Now That's What I Call Relief: A's Bullpen Among AL's Best

Sep 28, 2010; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics manager Bob Geren (17), left, and bench coach Tye Waller (46) watch from the dugout during the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. The Angels defeated the Athletics 4-2. Photo via Newscom

Let's hope Bob Geren knows how to utilize his revamped bullpen...(Photo: Courtesy of Yardbarker.com)

The A’s will enter the 2011 season with one of the best starting rotations, but the team will also enter the season with one the best bullpens in the American League. GM Billy Beane made it a priority to add a significant amount of depth to his bullpen, which was a bit depleted near the end of the 2010 season, and for the most part his moves have been stellar.

Sure, critics will point out and say that the A’s haven’t really addressed their lack of power on offense, but they really don’t have to now. They’re starting to look a lot like the Giants, who just happen to be the defending champs. The Giants won last year primarily because of the strength of their starting pitching. Led by Tim Lincecum, San Fran’s staff ranked 1st in baseball in ERA with a 3.36 last season. The A’s ranked 4th in the league, with a 3.56 team mark.

The A’s starting rotation is currently four-fifths complete, as the team has Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Gio Gonzalez all penciled in as members of the starting rotation. The fifth spot is currently up for grabs, and that’s were depth comes into play.

Rich Harden, Brandon McCarthy, and Josh Outman are considered the serious candidates for the fifth spot, but other contenders include Bobby Cramer, and Tyson Ross. The losers will probably head to the bullpen, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

The A’s currently have one of the best bullpens in baseball. They recently went out and acquired relievers Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes. Add All-Star closer and 2009 Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey, Craig Breslow, Jerry Blevins, Joey Devine, Michael Wuertz, and Brad Ziegler, and you have yourself a stellar ‘pen in the making.

All of this added depth makes Oakland a very dangerous team, especially in a division like the AL West. The Rangers lost Cliff Lee, the Angels are no longer what they used to be, and the Mariners are coming off a 101-loss season. The A’s, meanwhile, have added some pieces and are primed to give Texas a run for their money in 2011.

Offensively, the A’s aren’t going to scare anyone, but they have improved since last season. Beane has added the likes of DH Hideki Matsui, and outfielders David DeJesus and Josh Willingham. While Matsui is getting up there in age, he still brings a good presence to the A’s lineup, and DeJesus and Willingham are nice pieces in the outfield.

Pitching is going to be Oakland’s primary strength in 2011, and like the Giants, the A’s success will depend on how well their pitching performs. Youngsters like Anderson, Cahill, and Gonzalez are going to get a lot attention this season, as many will watch and see how the trio continues to grow and mature, but make no mistake, the A’s bullpen is now equally as good as their starting rotation. Injuries rattled the team in 2010, but Beane and Co. have added some depth, and if the team can stay healthy for a majority of the season, expect great things from this year’s squad.

Here’s a quick look at the depth of the A’s bullpen:

  • Andrew Bailey: The 26-year old closer is primed for another solid season as the A’s closer. Last season, Bailey saved 25 games and compiled an ERA of 1.47 in 49.0 innings. He did spend a lot of time on the DL last year, but the team is optimistic about their young closer’s health heading into the spring.
  • Grant Balfour: Balfour, 33, is another strong example of how deep the A’s bullpen is going to be heading into spring training. The A’s will likely use Balfour as a set-up man for closer Andrew Bailey. In 55.1 innings last season for Tampa Bay, Balfour went 2-1 with a 2.28 ERA. He struck out 56 and walked 17 last season as well. He comes from the AL East, a much tougher division than the AL West, so Balfour should adjust well to the opponents out West.
  • Jerry Blevins: Blevins went 2-1 last season with the A’s while serving in the bullpen. The lefty held left-handed hitters to a .231 batting average last season, and had an ERA of 3.70 in 48.2 innings pitched.
  • Craig Breslow: Breslow will probably continue to be a key part of Oakland’s ‘pen in 2011, as the lefty enjoyed a pretty successful 2010 campaign. Breslow, 30, recorded a 3.01 ERA in 74.2 innings last season, and held lefties to a .181 batting average.
  • Joey Devine: Devine, 27, spent the 2010 season recovering from injury, but he is optimistic about joining the team in 2011. The team would definitely like to have him back. Devine, who posses some good stuff, last pitched in 2008 where he went 1-1 with a 0.59 ERA in 45.2 innings for the A’s ‘pen. A healthy Devine makes the A’s bullpen extremely tough to beat.
  • Brian Fuentes: Fuentes knows he won’t be the closer, unless Bailey suffers some sort of set-back, but Fuentes is okay with that. After all, he knows how talented this staff could be. In 2010, Fuentes saved 24 games while splitting time between the Angels and Twins. In 2009, Fuentes saved 48 games for the Angels. This dude is talented.
  • Rich Harden: Remember him? Sure you do. The ex-A’s ace is now part of the A’s again! Last season Harden had injury troubles (what’s new), but the righty is excited to be back with Oakland, and when he is healthy, he’s got electric stuff. I have got my money on Harden to make a return to the rotation, but McCarthy and Outman are no push-overs. Harden could make an impact either way, though (if he’s healthy).
  • Brandon McCarthy: The A’s signed this former Texas Ranger in the hopes that he would be able to rebound from an injury-plagued 2010. McCarthy, 27, went 7-4 with a 4.62 ERA in 2009 for Texas. He is one of the candidates for the A’s vacant spot in their rotation.
  • Josh Outman: Outman, 26, did not pitch in 2010, and hasn’t made a start since the 2009 season. The lefty is a candidate for the starting rotation, and he’s probably Harden’s biggest competitor for the fifth-spot. Outman went 4-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 12 starts for Oakland in 2009.
  • Michael Wuertz: Wuertz experienced a down year in 2010, going 2-3 with a 4.31 ERA in 39.2 innings. In 2009, Wuertz went 6-1 with a 2.63 ERA, so I’m not sure what to make out of Wuertz’s 2010 campaign. I’m not sure what version of Wuertz we’ll see in 2011, but if he’s anything like the ’09 version, the A’s bullpen has a chance to be really, really good.
  • Brad Ziegler: The sub-mariner thrower went 3-7 last season, but did manage to keep his ERA under 4. In 60.2 innings, Ziegler had an ERA of 3.26, and held righties to a .213 average. He’s good against right-handers, but left-handers can do his damage. Ziegler still remains a viable piece of Oakland’s bullpen.

There’s definitely a lot to be a happy about heading into this season…

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Tags: A's A's Bullpen A's Starting Rotation Andrew Bailey Billy Beane Brett Anderson Brian Fuentes Craig Breslow David DeJesus Gio Gonzalez Dallas Braden Hideki Matsui Jerry Blevins Josh Willingham Oakland A's Oakland Athletics Rich Harden Trevor Cahill

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