It’s early June and despite a mediocre-at-best two months, batting-wise, the A’s still hold share with the Rangers for 1st place of the A.L. West. The style of play that Billy Beane has devised for Oakland – the getting on base, playing small ball, and holding down the fort in the late innings – hasn’t been how the A’s have been winning games.
Through 54 games, they have just a .259 team average (15thin MLB) and a .322 on base percentage (22nd in MLB). However, guys like Ryan Sweeney, Rajai Davis, and Kurt Suzuki have converted when they have had their limited chances.
Sweeney has hit .340 this year with runners in scoring position and driven in 22, Davis .262 with 14 RBI, and Suzuki .306 with 14 RBI also. Sweeney has really turned it on lately, hitting 12-35 with an RBI every other game for the last 10 games.
That may not be exactly ripping the ball, but that’s exactly what the A’s have wanted Sweeney to do for a few years now. He’s an ideal #2 hitter when he hits like he’s hitting now, and especially when he’s getting on base at a .350 clip.
The problem lies in 1) the leadoff position and 2) the power spot in the lineup. Rajai Davis has stolen 23 bases in 52 games and has really given pitchers headaches. Yet, he’s got just a .304 on base percentage. If he starts hitting, he’ll really be stealing a lot of bases and scoring a ton more runs.
The other problem has been the power. Everyone knows that; the A’s just don’t have that big, fearful guy standing behind Kurt Suzuki to make the opposing pitcher change his approach. When you don’t have that, you become a two-dimensional hitting team. Their power hitters (not necessarily power hitters, but 3-4-5-6 guys) – Suzuki, Barton, Cust, Kouzmanoff – have just 13 homers. Compare that to a team like the Phillies with Utley, Howard, Werth, and Ibanez and they have 31.
There’s no real reason why these guys may start hitting homers, so you have to rely on something else for runs. They NEED to get on base. Barton has always been the patient hitter (.401 OBP in 2010), but besides that, guys are getting on base at gross clips. Suzuki, Kouzmanoff, Cust, Rosales, and Sweeney all have double the amount of strikeouts than walks.
So – where is it going to come from? Either Bob Geren can hope that Barton, Suzuki, and Sweeney all end the year hitting .325 with runners in scoring position, or they can find power. It’s most likely not coming from a trade, so they have to look to the system – and they have it. If they still are within 3-4 games come July, they may HAVE to bring up Chris Carter.
Despite hitting just .239 this year at AAA Sacramento, he’s got at least a month to bring that up with his 13 homers in 197 at-bats. We all know he has the power that Michael Taylor doesn’t.
The fact is, they can’t rely on this pitching. Without Justin Duchscherer, this rotation boasts two 22-year olds in Cahill/Anderson and a 24-year old in Gonzalez. Anderson has shown to be the real deal, but Cahill and Gonzalez have been very inconsistent in their career. Gonzalez’s dropped strikeout rate is a huge concern because dropped strikeout rates spell disaster. Despite having success this year, Gonzalez has had troubles against basically every potent offense he’s faced. His only two shutouts this year were against Cleveland and San Francisco, two of the worst offenses in the league.
The problem with Cahill will be his consistency going forward and how far he can go into games. We have seen this year that Vin Mazzaro, Henry Rodriguez, and Tyson Ross have all been terrible in long relief this year. If Cahill goes six innings of two-run ball, it’s the wrong team to do it on. The back of the bullpen has been very strong, but the front of it has been the opposite. Also, two of his four wins this year were against Baltimore and San Fran.
I’m certainly not denying the talent in this bullpen, I’m just worrying that they won’t keep it up long enough. If they can’t hold teams to under three-four runs, they almost always lose.When opponents have scored more than five runs this year, the A’s are 5-17.
So, it's going to be about going to what's working lately for the rest of the year. They can't try to always get on base, they can't press to play small ball, they have to do something different every night if they need to. If they get a good outing, play good defense. If the pitching is bad, they need to choke up and try to hit some homers.
Still, it may not be enough. You always have to think about acquiring a talent at the trade deadline that would boast the lineup. The fact is that the A's have the young talent and need the middle-of-the-lineup presence there. They just don't have it. If the Blue Jays fall behind (likely), Vernon Wells is a real possibility. Who knows, maybe Corey Hart could be on his way to Oakland. It all depends on whether Billy Beane is willing to pull the trigger, and he has been willing in the past.