Five Keys to the Oakland Athletics' Short-Term Success
One of my pet peeves with baseball analysis is when commentators discuss a team that just missed the playoffs, and attribute it to their losing games in September.
Games count just as much now as they do in September, though. Win more now, and you can afford to lose more down the stretch.
The A's face a three-game set with a tough Tampa Bay team, before going on the road for series' at Texas and LA. They are following that up with a two-game home stand against Seattle that wraps up May 18.
It's a key stretch, and the A's would do well to win now so they can relax more in September.
What will they need to find success? Let's look at five things that would help.
1. The Lockdown Bullpen
The A's are by no means an offensive dynamo, so when the offense gets the team out to a lead, the bullpen sure needs to protect that lead.
Luckily, the A's have a tremendous relief corps, led by reigning AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey. However, the team is still trying to sort out who its primary middle/setup relievers are going to be.
Michael Wuertz is likely the best of the bunch, and may be better than Bailey, but he has only pitched in one game this season (1 1/3 scoreless innings yesterday) after a DL stint with shoulder soreness. The A's need Wuertz to quickly find his top form.
The A's made a curious decision to send lefty Brad Kilby to the minors despite 8 1/3 strong innings, so he won't factor into the picture despite being the team's third-best option behind Bailey and Wuertz, and the best lefty. That means rookie Tyson Ross, slider specialist Chad Gaudin, and lanky lefty Jerry Blevins will likely need to step up.
Rookie Henry Rodriguez, who appeared briefly in September last season, was also recently recalled. Rodriguez has triple-digit heat and insane strikeout numbers, but his command is a major issue.
2. Ben Sheets Must Be Consistent
With Justin Duchscherer and Brett Anderson both very unlikely to pitch by May 18, the A's need the rotation to step up, and nobody needs to do so more than Ben Sheets.
7.12 ERA, 6.17 FIP, 5.63 xFIP, pick your metric, I don't care, he's been bad.
You don't succeed with 16/16 K/BB ratios, particularly if you're a flyballer who's given up six homers in 30 1/3 innings.
Sheets has lost some velocity from his Milwaukee days, and his curve has been walloped. I think his delivery could partly be to blame for his struggles. Just look at that picture - pitch grip, anyone?
Sheets needs to right the ship NOW and show why he got $10 million for this year. At this rate, nobody's even going to trade for him at the deadline.
3. Can We Get a Catcher?
Kurt Suzuki is on the DL, so the A's are rotating three players in the catcher slot.
All three: Landon Powell (.067/.263/.067), Josh Donaldson (.091/.091/.364), and Jake Fox (.200/.241/.320) have scuffled at the dish, and only Powell is a good defender behind the plate.
Powell, Donaldson, and Fox all have "offensive catcher" reputations. It would be nice to see one of them show it and prevent the position from being essentially like a pitcher hitting in the AL during this important stretch.
4. Power, Anybody?
Donaldson's only hit is a homer. The only A's player other than he (and Suzuki) with an Isolated Power over .200 is left fielder Eric Patterson. Kevin Kouzmanoff (.093), Ryan Sweeney (.087), Gabe Gross (.047), Rajai Davis (.058), and Eric Chavez (.085) have unacceptably low power outputs.
The A's need a couple of guys to step up - Kouzmanoff, Chavez, Fox, and Daric Barton would be good candidates - and start ripping some extra-base hits. When your third-string catcher, speed-oriented second baseman-turned-left fielder, and light-ish hitting shortstop have your three highest power outputs, that's a huge red flag.
5. Gio Time!
I think Gio Gonzalez is going to be an ace very soon, but at this point in his career, he's an inconsistent pitcher. Sometimes you get Johan Santana, sometimes you get John Parrish from him.
It's key that Gio stays composed, throws strikes, and keeps the ball down. He's the closest thing to a lockdown starter in the current Sheets/Braden/Cahill/Gonzalez rotation, as Braden is more of a consistent 6-7 IP, 2-3 ER guy and Sheets and Cahill are question marks every time out.
He's the ace for now; he'd better pitch like one.