The Oakland Athletics have surpassed the expectations of many in 2021.
A good portion of preseason projections expected the team to finish in the middle of the pack in the American League West.
Instead, with almost four months in the books, the Athletics are on pace for 91 wins.
They’re only 3.5 games out of first place in the AL West, and more importantly, they currently have a 3.5-game lead over the next-closest team for the second Wild Card spot in the AL.
The Athletics are in great shape to crack the postseason and potentially make a run.
It begs the question: How have they done it?
Well, there’s one big reason.
Led By Surprising Campaigns From James Kaprielian And Cole Irvin, The Team’s Rotation Has Been Elite
Let’s start off by saying this: The Athletics are a fairly well-rounded team.
In every major category (lineup, bullpen and rotation), the club has produced above-average results.
- Oakland ranks 13th in MLB in team OPS (.718).
- Oakland ranks 11th in MLB in bullpen ERA (3.92).
- Oakland ranks 8th in MLB in rotation ERA (3.72).
With that in mind, it’s fair to say that the team owes a lot of its success to its well-structured roster.
But one area rises well above the rest this season, and it’s the starting rotation.
The rotation is the reason the Athletics are currently in such a good spot.
It comes as a major surprise, as Oakland’s rotation was a disaster in 2020.
The team gave starts to six pitchers last season, and only one of them (Chris Bassitt) posted an ERA below 4.00.
Then, in the offseason, the Athletics didn’t even really address the starting pitching concerns.
There was no reason to believe that 2021 was going to be different from a rotation standpoint.
But it has been.
Here’s how that happened.
Jesus Luzardo began the year in the starting rotation after he showed flashes of exciting potential during the 2019 and 2020 campaigns.
The experiment didn’t work out all this year, though.
He got shelled to the tune of a 5.79 ERA, .289 opponent batting average, and .819 opponent OPS over six starts before being moved to the bullpen.
That cleared the way for Kaprielian to join the staff, and as we keep alluding to, he has been outstanding since getting that opportunity.
Over 11 starts, Kaprielian has managed a 2.90 ERA, 140 ERA+, and 1.11 WHIP.
The Athletics are 6-5 when he gets the ball, but it could easily be more like 9-2.
The 27-year-old has been a godsend this season, and no one could have seen it coming.
Well, maybe his dad saw it coming, actually.
James Kaprielian’s dad, Doug, was fired up after the A's pitcher caught Xander Bogaerts swinging
Love to see it ❤️
— B/R Walk-Off (@BRWalkoff) May 13, 2021
Meanwhile, Irvin got his opportunity when veteran righty Mike Fiers started the season with an injury.
Irvin’s success this season has candidly been stunning (in the best way possible) considering the way he pitched over the first two seasons of his career.
The lefty pitched to a 6.75 ERA over 19 appearances in 2019 and 2020.
This season, he has been great by almost every measure.
He has a 3.65 ERA, 111 ERA+, 3.69 FIP, and 1.18 WHIP across 18 starts.
Cole Irvin held the Giants scoreless with eight strikeouts in eight innings pitched to help the A's secure a 6-2 win. 💪
— theScore (@theScore) June 27, 2021
Who would have thought?
Kaprielian and Irvin could very well end up being the reason the Athletics land in the playoffs this season, and that’s a pretty cool story.
(One last note: Sean Manaea and the aforementioned Bassitt have both completely lived up to expectations this season, so they deserve a good chunk of the credit, too.)