If 2010 taught us anything it is that the old saying “pitching wins championships” is no lie.

The 2010 Texas Rangers were able to ride the fourth best pitching staff in the American League, backed by the fourth best offense, all the way to the World Series. Fortunately for A’s fans, the Rangers lost their top pitcher when Cliff Lee spurned their offseason overtures and instead signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Rangers have more problems entering this season with the loss of Vladimir Guerrero’s bat in their lineup, and the impending departure of Michael Young when the Rangers find a trade partner. They did add Adrian Beltre, who boosts both their offense and defensive standing, however their losses definitely outweigh their additions.

The Los Angeles Angels added Dan Haren last season, adding to their already strong rotation of Ervin Santana, Scott Kazmir, Joel Piniero and Jeff Weaver. Their major offseason additions came in the form of bullpen help as they signed Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi.

The Angels also traded for Vernon Wells to improve their offense. However, they traded away Mike Napoli and his 26 home runs from 2010, and Juan Rivera to acquire Wells. Their season will depend on whether Dan Haren and Scott Kazmir can return to their once dominant selves, and if Kendry Morales returns healthy and able to contribute to their ninth best American League offense from 2010.

The Mariners, added Jack Cust and they have Ichiro and Chone Figgins. They have a hot pitching prospect, Michael Pineda, and the reigning AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. That’s about the most worth mentioning here. The Mariners had a very respectable pitching staff in 2010, good enough for the third best ERA in the American League. However, they did not make any significant upgrades to their league worst offense.

The 2010 Oakland Athletics outperformed the entire American League in most pitching categories.

The A’s had the best ERA among American League teams (3.56), the least amount of hits (1315), the least number of runs allowed (626), the least earned runs (566), ranked fifth in base on balls (512) and finished first in VORP (229.1). They were backed up by the league’s most efficient defense. Unfortunately they were also backed up by the leagues eleventh best offense.

The 2011 Oakland Athletics have added depth to their starting rotation as well as their bullpen, looking to further improve on their league best pitching staff. Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden return to the A’s rotation with the winner of Rich Harden, Brandon McCarthy or Josh Outman joining as the fifth starter.

They will be supported by a solid bullpen consisting of All-Star closer Andrew Bailey, newcomers Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour, Craig Breslow, Michael Wuertz, Brad Ziegler and either Joey Devine or Jerry Blevins competing for the final bullpen spot.

Defense remains a strength of the A’s in 2011, as they should maintain their standing as the top defense in the American League. David DeJesus brings with him his 241-consecutive game errorless streak, and the A’s infield returns in tact from 2010. Coco Crisp will strive to remain healthy and in center field for the duration of the season, and Josh Willingham is also a plus defender in left field having made only one error in 2010.

Offensive additions Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham will improve the A’s overall production from their 11th best (third worst) offense in 2010. Expect to see returning A’s players Daric Barton, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Kurt Suzuki and Mark Ellis to improve on their 2010 statistics in 2011 as well thanks to a stronger lineup around them providing better protection.

The A’s 2011 pitching staff looks primed to punish their American League opponents and solidify their standing as the league’s most dominant staff. While their impressive 2010 season went unrewarded, the A’s stand as the most improved team over the offseason. With only positive additions to the pitching staff and defense, plus an upgrade to the offense, the AL West is there for the taking for the A’s.

While general manager Billy Beane has always maintained the goal is simply to reach the playoffs, insisting there are too many variables once you get to the playoffs, this team is designed to go the distance once there. I like this pitching staff matched up against the pitching of any other team they face in the playoffs. Yankees? Red Sox? Twins? The A’s rotation and bullpen is superior to each of these teams.

If the A’s offense can provide them with average production, the A’s pitching staff should lead the A’s to at least one champagne shower celebration this season, and when the playoffs come around, I wouldn’t count them out against anyone.

AL West Pitching Statistics in 2010 (with rankings against the entire American League):

Oakland Anaheim Texas Seattle
ERA 3.56 – 1st 4.04 – 6th 3.93 – 4th 3.93 – 3rd
Hits 1315 – 1st 1422 – 8th 1355 – 4th 1402 – 6th
Runs 626 – 1st 702 – 7th 687 – 4th 698 – 6th
ER 566 – 1st 651 – 6th 636 – 4th 628 – 3rd
HR 153 – 7th 148 – 4th 162 – 10th 157 – 9th
BB 512 – 5th 565 – 12th 551 – 11th 452 – 2nd
SO 1070 – 8th 1130 – 7th 1181 – 4th 973 – 13th
VORP 229.1 – 1st 178.8 – 6th 197.6 – 4th 155.8 – 8th
Defensive Efficiency  0.713 – 1st 0.694 – 6th 0.705 – 5th 0.706 – 4th
Offense – Runs 11th 9th 4th 14th

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