Prior to making the offseason moves for Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy, the Oakland Athletics already had the best pitching staff in the American League. Their 3.56 team ERA ranked first in the AL last year and fourth in the big leagues behind San Francisco, San Diego and Atlanta. The starting rotation stands to get better with another year of experience for young twenty-somethings Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez.
With Dallas Braden sliding into the fourth slot, the fifth becomes an arms race between McCarthy, Harden, September call-up Bobby Cramer and the stirrup-clad Josh Outman, presumably sending the rest to an already solid bullpen. McCarthy and Harden seem to be the front-runners to pitch every fifth day. However, Josh Outman is an intriguing option as he pitched well in the first half of the 2009 season before Tommy John surgery shut him down prematurely.
The front-end of the rotation is set with Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill each returning with sub-three ERAs from 2010 and in Cahill’s case, all-star recognition. Gio Gonzalez comes into the 2010 season not far behind them with his own 3.23 ERA and led the team with 171 strikeouts. Beyond the stats, Gonzalez seemed to mature from an unquestioned talent to a quality starter in 2010.
Lest we forget, their likely least talented pitcher threw a perfect game last year.
Behind the great rotation is a bullpen not likely to give up too many leads, anchored by two-time all-star Andrew Bailey (25 saves and a 1.47 ERA in 2010) and solid setup men Michael Wuertz and Brad Zeigler. It only gets stronger with the return of Joey Devine (0.59 ERA in 42 games in 2008) and whomever doesn’t make the opening day starting rotation. Southpaws Craig Breslow and Jerry Blevins seem set to be the left-handed options out of the bullpen for Manager Bob Geren. The two come into the 2011 season boasting mid-three ERAs each.
Questions certainly abound on the injury front. Will Devine and Outman be fully recovered from serious surgeries? Will Brett Anderson complete a full season? How much does the pitcher-friendly ballpark in Oakland deflate the team’s ERA? Is there any other AL pitching staff within sniffing distance of the A’s for these questions to matter?
There are quality staffs around the American League, but none that challenge Oakland. The Tampa Bay Rays have an ace in David Price and two flame-throwers (Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano) in the bullpen but won’t dazzle you otherwise.
Have you heard that Cliff Lee no longer pitches for the Rangers? C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis are solid but Texas still needs to fill out the rest of their rotation.
The front-end of the Red Sox rotation looks scary with Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester coming off great years. John Lackey is a pitcher that everyone wants in their rotation and loves to pitch in big games. Beyond those three, they have three potential starters with good track records but who struggled in 2010. Tim Wakefield, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka all had sub-standard years for the Sox.
The pitching staff for the A’s, combined with an upgraded lineup should have fans optimistic about the 2011 season. They can now challenge the scary lineups in New York, Boston, Texas, Minnesota, etc. After all, pitching wins championships. The Giants just proved it.