February 19, 2006

A's Pitching Staff: Armed and Ready

When the A's fans saw Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder traded away after the 2004 season, in the space of a week, the feeling was very dire. Two thirds of the "Big Three" had been decimated, forcing Oakland to see its best-known players leave for greener pastures elsewhere, following year after year of more of the same - with losses of Jason Giambi, Keith Foulke, Jason Isringhausen, Johnny Damon and others having already inflicted significant damage on the A's psyche. But in 2005, after a rocky start, the A's challenged their way to a second place finish in the AL West division, scoring 88 wins, largely on the back of what had been left behind - a pretty darn good pitching staff, consisting of the now veteran Barry Zito, Rich Harden, youngsters Dan Haren and Joe Blanton, and fifth starter Kirk Saarloos.

Even the competitive cities are giving the A's pitching staff its due. From the Seattle Times:

"The Oakland Athletics have a pitching staff the Mariners can only dream about, as deep in both starting and relieving as anyone except perhaps the Chicago White Sox, the defending World Series champions."

In the 2005 off season, the A's didn't see any significant losses. Octavio Dotel, Erubiel Durazo and Scott Hatteberg were replaced with Frank Thomas, Milton Bradley, and yet another pitcher - Esteban Loaiza. This gives the A's six credible starters, with Joe Kennedy in the bullpen in case disaster strikes, and Dan Meyer waiting in the wings in Triple-A Sacramento after a dismal 2005 campaign.

Now some are projecting Joe Blanton and Zito to each win 20 games, with any kind of run support, with Haren following closely behind. Though Rich Harden's health is somewhat in question, he and Loaiza will give the A's five starters capable of winning 15 to 20 games this year, backed by a bullpen including All Star Justin Duchscherer and Rookie of the Year Huston Street. With the A's offense set to pick up more of the load this year, the pitching staff doesn't show any signs of slowing down. They will throw some serious heat and keep the A's pushing toward the playoffs in 2006.

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