Let me start this off by saying that General Manager Billy Beane is a complete and utter guru, and I think it will finally start to pay off this year. My pick of the Oakland Athletics winning the AL West will probably result in me getting a lot of flack, but they are my dark horse in all of baseball this year, and the pitching staff that they toss out there is absolutely lethal.
The A's also made the best offseason moves in the division by several miles. People forget that this team finished .500 last year, and they will definitely crack it in 2011.
Lineup: The A's lineup has been their weakness for years, but after handle of impressive and low-risk moves in the offseason, the A's have what it takes to compete on offense again. They won't have that 30-plus home run guy, but the additions of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham helps round out the lineup.
David DeJesus might be the best signing, an overall hitter that can find every gap and crevice at the Coliseum. He slapped 23 doubles last year in just over half a season, so expect the hits to fly off his bat in Oakland.
They return the usual suspects in Cliff Pennington, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Kurt Suzuki, but I really think the additions in the offseason help balance this lineup. The huge hole in the lineup is Daric Barton at first base. At least prospect Chris Carter jacked a pair of home runs earlier today to help his stock rise in case of a first-base floundering at the big league level.
The A's lineup isn't the best in the division, but it is largely improved and heading in the right direction. End of story.
Pitching: The Oakland A's possess quite possibly the best group of starting pitchers in the American League right now. These guys are all underrated as well.
Dallas Braden is kind of spotty, but we have seen what he is capable of. The two other lefties in Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez are both young and have pitched really with. Anderson may have some Cy Young material.
Righty Trevor Cahill is no exception either. He doesn't power pitch to get guys out, but his numbers speak for how crafty he is. He won 18 games in 30 starts last year, with a 2.97 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. In his defense, he collected 118 K's. Rich Harden is another outstanding low-risk offseason addition to fill out the back end of the rotation.
Even this bullpen is loaded to the brim. Andrew Bailey tweaked his elbow today, which could be an issue, with him being the closer and all. There is plenty other talent in the bullpen to fill the void.
The A's offseason also saw them reel in Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes. Fuentes could easily close if necessary. The experienced arms of Brad Ziegler, Craig Breslow, and Michael Wuertz are still around as well.
The interesting piece is a healthy Joey Devine. Devine underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009, but in 2008 he dropped a 6-1 record in 45.2 innings with an ERA of 0.59 ERA. This entire Oakland pitching staff runs very deep, plain and simple.
Bottom line: My gut tells me that this could be the year for the Oakland A's. Their pitching staff can flourish and get the respect they deserve, while the lineup shows signs of improvement. The top four in this starting rotation will give the rest of the AL West fits all season (Cahill went 7-2 against division opponents last year).
The A's will be at the top of the West logjam and will at the very least cause a ruckus in the upcoming 2011 season.