MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Rookies carrying the load in A's starting rotation

Ringolsby: Rookies carrying the load in A's rotation

THREE UP

Athletics
When A's vice president and general manager Billy Beane stripped down a rotation that ranked fourth in the American League with a 3.70 ERA last year, the pundits smirked. Beane, however, is getting the last laugh. His revamped rotation -- built around rookies -- helped the A's not only advance to the postseason, but they went into Wednesday's regular-season finale against Texas with the winner set to claim the AL West title.

Forget about the frenzy over on-base percentage created by the man behind "Moneyball." These A's are built around pitching and power. The A's went into Wednesday having hit 194 home runs -- 80 more than a year ago -- and with a rotation in which A.J. Griffin's scheduled start on Wednesday will mark the 101st start by a rookie. Of the 85 teams that have featured a rookie making at least 60 starts since 1947, the A's are only the fourth to advance to the postseason, according to Fangraphs.

And think about it. Not only did the A's lose Bartolo Colon to a 50-game suspension in August after he tested positive for testosterone, but they dealt four of the primary starting pitchers from last season. Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman went to Colorado for outfielder Seth Smith. Gio Gonzalez was part of a six-player deal with Washington, and Trevor Cahill was part of a five-player deal with Arizona. In the Gonzalez deal, though, they came up with lefty Tommy Milone, and from Arizona, the A's received Jarrod Parker, along with bullpen savior Ryan Cook.

And the focal point of the revamped power-producing lineup was winning the bidding battle for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who signed a four-year, $36 million deal, the key to which was the A's agreeing that he could become a free agent at the end of the contract.

Nationals
Nationals executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo was excited a year ago about the emergence of home-grown rotation prospects Stephen Strasburg, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann for 2012, but Rizzo also knew he needed to find a veteran balance. Mission accomplished. He had to part with another promising young arm in Milone, but Rizzo was able to get Gonzalez from Oakland. Then to fill out the five-man rotation, Rizzo was able to sign Edwin Jackson as a free agent to a healthy salary of $11 million, but for only one year.

Bingo. The Nationals are heading to the postseason for only the second time in the history of a franchise created in 1969 as the Montreal Expos, and the first time in a full 162-game season. The Expos only postseason appearance was in strike-interrupted 1981, when they knocked off Philadelphia in the first round and were knocked off by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

The Nationals' starting pitchers have combined for 71 of the team's 97 wins going into Wednesday's regular-season finale, and they've combined for a 3.41 ERA, lowest in the NL.

Reds
Reds president of baseball operations and general manager Walt Jocketty felt his team was closer to the team that won the 2010 NL Central than the club that disappointed a year ago, so this past offseason he showed his commitment to winning in 2012 by giving up quality prospects to fill immediate needs. He hit the jackpot.

Yes, San Diego could enjoy the package of first baseman Yonder Alonso, starter Edinson Volquez, reliever Brad Boxberger, and catcher Yasmani Grandal, but the Reds did appreciate the addition of Mat Latos, who not only went 14-4, but saw the Reds win 23 of his 33 starts. Meanwhile, lefty Sean Marshall, acquired from the Cubs for three players including Travis Wood, handled the closer role early until manager Dusty Baker felt Aroldis Chapman was ready for the ninth-inning challenge, and then Marshall became a quality setup man (5-5, 2.51, nine saves).

Jocketty also took advantage of the market to add a needed right-handed bat, signing veteran outfielder Ryan Ludwick in February to a one-year, $5 million deal which paid off handsomely. After hitting .244 with a total of 30 home runs the two previous seasons, Ludwick hit .277 with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs for the Reds.

THREE DOWN

Dodgers
The new ownership group sent a message that it was willing to meet the high stakes of playing poker. They, however, were flushed despite a massive midseason roster realignment. As if the late July additions of Shane Victorino, Hanley Ramirez and Brandon League were not enough, the Dodgers took a major payroll burden off the hands of the Boston Red Sox in late August with a deal that brought them Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto, along with Carl Crawford, who already was recovering from surgery and won't be back until sometime next year.

The end result? Well, the Dodgers managed to hang in the battle for the NL's second Wild Card spot until the 161st game of the season. They did not, however, mount a threat to San Francisco's bid for the NL West title. And the Dodgers know they have a 2013 payroll that also has $177.95 million guaranteed to 18 players.

Angels
The Angels made big moves in the offeason, signing free agents Albert Pujols (10 years, $250 million) and C.J. Wilson (five years, $77.5 million). They went bust.

Pujols had a solid year, hitting .286 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs, but it was a struggle in the beginning. He was hitting .197 with one home run through the Angels' first 36 games, and the club was never able to climb out of a 15-21 hole.

The Angels did have a second-half surge to at least try to salvage a Wild Card spot, but they came up short. Wilson played a role in that. Yes, he was 13-10, which is acceptable, but the Angels lost all five of his starts from July 28 through Aug. 18, during which time he allowed 22 earned runs in 28 1/3 innings.

Marlins
So much for the great expectations for the Marlins.

Instead of winning their first division title, the Marlins finished in last place for the second year in a row and the sixth time in their 20-year history, losing at least 90 games for the sixth time. In first place as late as June 3, they went into Wednesday's season finale having lost 62 of their previous 99 games.

So much for the new stadium, the hiring of high-profile manager Ozzie Guillen, and singing of free agents Jose Reyes (six years, $106 million), left-hander Mark Buehrle (four years, $58 million) and closer Heath Bell (three years, $27 million), boosting their payroll to more than the $100 million mark for the first time in franchise history.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.