When there’s a giant pink elephant in the room, we all take notice. After all, in the sports world, people scurry about searching for underdogs, dark horses, sleepers, and Cinderella—and, normally, even pink elephants.
So when the Oakland A’s received a massive face-lift in the off-season bringing together their patented awkward mix of old folks and young’uns, the has-beens and haven’t-yets, only a handful noticed the large, grumbling giant in the room.
Sure, there’s the Oakland market and the lack of a top-flight PR campaign to blame, but not until the A’s took a couple of tough ones from the Angels did the point become clear: if things fall into place nicely enough, the A’s are shaping up to be a monster.
A week in and that hasn’t really changed, despite being swept by the Mariners who came out with tough pitching and timely hitting.
I suppose most writers make a living off of calling shots as closely to the vest as possible as that might pay the bills, but the rampant admonitions in favor of the Angels taking the division don’t seem to pay any respect to the other three teams, all of which have shown signs of marked improvements so far.
Indeed, the Rangers have flashed off some decent pitching and their, albeit trademark, scary offense while the Mariners have been tough on the mound and tight in the box. And the A’s have yet to even get the big hit going (one home run in the first week) and between Cust, Giambi, Holliday, and a healthy Chavez, there can be quite a bunch of those.
The A’s are getting it together and just in time, too.
The whispers of the San Jose move becoming reality are certainly not far from the collective ears of Athletics Nation but with that still at least half a decade away from fruition, the excitement over the foundation for what could be a stellar team is starting to come around now.
One must, of course, begin a discussion of this foundation with starting pitching and there’s no doubt the A’s are looking to Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Vin Mazzaro to duplicate the same sort of dominance that the initial big three of Hudson, Mulder, and Zito were able to accomplish.
So far, we’ve seen Cahill twice and Anderson once in the regular season and they look even better than they did in the spring.
Mazzaro isn’t quite ready and hasn’t had his shot yet, but he’s got some killer stuff, too. Many around the A’s believe that their only real question mark is in their pitching and that is comforting considering the Athletics’ knack for being pitching-rich.
As far as foundations go, the A’s cannot be too concerned.
The lineup was what needed the most significant overhaul and it got it with the additions of Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, Nomar Garciaparra, and Orlando Cabrera.
You can measure offense in pretty strict numbers most of the time and Holliday and Giambi bring in big power and runs while Nomar and Cabrera will surely bring high averages and a decent number of runs.
However, what they really bring is the timely and gutsy hitting that was missing before. Therein lies the real benefit of the off-season acquisitions.
As for the Holliday trade, he won't serve as serious baggage as he could either help the team win now and surprise everyone or get them going in the right direction for a reasonable enough price.
The A’s spent more money than they normally do but they also know that if they lose him mid-season, they get his worth in prospects back and if they lose him after the season, they probably rode his bat further than they were expected to and that could only do good things for the team, anyways.
And it isn’t as though he’s all alone in Oakland. He has a whole host of pro hitters with him.
So what does this all say about the A’s prospects this season? This lineup can hit in bunches and like other clubs around the league, haven’t quite gotten it going yet.
The A’s are a historically sluggish April team and usually get it going really nicely around June and by summer time, are amongst the hottest teams in baseball. Whether they fall off due to injuries or shoddy pitching we will have to wait and see but bats tend to keep going when the pitching stays stellar on a nice run.
Fortunately for the A’s young pitching staff, they have veterans behind them with great gloves who will shore up some of the small mistakes with excellent defense. It should certainly be enough for 85 wins and at least second place in the division.
To be fair, there are quite a few issues with the team, still, aside from their unproven young pitching.
For one they have displayed awful situational hitting thus far. They are the best team in the league at hitting with nobody on base at a ridiculous .400+ clip but are at the very bottom of the barrel with men on base.
Their two-out hitting was timely late against the Angels but they’ve been leaving folks on base in droves and it’s kept their offense checked. In their stunning comeback 6-4 win against the Angels, they racked up 16 hits—all singles.
This isn’t how you move your offense forward and it simply won’t net you a playoff berth, either.
On the surface, it seems like a coaching issue but it is also too early to charge that so the verdict has to be withheld until at least mid-May. If the A’s are still unable to get the right hits at the right time, somebody might catch an axe.
The A’s play second fiddle to the Angels in a division that was once their stomping grounds because of a bad run of injuries and their trademark poor economics.
Their head-to-head with the Angels is about as mirror imaged as you can expect any rivalry to be, but in the bigger picture, the A's have not been able to sustain a long successful season in a couple of years. It’ll take some work to get back to the top of the division but their pieces are set in place to do that.
If their young pitching holds up and the bats get hot, they might get there sooner than everyone expects.
Then it’ll be near impossible to not notice the big white elephant defiantly balancing itself on a ball in the far corner of the room.