Saunders earns little credit but big role

Saunders earns little credit but big role

ANAHEIM -- Joe Saunders, in his first full season in the Major Leagues, had the most wins on the Angels' staff and the second-most wins (17) in the American League for a left-hander this season.

Saunders was selected to the AL All-Star team, he had the sixth-best ERA in the league and his 2.55 ERA on the road was the best in the AL. But on a staff that includes John Lackey and Ervin Santana, he is still just the No. 3 starter, and he will pitch Game 3 of the AL Division Series against the Red Sox on Sunday at Fenway Park.

"Joe has evolved as he's gotten his opportunity to be a starting pitcher for a full 30-plus starts in a Major League season, and he's made the most of it," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's had a terrific run for us in the last couple of years, when he hasn't really made his footprints in the rotation.

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Saunders will be trying to keep the Angels from being eliminated. The Halos go back to Boston down, 2-0, after losing the first two games at home, and they need Saunders to help them stay alive.

"He [was] up and down in the Minor Leagues a couple years ago, so now that he's gotten that opportunity just to take the ball, his confidence level has risen. He knows he's a Major League pitcher, and he's throwing the ball very well as a result. Joe had a great year for us, and he'll pitch well on Sunday."

Saunders, who is undefeated in six career starts against the Red Sox, knows how to win. Over the past three years, he is 32-15 for a .681 winning percentage that is the second highest among Major League left-handers.

Saunders missed a start in September because of a kidney stone, but he pitched six scoreless innings in his final start of the season against the Rangers, allowing two hits and striking out nine.

Vs. Red Sox: Saunders is 4-0 with a 2.75 ERA in six starts against the Red Sox in his career. The Angels have won all six starts.

At Fenway Park: Saunders is 3-0 with a 2.75 ERA in three starts at Fenway.

Playoff experience: Saunders did not appear against the Red Sox in last year's Division Series. He was supposed to start Game 4, but the Angels were swept.

Loves to face: David Ortiz. Well, at least he's not afraid of Big Papi. Ortiz is just 3-for-15 off Saunders. All three hits were singles, and Ortiz has drawn just one walk against Saunders.

Hates to face: Dustin Pedroia. The Red Sox's second baseman is 7-for-18 with a double against Saunders.

Why he'll win: Saunders is one of just four active pitchers who are undefeated at Fenway Park with at least three starts and three wins there.

Pitcher beware: The Red Sox hit .304 with a .382 on-base percentage and a .493 slugging percentage against left-handers at Fenway Park.

Did you know: The Angels were 13-1 when Saunders pitched seven or more innings in a start this season.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.