Oakland Athletics: Why the A’s can win the AL West

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 27: Sean Manaea #55 of the Oakland Athletics pours beer into his mouth as he celebrates clinching a wild card spot after the game against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on September 27, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 27: Sean Manaea #55 of the Oakland Athletics pours beer into his mouth as he celebrates clinching a wild card spot after the game against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on September 27, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images) /

Oakland Athletics: Why the A’s can win the AL West

Rotation aces

Verlander’s reputation is well-earned. He went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA across 223 innings in 2019. Entering his age 37 season, he is a candidate for decline, but his record argues that he’ll probably replicate his solid numbers for one more season.

Manaea is coming off surgery that cost him most of 2019. But he returned in September to re-establish his own ace status, out-pitching everybody over the final four weeks, including Verlander and the since-departed Gerrit Cole. In five starts he went 4-0 and allowed just four earned runs in 30 innings.

Unless injuries strike again – always a possibility with any pitcher – Manaea is well-positioned to match and even surpass Verlander in 2020.

Houston’s No. 2 is Zack Greinke. He’s delivered a reliable 200 innings for several seasons, so his age (36) isn’t as big a concern as it might otherwise be. The Oakland Athletics will counter with Frankie Montas, who was a revelation when he wasn’t sitting out on a half-season drug suspension. Montas went 9-2 in 16 starts with a 2.63 ERA that was three-tenths of a point better than Greinke. Assuming he remains eligible, he’s better.

The Astros have designated Lance McCullers to suck up Cole’s starts. Like Manaea, he’s also coming off surgery. Unlike Manaea, he did not get a chance to establish himself in 2019. In four seasons prior to his injury, McCullers’ stats (29-22, 3.67 ERA, 114 innings) establish him as a competent filler pitcher, but hardly in the mold of Cole.

The A’s are counting on touted rookie Jose Luzardo to fill the No. 3 starter job. In six relief appearances following his September callup, Luzardo was functionally untouched. He compiled a 12.50 ERA and fanned 16 in 12 innings. McCullers vs. Luzardo, then, is a classic matchup of established moderate-quality vs. unproven potential.