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A's need back-end rotation improvements if they want to win their tenth Series

It's a frequent site for Tommy Milone to watch an opposing batter circle the bases: it's happened 55 times in his 400 career innings pitched.
It's a frequent site for Tommy Milone to watch an opposing batter circle the bases: it's happened 55 times in his 400 career innings pitched.
Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

After losing twice to the sub-.500 Boston Red Sox this weekend on the road in Fenway Park, it's become somewhat clear how the losses of 2012-13 rotation stalwarts Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to Tommy John surgery has hurt the 2014 Oakland Athletics: the back of their rotation stinks.

Dan Straily and Tommy Milone have combined for a 1-5 record and a 5.40 ERA. In 60 innings put together, they have surrendered 61 hits, 11 home runs, 23 walks and 36 earned runs, while striking out 47 batters. For a team with World Series aspirations after two straight division titles, this just isn't going to cut it for the A's in 2014.

The other three members of the rotation -- Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez -- are a combined 10-1 this year, with Kazmir's 2.11 ERA being the highest of the bunch. The "good" trio has thrown 117.1 innings of stellar baseball, while Straily and Milone have stunk up the joint, basically.

After last night's 7-1 shellacking where Straily pitched so-so and today's 6-3 pounding where Milone was just rotten, the Oakland organization has to be looking for some alternatives -- the A's were arguably the best team in baseball during the month of April, despite a shoddy bullpen and a struggling back-end rotation.

Can the A's really afford to hope Straily and Milone improve? MLB teams on restrictive budgets have to find ways to be crafty, of course, and like the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland has found ways over the years to stay competitive when they can't have a $150M payroll (like the San Francisco Giants, across the Bay, for example).

Milone got sent down to minors in 2013, and he hasn't really demonstrated at age 27 that he can really stick in the majors and be reliably effective for a playoff-contending team. In exactly 400 career innings now, all but 26 with the A's, the lefty has given up 426 hits -- demonstrating he just is quite hittable, in general. He's also coughed up 55 home runs in those 400 innings, by the way.

Throw in the 91 walks and a mere 294 strikeouts, and he's just not much more than a fringe No. 5 starter, really. And that may be fine if he's pitching for the Houston Astros, but he's not -- Oakland needs him to win games, not lose them in the first inning like he did today in Boston.

Straily is only 25, though, and his upside is higher considering he led the minor leagues in strikeouts in 2012. In 40 MLB starts, all for Oakland, he's thrown 224 innings -- roughly the equivalent a full season, even though these are combined totals from 2012-14. He's only surrendered 198 hits while striking out 187 batters, and if he could just learn to keep his pitches down in the zone, Straily could stick and be very effective.

The young righty has shown flashes of brilliance in his 40 starts with Oakland, but the home-runs allowed are killing his ability to command a game effectively from start to finish: he's given up a whopping 34 home runs in those 224 innings, which amounts to 1.36 HR surrendered every nine innings. You can't sustain success in the majors very long giving up that many homers.

So what do the A's do? They probably need to stick with Straily and re-assign Milone to a different role. They really don't have any good arms at AAA Sacramento right now, at least arms that are performing well at that level. Which means Oakland could look to acquire a new fifth starter or they can dig deeper into their farm system to find a diamond in the rough.

Either way, something needs to be done, because you can't win a division title with just three reliable starters -- at least not the American League West in 2014.

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