Apr 16, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris (36) looks on as manager Bob Melvin (6) pulls starting pitcher Tommy Milone (57) in the seventh inning of the game against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Ups and Downs of Oakland Pitching

A team known for its pitching. That can pretty much sum up the A’s in one sentence. For as long as you can look back, that’s been the recipe for success.

The past couple years, the A’s have won their division by jumping on the shoulders of their pitching. From players who were transformed from hitter to flamethrower, like Sean Doolittle, who just signed a five-year extension this past week, to pitchers who were unknown from 2008 to 2012, while jumping around organizations, like Jesse Chavez, the A’s have gotten talent from unlikely sources.

Which brings us to this season, where the A’s are 13-5 and in first place in the American League.

The Ups:

The A’s pitching staff is first in the AL in earned run average, boasting a 2.56 ERA. The A’s are also first in the majors with a 1.09 WHIP and first in quality starts, with 14. The Oakland starting rotation was a question mark, heading into the season, with Bartolo Colon leaving in free agency, along with injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin.

But, newcomer Scott Kazmir, who signed a two-year 22-million-dollar deal prior to the 2014 season has rolled in his first four starts. Kazmir is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA and 24 K’s. Another great addition to the staff, has been Jesse Chavez, who was obtained for cash considerations from the Blue Jays in 2012. The A’s have won each of Chavez’ four starts – all quality starts – this season, although Chavez has only received a decision in one. Chavez, who has an ERA of 1.38 with 28 K’s, has been the surprise of the season for Oakland and just more evidence that Billy Beane is smarter than everyone.

Another positive has been the arm of Fernando Abad. After coming over during the offseason, Abad impressed with a solid Spring and has continued in the early parts of the season. Abad has a 0.00 ERA in 7.1 innings, striking out nine, while walking two.

Last, but not least, Sonny Gray. He has continued to impress while being the ace on a first place team.

The Downs:

Last season, the A’s bullpen was a lock to shut down games after the ball was handed to them. This season, already, the A’s have had five blown saves, coming from new closer Jim Johnson, newcomer Luke Gregerson and Doolittle. Even with Johnson’s ERA at 7.00, that’s an improvement from where it was after the first three games.

The 4-5 of Oakland’s starting rotation: Dan Straily and Tommy Milone. Neither pitcher has been impressive to say the least. Straily has a 1-1 record with a 5.40 ERA over his first three outings, but his worst performance came on Tuesday when he didn’t even make it out of the third inning, allowing 6 earned runs to the Los Angeles Angels.

Milone, has a 4.09ERA while going 0-1 in his first two outings, but his worst stat, though, would have to be his .309 BAA. Milone, who was added to the roster after A.J. Griffin‘s injury will obviously find himself back with the River Cats when Griffin returns.

For now, though, both pitchers need to step it up to prove they belong on a staff like the A’s or I’m sure more moves will be happening in the near future.

While a 13-5 record is obviously nothing to worry about, the way the A’s have been forced to come back from early deficits, or blown saves, is a cause for concern. 18 games into the season is too early for true critique, but there’s no time like April to pull ahead in your division and never look back, and every loss in the early months can come back to haunt you.

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