"They can't score!"
That's what my friend told me one day during an Oakland A's game in August. And although for the most part that's a valid point, the A's did improve slightly in the second half of this season.
Last winter, Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane went on an off-season shopping spree. Not only did he trade for NL Slugger Matt Holliday, he also signed Orlando Cabrera, Nomar Garciaparra, and brought back Jason Giambi.
Prior to the start of the 2009 season many baseball analysts, including myself, thought that Oakland would be a darkhorse in the American League.
For starters they had added powerful bats to their lineup, and had young talented pitching.
Well, the plan Billy Beane and Co. had created in the off-season didn't pan out the way they'd hoped. Matt Holliday, for the most part was an absolute bust, Giambi struggled with his hitting, and Orlando got off to a slow start.
So what did Billy do when Oakland fell out of contention?
He did what he does best, made trades.
Holliday was shipped of to St. Louis in exchange for three prospects, the biggest name being Brett Wallace. Wallace, though a third baseman by trade, is thought of more as a first base type-guy. He's got great power potential, but his defense needs work.
The whole idea behind bringing in guys like Holliday and Giambi in the first place was to score more runs than the anemic 2008 version A's. It just didn't work out.
However, the A's in the process of rebuilding have become a much more aggressive, small ball team.
In 2008, the A's scored 646 runs, swipped 88 bags, and batted .243 collectively.
In 2009, the A's scored 759 runs, swipped 133 bags, and batted .262 collectively. The reason behind this jump in numbers isn't because of Holliday or Giambi's one-half of a season with Oakland. It's because guys like Rajai Davis were given a chance to play in an everyday role for Oakland.
When I watched Oakland play the Angels last month, they were down seven runs, but they fought back. They were aggressive, the hit the gaps, they played much better without Holliday, Cabrera or Giambi.
The A's played considerable well during the second half, as they consistently stole bases and made things happen on the field. Their level of play really got me excited for the future of this team.
As always, pitching seems to be the main focus of the Athletics main-scheme. The team's ERA was 4.26, which was good enough for 3rd best in the American League.
The starters had their up's and down's, but during the second half, Brett Anderson emerged as Oakland's top rookie pitcher. Anderson finished the season with 11 wins, and a nifty 4.03 ERA. Trevor Cahill also finished the season strong, finishing with 10 wins of his own.
The bullpen, however, receives a ton of credit. Andrew Bailey, a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate, was simply amazing. He finished with 26 saves, 91 K's in 83.1 IP, and an ERA of 1.84. Michael Wuertz was consistent throughout the season, finishing with 102 K's in 78.2 IP, and an ERA of 2.63. Brad Ziegler was strong as well, he finished with a 3.07 ERA. And with Joey Devine returning next season, this bullpen will be an amazing group.
And as bad as the A's seemed during the course of the season, they finished strong, scored more runs than last year's club, stole more bases, hit better collectively, and played with great hunger.
The future is definitely bright for Oakland, and although 2010 may not necessarily mean the return to the post-season for the Green and Gold, it is definitely a year to look forward to.