By Sam McPherson
One by one, the 2012 Oakland Athletics lost all their experienced starting pitchers down the stretch.
First, it was 39-year old Bartolo Colon, who was suspended by Major League Baseball for violating performance-enhancing drug policies. His 10-9 record, with a 3.43 ERA, was a huge boost to the A’s over the first four months-plus of the season.
Next, the 29-year old Brandon McCarthy took a line drive off his head on September 5, suffering a skull fracture. The big righty’s 8-6 record, along with a 3.24 ERA, was going to be sorely missed over the final month of the season as the A’s tried to hang on to a playoff spot.
Finally, lightning struck the Oakland rotation one final time on September 19 when 24-year old Brett Anderson — who had already fought back from Tommy John surgery in 2011 — strained his oblique in a road start in Detroit. Losing Anderson not only meant the A’s would miss his 2.57 ERA (and his 4-2 record) over the final 14 games of the regular season, but they’d have to start a rookie pitcher in every one of those games while trying to nail down that postseason berth.
Somehow, the A’s did it — they won the American League West with the rookies leading the way, and now, after getting stoic and effective starts from two rookies in Detroit over the weekend, despite not winning either game, Oakland finally gets one of these veterans back on the mound tonight for Game Three.
Just when they need it most, perhaps, because if the A’s lose tonight at the O.co Coliseum, their season is over.
No pressure, whatsoever, on Brett Anderson then. Really.
Oakland will be hosting its first postseason game since October 2006, and the East Bay will be rocking. The A’s lost Games One and Two of the AL Championship Series to the Detroit Tigers that fall, and now they get to host the Tigers again as Oakland tries to win the first of potentially three games at home in this series — to salvage their season and some pride.
The A’s came into the 2012 Division Series as the higher seed, but they had to open with two games on the road in Detroit, nonetheless, thanks to a quirky MLB postseason change this year. Throw in early start times on the East Coast for a West Coast team, and Oakland lost both games — the second one is most disappointing fashion after holding two different leads in the late innings.
Now Anderson may have to throw the game of his life to keep the A’s season alive.
The young lefty is certain capable of it. In his first four starts this year returning from a long injury absence, Anderson won all four games, giving up only three runs in 26 innings. However, those starts were all against mediocre teams: Minnesota, Cleveland, Boston and Seattle. In his final two starts before suffering the oblique injury, Anderson didn’t fare so well against two playoff-contending teams (Los Angeles and Detroit), losing both games and giving up eight runs in nine innings.
So he’ll have to be special tonight, or else the A’s will see their “miracle” season come to end.
The Oakland offense also needs to find itself once again. After scoring a league-high 394 runs after the All-Star break, for a 5.2 per-game average, the A’s have scored just five runs in two games against the Tigers. Offensive output often declines in the postseason, as the competition gets tougher — and Detroit did have the third-best team ERA in the league this season.
But the A’s had the second-best ERA, so they can match their opponent well, and even surpass them in a few ways.
Plus, they’re finally at home. And that may make all the difference in this series, finally.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.