The Oakland Athletics begin their 2011 MLB schedule in a couple days and will begin fittingly enough with a division opponent in the Seattle Mariners. The A's find themselves battling an American League West division that is fairly wide open. The Texas Rangers may be the defending American League champions, but the loss of Cliff Lee is a sizable hole. They'll always have quality offense at the Ballpark in Arlington (or whatever it's called now), but their rotation will be a big question mark. The Los Angeles of Anaheim (LAAAAAAA) added Dan Haren during the middle of 2010 but have seen a variety of changes, for which they'll have to compensate. And then there's the Seattle Mariners. It might not be pretty in the Emerald City in 2011.
The number of question marks around the division (the A's included), leaves this division ripe for the plucking. The A's finished 81-81 last season and saw their young pitching staff take a significant step forward. If Oakland is going to make a run at the division, the rotation will need to build on last year's strong performance. The A's young pitchers had an unexpected All Star in Trevor Cahill and saw Gio Gonzalez harness his electric stuff, looking like a guy who could end up an All Star in the near future.
The A's spent much of the offseason re-tooling an already solid bullpen. The additions of Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour have given the A's considerable depth and arguably the best bullpen in baseball. Now that Andrew Bailey is dealing with some forearm issues, the additions of Fuentes and Balfour prove even more valuable. Once Bailey is healthy, the A's bullpen could turn games into five inning affairs for their starters.
Oakland's biggest problem last year was an anemic offense that often struggled to provide sufficient run support for its young guns. The A's made some moves to rectify that, adding David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui, and Josh Willingham to their outfield and designated hitter positions. They've got some young bats developing, but this trio could prove huge in a potential playoff push. If the A's can get even a middle of the pack offensive showing, that could be enough to win the West.
Make sure to keep up with SB Nation Bay Area for all of your Athletics coverage, and for more detailed analysis and conversation, head on over to our A's blog, Athletics Nation.