Throughout this incredible A’s run over the past two months that’s got them positioned to nab a playoff spot for the first time four years, the one question has been how much stronger they might be with another reliable starter. We’re about to find out.
The A’s have acquired starting pitcher Mike Fiers from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for two players to be named later or cash considerations. Left-handed pitcher Jeremy Bleich was designated for assignment to make room for Fiers on the 40-man roster, but the A’s will still need to make a corresponding move to get him on the active roster.
Shortly after the July 31 waiver trade deadline, A’s manager David Forst said the club would still be actively looking to add pitching for the final stretch run. After adding reliever Shawn Kelley from the Washington Nationals Sunday and now Fiers, the club certainly figures to get a boost.
Fiers, 33, represents a significant upgrade for the A’s starting rotation. The right-hander has been solid for the Tigers: 7-6 with a 3.48 ERA in 21 starts with 87 strikeouts and only 26 walks over 119 innings.
Though A’s starters have been turning in stronger contributions over the past week, allowing just three earned runs in 37 innings (0.76 ERA) through six games and giving up zero earned runs in four of those six, the bullpen in has been worked relentlessly for most of the season in order to compensate for the shorter outings from the rotation.
Oakland’s bullpen currently holds third-best ERA (3.31) in the American League and fourth-best in the majors, and their 29 wins are the most of any relieving core of MLB. But get a load of this work rate — Yusmeiro Petit has thrown more innings (69 2/3) than any reliever in baseball this season and is on pace to lead the majors for the second consecutive season. All-Star closer Blake Treinen isn’t too far behind Petit for sixth-most (57) innings pitched in the A.L. Even rookie sensation Lou Trivino, who really didn’t emerge as the set up man until May, is top-ten in the A.L. with 54 1/3 innings.
Here’s where Fiers comes in: In 21 starts this year, Fiers is averaging just under six innings per start and has allowed three earned runs or less in 11 of his last 12 outings. If Fiers could continue this pace with Oakland alongside Sean Manaea, the stress placed on the bullpen for the rest of the regular season goes significantly down, maximizing its efficiency.
It’s an elite bullpen that the A’s will probably want to lean on heavily in the playoffs, but you have to keep it somewhat fresh before you get there.
Fiers also reunites with catcher Jonathan Lucroy. The two were teammates with the Milwaukee Brewers from 2011-15. This isn’t Fiers’ first experience switching teams in the middle of a sason. He was traded from the Milwaukee to Houston at the 2015 deadline, and seemed to gel quickly with the new team as he went 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA in nine starts to help the Astros reach the playoffs that year and pitched out of the bullpen that postseason.
That experience could be of great value, because if the A’s do manage to hold onto this playoff spot and find themselves playing the A.L. wild card game, there’s a good chance Fiers could be on the mound that night. Though Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson have been surprises in the rotation, having Fiers starting such a game likely against the New York Yankees would certainly provide the A’s with a little more comfort.