Oakland Athletics Continue To Win, So How About a Little R-E-S-P-E-C-T?
If you have the unfortunate habit of paying attention to the national Major League Baseball buzz (as I do), you witness a lot of apparently misinformed feet sliding into mouths.
For instance, check this bit of nonsense touting the National League East as the best division in baseball.
Forget about the 800-pound gorilla wearing the American League East jersey for a moment and check the head-to-head between the Senior Circuit's coastal divisions. The so-called best division in the Show is four games under .500 against the NL West.
Take out the Los Angeles Dodgers' slow start and that margin balloons to NINE games, i.e. the two-time division champions are the matchup's weakest combatant to date.
Yet, despite that and the fact that everyone in the AL East (except the lowly Baltimore Orioles) is at least eight games over .500, the most respected network in sports is touting the NL East as the Show's biggest bully.
Because of the media markets?
I guess it's the nature of having so many teams spread through such a diverse region as the United States of America, but we do have satellite television and the Internet. It isn't as if the accurate data doesn't exist or can't be found.
Furthermore, who thinks it's an unreasonable request to hold back your opinion until you've educated yourself about a subject?
I don't see many hands.
Another of the flawed recent murmurings casts the Oakland Athletics as a legitimately dangerous team out in the AL West.
The jabbering heads have finally realized the club's pitching is for real, the leather is nice, and the offense has a good mix of veteran leadership blended with youthful exuberance. The Elephants won't send any traditional powerhouses running for the hills, but it's a collective that is stronger than the sum of its parts.
All of that is spot on.
The trouble starts when studio "experts" and others decide there must be a qualifier. It seems that small market clubs can't compete purely on the strength of their pieces—they need a crutch.
With the A's, the helping hand comes by way of the disabled list. Or so the story goes.
Groupthink has keyed in on injuries—presumably sparked by the spectacular broken leg suffered by Kendry Morales—in an effort to parse out exactly how Oakland has stayed within hailing distance of the not-from-Los-Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers.
Again, there is a dollop of truth mixed in with a whole mess of bull-spit.
The Halos have lost their best hitter in Morales (possibly for the year) along with Jeff Mathis, Brandon Wood, Scott Kazmir, Brian Fuentes, Maicer Izturis, and an assortment of role players for extended stretches. Down in Arlington, the 2010 Rangers' shelf has seen Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a few others.
As for the Seattle Mariners...who cares? They've stunk so far and, until that changes, they're irrelevant.
So yes, the green and gold's closest rivals have seen more than their shares of bumps, bruises, twists and tweaks. Some of the bugaboos have erased big names and even bigger production—Morales, Kinsler, Cruz and Harrison jump to mind with a nod to the unsettling potential of Holland.
From there, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to complete the logical reverse engineering—Anaheim/Texas have lost marquee figures and the ESO doesn't have any of those so Bob Geren's bunch must be working with an edge.
Except that's stupid and more than a little insulting for a variety of reasons.
Too often, the caliber of ballplayer is judged by the number of zeroes on his paycheck and not much else.
Since the Athletics only have four players making north of $4 million per year—Eric Chavez ($12.5 mil), Ben Sheets ($10 mil), Mark Ellis ($5.5 mil), and Coco Crisp ($5 mil)—people dismiss the individual talent.
I've spent hours upon hours observing the A's pre-game routine from their dugout or a more intimate vantage point closer to home plate.
Let me tell you, the physical tools aren't lacking anywhere on that diamond—some batting practices are louder than others, but all of these guys are stinging the pearl and spraying frozen ropes all over the yard.
Additionally, the glove work (even at half-speed) is clearly special.
These aren't beer league softballers yanked out of Bay Area parks, they are pros. All of them.
It's easy to forget when you spend so much time immersed in the relative world of paid-to-play sports, but even the lowliest guy on the lowliest roster is still better than 99 percent of humans on the planet at that particular vocation.
That's pretty freakin' good.
Mathematically speaking, then, the absolute talent differential between a role player and a regular CANNOT be that big.
It's trite, but baseball really is a mental game.
Confidence and resolve are arguably more important that raw physical ability because most everyone at the highest level has that ability. It's a matter of trusting the tools and bringing them to bear under the pressure of the real thing.
Obviously, David Eckstein isn't going to turn into Albert Pujols given the right therapy, but an unknown can burn it like a superstar for an entire summer with the right opportunity and mentality.
Toss enough together and you've got yourself an honest-to-God contender.
Consequently, "marquee" is a designation for bar room conversations and studio shows. On the field, it's all about production and losing production hurts regardless of the income bracket attached.
Which brings me back to the A's supposed ally, the disabled list.
The Bay Area's abandoned stepchild has seen the following assets on official ice already in 2010—Chavez, Ellis, Crisp, Kurt Suzuki (who is criminally underrated), Justin Duchscherer (gone for the year), Brett Anderson, Michael Wuertz, Trevor Cahill, and some lesser parts.
That's three of the four highest paid players (Chavez, Ellis, and Crisp), two of the top three starting pitchers (Duke and Anderson), two of the top hitters (Ellis and Suzuki), and the team's most valuable player as far as I can tell (Suzuki).
What's more, reigning AL Rookie of the Year and All-Star closer Andrew Bailey has been conspicuously absent from two consecutive games in which the franchise's best fireman would normally see action.
Hopefully, the gigantaur only needed a rest after a taxing week or else another critical piece might get shelved. The latter is a refrain that's been echoing around the Oakland clubhouse all too frequently this season.
And the DL has been helping the A's?
That's good for a perverse chuckle.
If anything, the Oakland Athletics are staying near the top of the AL West in spite of their health, which makes the story even more incredible.
Too bad the experts are missing it.
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