Athletics: Dominant Starting Pitching Can Carry A’s to Postseason Success

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SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 26: Jesus Luzardo #44 of the Oakland Athletics delivers in the seventh inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on September 26, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. The Oakland Athletics beat the Seattle Mariners 3-1. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 26: Jesus Luzardo #44 of the Oakland Athletics delivers in the seventh inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on September 26, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. The Oakland Athletics beat the Seattle Mariners 3-1. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images) /
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If the Washington Nationals showed us anything this postseason, it’s that having great starting pitching can cover other shortcomings and carry a team to a championship. What does that mean for an Oakland Athletics’ team with title aspirations of its own?

In a league that is full of teams becoming more and more focused on finding statistical and strategical legs up and relying on matchup advantages, the 2019 Washington Nationals showed once again that having Hall-of-Fame starting pitching is the ultimate game breaker in postseason baseball.

And for the Oakland Athletics, that means they should feel good about the way they have built their team. 

The Nats’ four key starters (Scherzer, Strasburg, Sanchez and Corbin) pitched 70% of their postseason innings, and their five World Series starters (including Joe Ross) pitched 74% of their World Series innings.

For comparison, the four Boston Red Sox pitchers who started at least two games combined to throw 58.4% of their playoff innings in 2018.

The 2017 Houston Astros had a similar workshare, as their top four innings eaters threw 68% of the possible postseason innings despite going to seven games in both the ALCS and World Series.

The fact that the A’s have developed such a promising pitching staff means they have the talent to compete in the playoffs if their young stars play up to their potential.

Despite the recent turn favoring strong bullpens – even the Nats and Astros this year used openers multiple times during the playoffs – history tells us that winners are always driven by starting pitching.

Since 2008, every World Series champion has had at least one Cy Young winner on their staff, and since 2000 all but four champions have had a Cy Young. The exceptions: the 2007 Boston Red Sox, who had a 23-year-old Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and postseason vets Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling; the 2005 Chicago White Sox, who had Mark Buehrle in his best season, a slew of veteran starters who all stepped up, and AJ Pierzynski behind the plate; the 2003 Florida Marlins, who had young Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willis and Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate; and the 2002 Anaheim Angels, who had three-time champ John Lackey as a rookie and future Hall-of-Famer Francisco Rodriguez closing games out.

The teams that don’t have Cy Young winners all have something in common: postseason legends (Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Curt Schilling) with Hall-of-Fame caliber catchers (Pudge, Bengie Molina, AJ Pierzynski, Jason Varitek) and All-Star closers (K-Rod, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Hermanson, Braden Looper).

Most of these teams didn’t know that’s what they had until they got there. Beckett, Lackey and Lester had never started a postseason game before their legendary campaigns but showed up big in decisive games… remind you of anyone?

What do the A’s have? A great, clutch-hitting offense who can supplement pitching, young and nasty starters, an all-star closer and a catcher who has shown all-star talent and who has spent a lot of time developing with his pitchers.

It all has to come together, but the Oakland Athletics have the talent to win big on the back of their starting pitching.

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