owner Arte Moreno, on his favorite part about the team: “There’s probably not one sentence you can say. They all love each other, they all like each other, they have fun together, and we have a really great mix of veterans, and we have a lot of young people. People were questioning how many young people we have in the organization, but just a lot of young guys stepped up this year.”

Manager Mike Scioscia, on returning to the playoffs after a four-year absence: “It feels great. We had gotten close, but we won our division, and we couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”

Center fielder Mike Trout, on playing in the postseason: “I’m just going to go out there, play my game and help my team win. I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself. I know the atmosphere is going to be awesome, and it’s going to be fun for sure.”

First baseman Albert Pujols, on the group: “Great chemistry. Like I’ve said before, you don’t just win with one or two guys. It takes 25 guys for us to accomplish our goals. We have a great group of guys, starting in Spring Training. I’ve been saying it all year long. And we believe in each other. We’re picking each other up.”

Starter C.J. Wilson, on his start: “It’s good. It’s what I need to do. If we’re going to win, I need to pitch like that.”

General manager Jerry Dipoto, on what it took to turn it all around: “It’s just a thrill. Mike and the staff had a great year. They did an unbelievable job, kept everybody together and cohesive. Obviously we made some changes along the way, but most importantly it was the character and the makeup of the guys. When the boat left the dock this spring, that’s what we talked so much about, and that’s what these guys did. They really did. They bound together. Very proud of them.”

Alden

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