A's pitching staff will play pivotal role in 2012 

With a lineup that is void of a proven big-time slugger and a division which features the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers and the reloaded Los Angeles Angels, the A’s know their pitching staff will have to more than hold its own in 2012.

It’s a staff, that for the most part, did just that in 2011.

Despite season-ending injuries to Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson, and a second-half swoon from Trevor Cahill, the A’s finished with the 10th-best team ERA in baseball at 3.71.

But Cahill and Guillermo Moscoso, who was solid down the stretch for Oakland, were dealt in the offseason. Anderson is likely out until at least midseason and Braden could miss the first month of the year.

Left in their place are plenty of question marks.

Brandon McCarthy steps up into the No. 1 role after a promising season in which he finished 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA. Veteran Bartolo Colon, who had a resurgent season with the New York Yankees in 2011, Cal product Tyson Ross and youngster Tommy Milone are slated to fill out the No. 2, 3 and 4 spots in some order.

The A’s may not need a fifth starter immediately, but Graham Godfrey could be the guy if they do and Braden isn’t ready to return. Godfrey, however, could be on a short leash with depth in the minor leagues, including hot prospect Jarrod Parker.

Add in the fact that former All-Star closer Andrew Bailey was shipped out, with veteran Grant Balfour set to fill his shoes, and the staff hardly resembles the group that broke camp a year ago.

Should Braden and Anderson return fully healthy and in top form, the A’s could wind up with a surplus of pitching down the road. That scenario would leave general manager Billy Beane with some intriguing trade possibilities.

— Staff, wire report

Projected starting rotation (Stats are from 2011 season)

Brandon McCarthy, RHP (9-9, 3.32 ERA, 123 Ks, 25 walks)
Nobody’s ideal ace, but he’s clearly figured some things out, and he’s as professional as all get-out. Hard not to pull for the guy.

Bartolo Colon, RHP (8-10, 4.00 ERA, 135 Ks, 40 walks)
Great career numbers at the Coliseum, great career renaissance thanks to the marvel of modern medicine. Great 2012? Hmmmm. Hard to see, no?

Tommy Milone, LHP (1-0, 3.81 ERA, 15 Ks, 4 walks)
We know next to nothing about the guy, but he’s looks ready for this role since he arrived. Don’t expect a world-beater, but he’s capable of turning heads.

Tyson Ross, RHP (3-3, 2.75 ERA, 24 Ks, 13 walks)
The mechanics are a bit funky, but the arm is absolutely for real — if it stays healthy and strong. Massive upside within this classy, local package.

Dallas Braden*, LHP (1-1, 3.00, 15 Ks, 5 walks)
Assuming he returns no worse for the wear, he’s obviously not a No. 5, and the rotation will be shuffled to reflect it. He’s as much of a leader, if not more, as Kurt Suzuki.

Projected starting lineup (Stats are from 2011 season)

1. Jemile Weeks, 2B  (.303 average, 2 HRs, 36 RBIs)
No pressure, kid, but everyone is expecting you to do EXACTLY what you did last season — with advance scouts all over you.

2. Cliff Pennington, SS (.264, 8 HRs, 58 RBIs)
He needs to cut down on the errors, but remember that some of them come because of his advanced range. And don’t you dare try to feed him fastballs.

3. Coco Crisp, LF (.264, 8 HRs, 54 RBIs)
You done whining about not starting in center field yet, shooter? Take that noodle arm out to left, try to stay healthy and SHUT IT!

4. Seth Smith, DH  (.284, 15 HRs, 59 RBIs)
Leap of faith here in a huge way, but until Manny Ramirez’s suspension ends, this makes a modicum of sense. Sort of.

5. Kurt Suzuki, C (.237, 14 HRs, 44 RBIs)
Coming off a disappointing season, he’s bulked up considerably. Expect a nice little bounceback season from Mark Ellis’ replacement as team sage.

6. Yoenis Cespedes, CF (Was not in MLB)
Hey, he’s the highest-paid, most-talented guy on the roster. Of course he’s your No. 6 hitter (soon to move up). Who else is remotely qualified?

7. Josh Reddick, RF (.280, 7 HRs, 28 RBIs)
Not that he doesn’t deserve a spot in the lineup, but having on the field a tangible product of all those big offseason trades has to happen.

8. Brandon Allen, 1B  (.200, 6 HRs, 18 RBIs)
Let’s be honest. This is the dreaded “fluid” situation. But Allen has serious big-league pop, and he’s not brutal around the bag by any stretch.

9. Josh Donaldson, 3B (Was not in MLB)
Sorry, Eric Sogard should be the guy, but manager Bob Melvin has other thoughts.

— Mychael Urban

*Braden is rehabbing from shoulder surgery and might miss a turn or two, but the schedule sets up nicely in that a fifth starter won’t be needed until mid- to late April, by which time the southpaw is expecting to be ready.

Scouting the AL West

Los Angeles Angels
2011 record:
86-76
Owner Arte Moreno cleaned out the front office after previous offseason disappointments led to another runner-up finish in the division. In steps slugger Albert Pujols, left-hander C.J. Wilson and a couple relievers, elevating the Angels to the AL’s elite. While second baseman Howie Kendrick is likely to burst out, questions surround outfielders Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells.

Seattle Mariners
2011 record:
67-95
The Mariners traded a strength (stud pitcher Michael Pineda) for a need (stud catching prospect Jesus Montero) in order to boost an offense that ranked last in the majors in average (.233) and runs scored (3.43 per game). Ichiro Suzuki is moving out of the leadoff spot after his first year in the U.S. not notching 200 hits. However, the M’s and A’s will slug it out to avoid the basement.

Texas Rangers
2011 record:
96-66
Can the Rangers bounce back after coming up a strike short twice in last year’s World Series? Can they make it back to a third straight Fall Classic? Adding Japanese ace Yu Darvish to the top of the rotation can’t hurt. The big question will be whether Neftali Feliz can convert from closer to starter and can newcomer Joe Nathan return to form as Feliz’s replacement. — Staff report

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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