Rich Hill, doubleheader, starting pitching

Examining the AL West shows the importance of starting pitching

A team without healthy starting pitching is doomed to have a dismal season

To truly be a contender, a team needs all its pieces working well at the same time. Add a bit of luck to the equation and you may have a World Series champion.

The 2015 Oakland Athletics proved just how much having one piece of the team puzzle out of whack can hurt a team. They had a terrible bullpen and it ruined the entire season — Oakland lost 35 one-run games. Even if a team’s starting pitching is great, they can’t win without a solid bullpen.

The same goes for defense and even more so offense, but nothing kills a team more quickly than injuries to their starting rotation. It simply spells doom for that team’s season.

An easy, accessible and current example of this problem can be seen simply by looking at the 2016 American League West.

starting pitching, yu darvish
Yu Darvish. Getty Images.

Aside from the Texas Rangers, who have the American League’s best record at 47-26, only the Houston Astros are above .500 (by just a single game and are still 10 games behind the Rangers). Suddenly there are no guarantees that the Rangers will be able retain their position in the league or even the division as they recently had to place Derek Holland and Yu Darvish on the disabled list along with learning on Wednesday that they’ve lost Colby Lewis for at least two months to a lat strain.

The Seattle Mariners’ pitching woes began when ace Felix Hernandez was placed on the disabled list, but with Wade Miley and Taijuan Walker both out too they’ve had to rely on an inexperienced, inconsistent starting staff. The team brought in 24-year-old Adrian Sampson as a replacement, but he didn’t even get to make a start before complaining of elbow soreness. They slipped under the .500 mark for the first time this season on Wednesday night.

The Los Angeles Angels have C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney on the 60-day DL and not much of a farm system with which to replace them. They’ve brought in Tim Lincecum for help, but don’t expect him to be able to pitch too deep into games, leaving them just two and a half games above the cellar dwelling A’s.

The A’s though are by far the easiest team to look at to see just how much injuries to the starting staff have doomed them to a second-straight season of finishing the year last in the division.

The A’s went into spring training thinking they’d have a lot of starting pitching depth. There had ace Sonny Gray and veteran Rich Hill to lead the way, and youngsters Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman and Chris Bassitt to round out the top five. They were then supposed to have Henderson Alvarez and Jarrod Parker joining the rotation around May after recovering from shoulder and elbow surgeries, respectively. Felix Doubront could be used as either a long reliever or a starter for even more depth.

So what has gone so wrong that the bullpen, which was completely and successfully overhauled over the offseason, has pitched more innings than any other bullpen in the majors? For the most part it’s the injuries that began piling up and when you add that to too many short performances from the younger part of the staff, it’s a recipe for total disaster.

King Felix Hernandez, starting pitching
Felix Hernandez. Getty Images.

Alvarez and Parker never made it back from their surgeries. Parker re-fractured the elbow on which he’s already had two Tommy John procedures. Alvarez is currently only on the 15-day DL, but he’s on his way to see renowned orthopedic surgeon and Tommy John specialist Dr. James Andrews, which means he many not take the mound this season.

Doubront and Bassitt are both out for the season needing Tommy John surgery. Hill is out with a groin strain and even Gray spent two weeks on the DL. He still doesn’t look like the guy who finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting in 2015. Hahn and Graveman aren’t pitching up the standards they showed they could last season, so the A’s are now bringing up prospects to fill in the rotation.

Things are only going to continue to go downhill for Oakland as months of four-inning starts by the rotation continue to tire out the talented bullpen arms the Athletics brought in to fix last season’s biggest problem.

Of course each team in the AL West (or the majors in general) would be better with stronger offenses and defenses alongside a solid bullpen. However, it’s the loss of even a decent starting rotation to injuries that can really cause any team to falter. A starting rotation decimated by injury will inevitably have an unfavorable effect on even the most talented bullpen.

With all the team’s pitching under that kind of stress, any team’s season is doomed.

AL West a case study in the importance of healthy starting pitching

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 The FanRag Sports Network, Today’s Knuckleball and Jen Rainwater

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