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The Outlook WIth A Less-Than-Rich Rotation

After Loaiza's most excellent outing on Thursday, I was thinking about how dense some of the folks on AN are. Like the numbskulls earlier this week who actually wanted Loaiza to make a bullpen appearance before getting a start, and were squawking about how he shouldn't be starting in Cleveland. How stupid do those morons look now?

Oh right, that was me.

Anyhoo, the A's are about to play the only team with as much to mitch and boan about as we have: the Matsui-less, Sheffield-less, and Jeter-impaired Yankees. Who, of course, have been winning anyway.

With Harden out anywhere from 15 days to a career, the question rolling around in my mind right now is: Is the A's starting rotation good enough to compete for the AL West in 2006? I am a big believer that a team's claim to contention ultimately starts with the rotation. You can slug your way to glory for a couple of months, and you can work backwards from a deep bullpen to a point. But nothing predicts long-term success or failure better than the quality of a team's starting rotation.

For the A's, now, it's Zito, Haren, Blanton, Loaiza, and most likely Saarloos, in a division that looks to demand about 90 wins for the taking. Behind an average offense capable of surging (Summer, 2005) or exasperating (13th in average with RISP), an average bullpen that was great (full health), then awful (no health), and is settling somewhere in between, and a solid defense, is the rotation still "good enough"?

Zito: Probably yes. Zito is a second-half pitcher, who is having a better first-half than average for him. As an ace, he's a stretch, but at the same time no opposing team wants to face him. That's a good sign.

Haren: Probably yes. Haren will give you strikes, innings, a great arm, and enough experience to be more veteran than young `un.

Blanton: Probably no. Blanton is a classic back of the rotation guy, someone who will give you some innings and some great outings, but lacks the reliability or stuff to thrive over a sustained period of time. Which is what makes the second half of 2005 so bizarre. He is pitching this year exactly as I expected him to pitch last year.

Loaiza: Probably no. Even when healthy, except for a career year (2003) Loaiza's trademark has been his inconsistency. The only thing he's really been, consistently, is inconsistent.

Saarloos: Definite maybe. His peripherals last year foretold doom this year, but as a #5 starter--especially if he is skipped on off-days--Saarloos doesn't have to be that great to be a plus #5 starter, and the fact is that if you limit him to 6 innings or 80 pitches, he gives you a chance to win more often than not. He'd be great with a team like Texas or New York, who can afford the 3-4 runs a wee bit better than the A's can. But I'd rather have Saarloos as my #5 starter than have Blanton or Loaiza as my #3 starter.

And that's where the A's are in trouble: the middle of the rotation was supposed to be the back-end, and it's probably going to pitch like the back-end, and then we get to the back-end. I believe the season rests on the shoulders of Joe Blanton and Esteban Loaiza, and their ability to pitch one spot in the rotation up from their track record. Yeah, I'm a bit concerned.