Tuesday night, Oakland's Brett Anderson made his first major-league start in more than 14 months -- thanks, torn elbow ligament! -- and he pitched wonderfully: seven innings, allowing just four hits and one run while striking out six Twins. The A's already had excellent starting pitching, with the second-best ERA in the American League. The addition of Anderson, assuming his first game back wasn't a mirage, almost seems unfair.
The Angels, of course, were supposed to challenge the Texas Rangers for primacy in the American League West. The A's were supposed to finish in third place, well out of contention for a postseason berth.
And it's about the pitching, stupid.
The Angels' rotation was supposed to be a strength this season, with free agent C.J. Wilson joining Jered Weaver and Dan Haren in the rotation. And then when you add Zack Greinke before the trading deadline ... Good night, nurse!
It just hasn't worked out so well.
Let's begin with the Angels' No. 4 starter, Ervin Santana. He was pretty good in 2010 and '11; almost identically good, in fact. But he's been pretty terrible in 2012. More home runs, more walks, fewer strikeouts. Santana isn't throwing quite as hard this season, his fastball's been getting hammered, and he's got a 5.46 ERA. If he wasn't making $11.2 million this season, he might have already lost his job.
Last winter, C.J. Wilson signed a five-year, $77.5-million contract. Wilson got off to a good start this season, even made the All-Star team. Since June, though, he's 0-5 with a 5.70 ERA in 10 starts. The good news is that his strikeout rate has remained high. The bad news is that his walk rate has been high, too. This is probably just a glitch.
Dan Haren's issue is obvious: home runs. In Haren's last 10 starts, he's given up 15 home runs and his ERA has jumped from 3.52 to 4.90.
And then there's Zack Greinke, for whom the Angels gave the Brewers a bundle of prospects. In Greinke's first post-trade outing, he pitched seven strong innings against the Rays. In his four starts since, he's given up 20 runs; it's the first time in his career that Greinke's allowed at least four runs in four straight starts. He, too, has given up too many home runs, but he's also issued more walks than usual.
So that's four-fifths of the Angels' rotation that's been struggling badly, for various periods. That leaves only Jered Weaver, who's been outstanding all season long. But one-fifth of a rotation isn't enough.
Between Greinke and Wilson and Haren, there's no shortage of pitching talent. And at least two of those three will have to turn things around in the season's last six weeks, or else the brilliance of Weaver and Mike Trout and a few others will go for naught. Because even if the A's falter in the absence of Bartolo Colon, the Angels still have to catch and pass two other teams.