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Mound for mound, they look like the best around

For long winter months, the questions flew past Dodgers and Angels officials like line drives headed for the gaps.

For long winter months, those officials have ducked and dived and covered up while concocting an answer.

Finally, on the cusp of another baseball season, they have one.

It’s not a big answer -- it measures only 60 feet 6.

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It’s not a sexy answer -- on its best days, it’s about empty bases and blank scoreboards.

But it’s a smart answer. It’s a winning answer. It’s the right answer.

What are the 2007 Dodgers and Angels going to do about their lousy hitting?

Pitch their way out of it, silly.

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While the rest of us were screaming for sluggers, the Dodgers and Angels have been scheming for shutouts.

With all of Los Angeles begging for more long balls, the Dodgers and Angels have been collecting more fastballs.

The result is two pitching staffs that could be baseball’s best, leading to low-scoring summer nights and high-octane fall afternoons, resulting in ...

A true Freeway Series?

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With this kind of pitching, the two franchises are speeding directly toward each other. At 89 to 92 mph. In the carpool lane.

Said Ned Colletti, the Dodgers’ general manager: “With good pitching, you have a chance. With no pitching, you never have a chance.”

Said Bill Stoneman, the Angels’ general manager: “Building a pitching staff like this is something we have been working toward since we got here. This is what you have to do to win.”

The Dodgers’ starting staff is so deep, last year’s All-Star game starter Brad Penny is pitching fourth.

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The Angels’ starting staff is so wide, it will begin the season with a hole the size of injured 2005 Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon, yet it might not even miss him.

The Dodgers’ bullpen is so rich, it has not one closer, but two, in Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton.

The Angels’ bullpen is so stacked, it has an $18-million setup man, Scot Shields, backing up the game’s best closer in Francisco Rodriguez.

In one four-day stretch, the Dodgers can start three pitchers with World Series wins in Derek Lowe, Jason Schmidt and Penny.

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In one four-day stretch, the Angels can start a Game 7 Word Series winner in John Lackey and two of the best young arms in baseball in Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver.

This is one season that Southland baseball fans don’t want to be late. An hour after the first pitch, it could be the seventh inning.

Leave your glove at home. Leave the outfield bleachers alone. Be prepared to stand not once in the seventh inning, but twice, cheering the starter as he leaves with the lead.

The number 23 won’t be only a movie title, but an average opposing line score.

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Two runs, three hits.

Said Colletti: “A season will test everything you’ve got, but it will especially test your pitching, and we’ve tried to prepare for that.”

Said Stoneman: “We’ve seen it happen time and again. To win championships, you build around pitching.”

A championship pitching staff must first have starters who eat innings. The rotation must cultivate a culture where it is shameful to ask out of a game at the first sign of perspiration in the fifth.

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The last 10 World Series champions have had at least two pitchers throw at least 190 innings each. These Los Angeles staffs could have at least three pitchers top that mark.

Said Colletti: “Where Koufax and Drysdale used to go nine, now guys are feeling good if they go six innings, and that hurts the rest of your staff.”

Said Stoneman: “You have to have a mind-set where guys want to finish the game. Otherwise, your bullpen gets taxed and the entire staff suffers.”

You want mind-set? Derek Lowe, the Dodgers’ opening-day starter, openly scowls at teammates who do not want to stay on the mound. In Randy Wolf and Schmidt, he has two teammates who agree, and Penny vows to try.

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You want to avoid the bullpen being taxed? Lackey, the Angels’ best starter, is a preseason favorite for the Cy Young Award, and Kelvim Escobar has thrown at least 189 innings in his last two seasons as a starter.

Another sign of a championship pitching staff is one that contains pitchers who know how to keep their team in the game.

Only three times in the last 10 years has the World Series champion not been ranked in the top five in their league in earned-run average. And in all three cases, pitching saved those teams in October.

Last season the Dodgers were fourth in the National League in ERA, and they’ve only gotten better. The Angels were third in the American League in ERA, and they’ve only gotten more experienced.

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Said Colletti: “With our ballpark, and with the ballparks in our division, that sort of pitching is essential.”

Said Stoneman: “It’s all about leadership, about guys who go out and do it every night, and we think we have those guys.”

Finally, championship pitching staffs must have the sort of bullpen that shortens games into seven innings.

With Broxton and Joe Beimel backing up Saito, the Dodgers’ bullpen is so strong it could afford to bid farewell to one of the most dominant relievers in baseball history in Eric Gagne.

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The Angels used their relievers to win the 2002 World Series, and have built the same sort of bullpen again with Shields and newcomer Justin Speier backing up Rodriguez.

Said Colletti: “All I know is, we have better pitching now than we did at the end of last year.”

Said Stoneman: “This is why, if all things are equal, I never give up pitching for position guys.”

Six months from now, Los Angeles will abs000000000lutely agree.

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Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.


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