For Angels manager Mike Scioscia, nothing in the game is more important than the pitcher-catcher relationship. Everything that happens on the field flows from that essential connection.
In the case of the Angels' projected starters for the first three games of the American League Division Series against the AL Wild Card entry, Scioscia has a pretty good idea what the pairs will be even though no announcements have been made:
Game 1: John Lackey and Mike Napoli.
Game 2: Ervin Santana and Jeff Mathis.
Game 3: Joe Saunders and Napoli.
A pattern develops over a year or several years, and the results begin to take form in black-and-white statistical printouts. Lackey and Napoli have a good thing going. Mathis seems to bring out the best in Santana. Saunders works about the same with both, and Napoli's booming bat takes priority in a close call.
Entering the season's final weekend, Napoli's .561 slugging percentage over 223 at-bats is surpassed only by Mark Teixeira's .638 among the Angels. Vladimir Guerrero is next at .523, and he sports a full season of at-bats.
Yet, in Scioscia's view, defense is far more important than offense in weighing a catcher's value.
"The thing that's going to influence the outcome of the game is the 140 to 150 pitches your team throws when you're on the mound," Scioscia said. "If you have confidence that a pitcher and catcher working together will save you a run and a half that game, you have to weigh that against the offensive side.
"Jeff and Santana have really meshed, and that's something we want to keep together. Nap and Lackey have really been in sync.
"Both [catchers] have really done a terrific job behind the plate for us. I feel good interchanging those guys with anybody. But the splits really point to Jeff and Ervin and John and Mike. With Joe, there's not much of a difference."
Lackey has a 2.83 ERA working with Napoli compared to a 3.82 ERA with Mathis. Santana has a 2.90 ERA with Mathis, and a 4.68 ERA with Napoli. Saunders has a 3.45 ERA with Mathis, and a 3.92 ERA with Napoli.
Jered Weaver has done better with Mathis (3.79 ERA) than Napoli (5.21 ERA), and Jon Garland also has a better ERA with Mathis (4.69) than Napoli (5.04) -- though not enough to make a major difference.
One Angels pitcher who clearly favors Napoli is Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod has a 1.24 ERA in 29 innings with Napoli, and a 3.31 ERA in 35 1/3 innings with Mathis.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.