AL West Figures to Be a Wild Race in 2011


Sep 27, 2010; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starter Brett Anderson (49) pitches during the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Photo via Newscom

Brett Anderson figures to be a key part of the A's talented starting rotation in 2011. (Photo Courtesy of yardbarker.com)

The Oakland A’s are coming off a season where they finished with a .500 record for the first time since 2006, and have the talent to become a contender not only in 2011 but for future seasons as well. The A’s, who stayed in the race for a majority of the year before losing out on the division to the eventual AL Pennant winners Texas Rangers, will probably rely on the continued growth and development of their young pitching staff in 2011.

The A’s watched several players such as young hurlers like Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez have breakout seasons this year, and are likely to see their young team continue to grow and mature. The A’s pitching staff compiled an AL-best 3.56 ERA, and the young staff recorded 103 quality starts which was tops in baseball. Pitching will be a strength for Oakland in 2011, as the team added depth this offseason in Brandon McCarthy and former-Athletic ace Rich Harden. Both are vying for a spot in Oakland’s talented rotation that already includes the likes of Cahill (18-8, 2.97 ERA), Gonzalez (15-9, 3.23 ERA, Brett Anderson (7-6, 2.80 ERA), and Dallas Braden (11-14, 3.50 ERA).

Harden, 29, has the talent to shut down practically every lineup he faces, but he will have to stay healthy and consistent if he is to make a difference in 2011. Harden went 5-5 with a 5.58 ERA in 18 starts for Texas this year. He last pitched for Oakland in 2008, and went 5-1 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 starts that year prior to getting traded to Chicago at the trade deadline.

While Cahill and Gonzalez enjoyed a lot of success this year for Oakland’s rotation, all eyes should be on ace-in-the-making Anderson. Anderson, 22, was limited in 2010 due to several stints on the DL, but is figured to be a big part of Oakland’s future. The team signed him long-term, and he should be the A’s ace for years to come. In 19 starts this year, Anderson managed to compile a 7-6 record with a 2.80 ERA. Anderson boasts a ton of talent, and the A’s are banking on a healthy Anderson for 2011.

The A’s offense, however, is not so promising. The A’s ranked 23rd in runs (683), 17th in average (.256), 16th in OBP (.324) and 26th in SLG (.378). More importantly, the team ranked 28th in home runs with just 109. The team was led by the likes of 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff who blasted 16 homers while finishing the season with a line of .247/.283/.396. Kouzmanoff, 29, came over in the Padres trade last offseason, and 2010 marked his first season in the American League.

Kouzmanoff’s future is still a bit cloudy, especially if the A’s are able to land free-agent 3B Adrian Beltre. Kouzmanoff struggled in the final months of the season, but he should be good to go in 2011. If the A’s land Beltre, however, look for the team to ship Kouzmanoff off to a team searching for a reliable player to man the hot-corner.

Catcher Kurt Suzuki, who also signed a deal this season, had somewhat of a disappointing season this year hitting just .242/.303/.366 with 13 home runs and 71 RBIs. It wasn’t a terrible season, but it certainly was a let down when you compare it to Suzuki’s 2009 season. Suzuki hit .274/.313/.421 with 15 home runs and 88 RBIs that year. Suzuki’s four-year extension into the 2013 season, however, speaks volumes about the team’s confidence in their backstop. Suzuki, 27, is also a big part of Oakland’s future, and should bounce back next season and re-establish himself as one the game’s best catchers.

The A’s GM Billy Beane, who always seems to be working on a deal, has had a busy offseason thus far and has upgraded his offense in the process. The A’s have acquired OF David DeJesus, DH Hideki Matsui, and OF Josh Willingham so far this offseason. The A’s offense, however, lost OF Rajai Davis, who stole 50 bases this year due to trade. The A’s figure, however, by adding DeJesus, Matsui, and Willingham, that their chances at competing in 2011 will greatly improve.

DeJesus, 31, hit .318/.384/.443 with five home runs and 37 RBIs in 91 games this year for the Royals. He’s not a power guy by any means, which is something the A’s desperately need, but he’s a solid contact hitter who should be an upgrade in the A’s outfield. Joining him will be Willingham, who came over from the Nationals, and the two will play next to Coco Crisp, who will be the A’s opening day center-fielder. Willingham, 31, brings a little power to the table, and should fit in nicely with Oakland. In 114 games this year, Willinham hit .268/.389/.459 with 16 home runs and 56 RBIs.

The A’s offense will also get a boost from DH Hideki Matsui. Matsui, who played for the Angels this year, will be the A’s everyday DH, and should provide some thunder to a rather punchless offense. Matsui hit .274/.361/.459 with 21 home runs and 84 RBIs in 2010. The A’s are hoping that their offense will be able to support the strength of their pitching staff next season, and are likely to still make another deal or two before the start of the season.

The A’s, while improved, are likely one more bat away from becoming favorites in a very close AL West division. The A’s have the Rangers and Angels to worry about, and while Seattle played poorly in 2010, the division is not the AL East, and anyone could come out on top. Adding Beltre, however, could take the team to the next level. The pitching is definitely there, ranking in the top 10 in most experts early season previews, but the offense remains the team’s most pressing issue.

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