The A’s opened up their season with nearly every expert picking them to finish dead last in the AL West. I personally have VERY low expectations going into this season, and since they usually struggle out the gate, I figured this April would be just as rough as years past. Even back when they were winning the division crowns, they were always dubbed a second half team. Another reason for pessimism for my beloved A’s was that they are the youngest roster in the league, which usually calls for lots of growing pains. I’m not going to say that this 6-2 start makes them a lock to win the west or even a .500 ballclub, but I know that they have the potential to stay out of the cellar. A lot of the “experts” picked the Mariners and Angels to win the West. Most liked the M’s because of the big off season moves, and the Angels because they are always there over the last decade. They still could be right, but after watching both the first series between the two teams, I have to say I’m impressed with the grittiness that this years’ A’s squad has. If chicks dig the long ball, then there won’t be many in the A’s clubhouse, but if chicks dig good pitching and defense we could have the next Playboy mansion in the works.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably way too overly excited about the 5-2 start, but it finally got me inspired enough to write a late preview about the club. The A’s easily could’ve swept the Mariners in their opening series, if they hadn’t committed four errors in that first game they could’ve beaten Seattle’s best pitcher, King Felix. The most inspiring part about watching them so far, sans game 1, is their ability to continue to put up runs during the game. They’ve scored in nearly 30% of their innings this year, which is a good way to win. They are supposed to have a good defense, and have played pretty good aside from opening nights four error performance. Pennington and Kouzmanoff are much better defensively than I thought they were, and now that our outfield is Cust free (I’ll get back to Cust getting cut later), we don’t have to give up an out a game wherever he happened to be. This is a grind it out team, and even this early in the year it feels like they are never out of a game. They have been behind in five of their eight games and comeback to win four of them.
Most have predicted the A’s will fail because they put so much stock in two all-star veteran pitchers, Sheets and Duscherer that are injured as much as they are in the lineup in most recent seasons. They might be right, and both could fall apart like a leper in warm water, but in all honesty these aren’t the only “good” pitchers Oakland has. Sheets and Duke no doubt lead the staff, but the future pitchers we have coming up look like they have very bright futures. Last season we saw Brett Anderson come out as the most polished youthful pitcher we have, and showed that he has “ace” type stuff in him. Gio Gonzalez, has great stuff, and can shut teams out when he can tone down those emotions, which he did over the spring, and is what probably got him in the opening week’s rotation. Dallas Braden is a stud, not because of his stuff, but because he is ultra competitive and studies his opponents more than anyone in the rotation. He reminds me of the Lackey type, not overpowering, but great control around the strike zone. He fell behind in both of his starts, but battled and was rewarded with wins by the A’s offense. Like always, the A’s will be depending heavily on their starters to keep them close in games, and with a improved defense behind them, it will make it slightly easier than last year’s full time growing pains.
Everyone has ripped their lineup, and I can’t lie it doesn’t look that great on paper, but they have shifted to a new style of stealing bases and putting pressure on the opposing teams every time they have a runner on. They’ve reverted to manufacturing runs as opposed to waiting for that deep ball, a full on switch to an NL style team.
The new style of play has helped this year as they may not be putting up crooked numbers often, they are scoring in four innings a game. The A’s led the league in doubles for the second half of last season, so at least they have the ability to clear the bases. Hell, they even got a bunt double this week. Mix that with seven stolen bases, and you can see this team that knows how to scrape together some runs. Cutting JacKK Cust wasn’t as bad as some have made it out to be, and I for one, was ecstatic. I didn’t mind him in the DH role, but when he was out in the field he was a disaster waiting to happen, and based on the direction we’ve gone, this was the right choice. I can’t argue that he doesn’t get on base a lot since he led the team in walks last year, but when he’s on base you basically concede that it’s station to station until the final out is recorded or he crosses the plate, putting no pressure on the defense or opposing pitcher. I hope Chavez can do well in the DH duties, and without the wear and tear of playing in the field he should last for at least 50 games. We’ll see if the A’s end up getting Cust back, but I kind of hope they don’t… I feel like this offense can lull people to sleep, as nobody respects them. When you don’t respect someone you get too much of the plate with your pitches, and hopefully that will happen a lot for the A’s this year.
The Bullpen is probably our strongest part of the team. Our closer Andrew Bailey got his ROY award, and made an all-star appearance last year for doing one thing well, closing out games. Tyler Ross was kept with the big league club on opening day, and he’s been lights out so far. Ziegler our closer from two years ago is always a good guy to call on in set up situations. Michael Wuertz is a solid vetran that can get guys out with his array of sliders. Jerry Blevins and Craig Breslow have looked good coming out of the pen. All in all I’m a lot more excited than I thought I’d be about this year’s Oakland Athletics!