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Straily could be on the cusp of something special in 2014

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(OAKLAND) -- Starting pitcher Dan Straily is just 25 years old, but he's already been a key cog in two American League West division titles in his young career.

As he gets ready to start tonight for the Oakland Athletics against the Seattle Mariners, making his 2014 regular-season debut for the A's in the process, Straily could hold the key to the Oakland organization getting back to the World Series for the first time since 1990.

His 12-9 record in 191.2 major-league innings in 2012 and 2013 combined represent a full season, basically, and with 156 strikeouts to go with those innings, Straily is delivering upon the promise that he showed in leading the entire minor leagues in strikeouts during the 2012 season.

He won't be 26 until after this season is over, so he still has youth on his side -- and with injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin pushing him higher in the rotation, Straily's performance this year will go a long way towards determining whether or not the A's three-peat as division champs for the third time since divisional play began in 1969.

(The A's won five straight division titles from 1971-1975, and the organization also won three straight in 1988-90. Just for context, the San Francisco Giants across the Bay have never even repeated as division champions, let alone three-peated.)

Straily took a big step toward stardom in the 2013 postseason, giving the A's a great chance to clinch the first-round series in Detroit against the mighty Tigers lineup. In Game Four, he threw six innings and struck out eight batters without walking anyone -- leaving the game with a 4-3 lead.

(Alas, the bullpen imploded at the wrong time, yet again.)

If the young 25-year-old righty can build upon that performance with a strong April this year, he will find himself earning a higher spot in the Oakland rotation for the next few years to come.

The A's truly need Straily to step up and win 15 games this year: he has the stuff to do it. We've all seen it, on the road, against one of the best lineups in the majors.

He demonstrated it in the minors, striking out 592 batters in 551.1 innings in all levels of play. Baseball-Reference.com lists former Montreal Expos starter Charlie Lea as Straily's most comparable historical match, through the same ages.

It's an interesting comparison, as Lea won 16 games for the Expos at age 26 in 1983 and 15 more at age 27 (when he made the All-Star team) before losing his career to injury.

The A's hope Straily pitches much longer for them, of course, and they hope he starts a run to his own All-Star appearance tonight against the Mariners.

Game time will be delayed until at least 7:30 p.m., due to the sporadic showers this afternoon in the O.co Coliseum area.

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