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Parker's injury a tough break for the small-budget A's

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It's hard enough to win your division in Major League Baseball these days, especially when you're working with the third-smallest payroll in the American League.

But when your No. 1 starter goes down in spring training and is lost for the year, it becomes significantly harder.

And that's what the 2014 Oakland Athletics are now looking at for the upcoming defense of their two consecutive AL West division titles from 2012 and 2013: no Jarrod Parker.

Parker has been a stalwart member of the A's rotation for two seasons now since he was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Trevor Cahill way back in December 2011.

In 61 regular-season starts for Oakland, Parker posted a 25-16 record and a 3.73 ERA. The 25-year old also started three games in the postseason over the past two Octobers for the A's, beating the Detroit Tigers in Game Three of the 2013 AL Division Series.

With Bartolo Colon long gone to the New York Mets, it means Oakland is now without its top two starters from the 2013 season as they try to three-peat in the AL West and capture the organization's tenth World Series title in 2014.

It won't be easy, and it clearly got much harder.

Rookie Sonny Gray now inherits -- almost by default -- the No. 1 starter label, and he will be the team's Opening Day starter on March 31 against the Cleveland Indians at the O.co Coliseum.

The rest of the rotation -- which is also missing A.J. Griffin as well, out with an injury, too -- shapes up as Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone.

It's still a solid rotation, but with Parker out for the year and Griffin out until at least May with flexor tendinitis in his elbow, the A's are now pressed to the end of their depth at the position already -- and the season hasn't even started.

Kazmir is Colon's replacement, while both Straily and Milone have been in and out of the rotation for the past two seasons. Chavez has started twice in a 191-game MLB career spanning six seasons and three teams.

Both starts came in 2012 for the A's, and Chavez posted a 3.92 ERA in 35 relief appearances for Oakland in 2013.

What it all means is there may be more pressure on the A's to score runs in 2014 if they want to make the postseason for the 18th time since moving to Oakland for the 1968 season.

The A's scored the fourth-most runs in the majors last season, and they bring back their offense largely intact -- that may be the team's saving grace this season.

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