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Angels just a ‘couple of well-chosen’ pitchers away from being much better?

Angels starting pitcher Griffin Canning throws during the fourth inning of a 7-3 win.
Angels starting pitcher Griffin Canning throws during the fourth inning of a 7-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Thursday.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

As they bludgeoned the Arizona Diamondbacks over a span of three days but emerged from the series with only one win, the Angels’ need for the upcoming off-season became crystallized. Again.

They require better depth on the mound, both in the bullpen and the rotation. Simply relying on their bats to beat opponents won’t cut it.

The Angels have scored the third-most runs (254) in the American League. But they are 4 1/2 games behind the Houston Astros for a spot in the expanded playoff field. And they only have nine games remaining to make up ground.

“This is definitely an area that we have to bear down on. And we will,” manager Joe Maddon said Thursday before the Angels’ pitching staff contained Arizona’s lineup on the way to a 7-3 win. “For us to compete with Houston and Texas and Oakland and all these other groups, you got to pitch. You’re not gonna outslug them every night.”

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The Angels had a chance to cut into their playoff deficit when Houston lost to Texas on Wednesday, but Dylan Bundy threw his worst game of the season.

The Angels were in the arms race last winter, but only to an extent. They wanted Anthony Rendon to protect Mike Trout in the lineup, so they splurged on his seven-year, $245-million contract. The move ultimately eliminated the possibility of adding a bona fide No. 1 starter to the rotation.

The Angels felt comfortable with the tradeoff, thinking a prolific offense would at least be enough to put them in position to contend for the playoffs.

The Angels can’t afford to take the same route this offseason. Acquiring frontline pitching must be the top priority of the general manager, whether it is Billy Eppler or his successor.

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But Maddon believes it won’t be necessary for the Angels to blow up the whole staff, which has a 5.15 ERA through 51 games.

“We just need to bring in a couple well-chosen figures to make this thing work all the way around,” he said.

Maddon’s confidence stems from performances like the one Griffin Canning assembled in the Angels’ victory Thursday afternoon. The young right-hander barely worked without the distraction of a runner on base through five innings but he didn’t let the traffic faze him. After allowing the leadoff hitter to reach in each of the first three innings, Canning got three straight outs to end Arizona’s threats. In a fourth-inning sequence, he gave up back-to-back two-out hits but the Diamondbacks only picked up one run.

The Angels star is spending more time on the bench than in the lineup as he struggles to end season-long slump.

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Canning would have pitched into the sixth inning if Andrelton Simmons hadn’t muffed a catchable popup just behind the second-base bag with two out. A soft RBI single to right and Kole Calhoun’s hard-hit double down the right-field line followed. Still, Canning got out of the jam with minimal damage.

Canning departed with a 6-2 lead and notched his first victory since last August. Despite some tough luck, Canning has performed just well enough to have a 4.29 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 501/3 innings. He has given up three or fewer earned runs in eight of 10 starts this season.

Dylan Bundy’s stellar first year in an Angels uniform — his 3.12 ERA entering the game Thursday ranked seventh in the American League behind Gerrit Cole (3.00 ERA), whom the Angels targeted in free agency last year — and left-hander Andrew Heaney’s resurgence also give Maddon hope. That’s at least three starters Maddon can rely on to turn in respectable outings.

Part of the foundation is in place. But Maddon will need more options.


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