Starting pitching single-handedly keeps you in the game and in the race. If you didn't believe before that starting pitching was that important, consider how the A's, missing the entire heart of their order due to injury (including Chavez playing hurt and hitting .230 with little power), and missing the only two relievers you really want out there in the 8th or 9th inning, and with less than great defense in the OF or at 1B, still managed play .500 ball. Even a team with horrible hitting and a bad bullpen can win half its games if the starting pitching is good enough.
Yet the reverse isn't true. Good hitting and a good bullpen won't save you if your rotation isn't solid. Just ask the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees how much hitting you need, or how good a bullpen you need, to overcome a poor rotation--the answer is they don't know yet.
Tonight the A's get Kotsay back, but one of the biggest keys to A's staying in the race is on display tonight and it's not Kotsay. It's Joe Kennedy, whose presence as the #4 starter signals all sorts of trouble. I say the A's can stay in the race for a while without all their best hitters and even without Street and/or Duchscherer, if the rotation is dominant enough, but that they cannot compete with the Angels if Kennedy and (this week's example) DiNardo have to start 1/3 of their games. Unless Kennedy, so far the pitching version of Jack Cust, can shake off a bad outing and return to form.
Trouble is, I thought he did return to form last start. For the A's to compete, Kennedy has to prove me (and a lot of people) wrong and show that he can be a "very good #4 starter" and not "an ok #5 starter". Or the A's need to make a trade--not for a closer, not for a slugger, but for a starting pitcher. They keep you in the pennant race like no one else.