Oliver not invaluable to Angels after all

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darren oliver.jpgSure, Darren Oliver was eligible for free agency again this winter, but the Angels could have essentially held him hostage for the second year in a row by offering him arbitration. It’s the tactic they used last year, knowing that Oliver, as a Type A free agent, wouldn’t have a market once teams had to give up a draft pick to sign him.
Oliver accepted arbitration then, re-signed for $3.665 million and posted a career-best ERA for a second straight season, finishing at 2.71 in 73 innings. He won five games, lost just once and recorded a 65/22 K/BB ratio. He also played a key role in all three wins over the Red Sox in the ALDS and gave up runs in just one of his eight postseason appearances overall.
Given that it worked out so well last year, the guess was that the Angels would offer arbitration one more time. However, they declined to do so before Tuesday’s deadline, a decision that placed Oliver on the open market for the first time in three years. Since anyone can sign him without surrendering a draft pick and he’ll likely want just a one-year deal — he’s indicated that he’d retire after next season — several contenders figure to pursue him.
It suggests the Angels financial picture is even murkier than was anticipated at season’s end. Oliver was certainly the team’s best reliever last year, but if he re-signed for $4 million, he’d be just the team’s fourth-highest paid reliever in 2010. Well, technically, third, since Justin Speier, who will earn $5.25 million, was already released in August. The Angels also owe Brian Fuentes $9 million and the rehabbing Scot Shields $5.35 million.
The Angels still have the most major league talent in the AL West, but the bad contracts they’ve handed out suddenly seem to have caught up to them. They’ll be the division favorites in 2010 regardless, but GM Tony Reagins will have quite a challenge on his hands to keep the Halos on top in 2011 and beyond.

World Series Game 1 will feature Dallas Keuchel vs. Clayton Kershaw

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The Dodgers and Astros have selected their starters for Game 1 of the World Series. Left-hander Dallas Keuchel will open the series for the Astros, while fellow lefty Clayton Kershaw will take the mound for the first of two home games at Dodger Stadium.

Keuchel, 29, has been a steady presence for the Astros this postseason. He clinched Game 2 of the ALDS with 5 2/3 innings of one-run, seven-strikeout ball against the Red Sox and returned for his second postseason win with seven scoreless innings against the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS. He was outmatched in Game 5 of the Championship Series, however, scattering four runs and eight strikeouts across 4 2/3 innings while the Yankees worked their way up to a 5-0 shutout. Nevertheless, he’s perhaps the Astros’ strongest arm behind ALCS MVP Justin Verlander and has not surrendered a single home run in 17 1/3 consecutive innings this postseason.

Kershaw, on the other hand, has had a less consistent track record in the playoffs. While his postseason yips have been well-documented thus far, his struggles on the mound haven’t always led to disaster — at least not this time around. The Dodgers are 3-0 in all three of Kershaw’s starts this month and enjoyed a quality start from their ace during Game 5 of the NLCS last Thursday. The 29-year-old southpaw recorded his second win of the playoffs with a run, three hits, a walk and five strikeouts over six innings. Unlike Keuchel, he’s given up a home run in each of his outings to date (and four homers in Game 1 of the NLDS).

Game 1 is set for Tuesday evening at 8:00 PM ET. The Dodgers have home field advantage through Games 1 and 2 before the series moves to Houston, and will try to capitalize on that advantage in order to extend their postseason winning streak at Dodger Stadium. They’re 4-0 at home and 3-1 on the road this October, while the Astros boast a 6-0 advantage in Houston and a significantly less impressive 1-4 record away from home.