Several times in 2010, I've used this space to lament the unfortunate trajectory on which the Oakland Athletics' season seems to routinely find itself. If it's not injuries derailing an otherwise smoothly steaming train, then it's...well....
No, it's pretty much been injuries every time, all the time.
The latest A to bite the dust has been Ryan Sweeney, who's gone for the year. The right fielder had been a valuable splinter, posting a .294/.383/.725 line while making strong contributions with his glove and arm. With only a pair of big flies, the power Sweeney typically flashes in batting practice hadn't translated, but the 20 doubles were a nice consolation prize.
Alas, the 25-year-old finally succumbed to right patella tendinitis and had surgery to relieve the issue at the cost of the '10 campaign.
When Oakland officially placed Sweeney on the disabled list, it marked the 18th time the club had occasion to use the shelf. Only the Boston Red Sox have had their hand forced more times by Lady Luck and their payroll is more than triple that belonging to the Elephants, i.e. the Sawks have the depth of roster and pocket to withstand a whole lotta punishment.
The A's do not.
Or so it would seem on paper.
Most of Oakland's key pieces have missed significant time—Brian Anderson, Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, Coco Crisp, Justin Duchscherer, Mark Ellis, Conor Jackson, Kurt Suzuki, Sweeney, and Michael Wuertz.
Even Kevin Kouzmanoff and Andrew Bailey have needed a little extra pine time to stave of sincere boo-boos.
By my count, the only vertebrae of the team's backbone to escape the injury bug completely have been Daric Barton and Gio Gonzalez.
Nevertheless, Major League Baseball's little engine that could started play on Friday a game over .500 and in third place in the American League West. Better yet, the Green and Gold has ripped off five wins in six games since Sweeney's last appearance, which coincided with the finale before the All-Star game.
The Athletics came out of the break with a sweep of the lowly Kansas City Royals in Missouri and then returned to the Bay Area to take two of three from those banged up Beantowners.
Now, the first-place Chicago White Sox come to town to kick off a stretch of 15 contests that will match los Atleticos against front-runners 12 times (six tete-a-tetes with both the Pale Hose, who lead the AL Central, and the Rangers).
Given the M*A*S*H unit Oakland is currently fielding and the elite competition that the schedule's about to deliver, nobody would blame the squad if it slipped over the edge and into the abyss.
But, considering the long odds already bucked by the team, nobody should be surprised if it emerges from the other end of the nightmarish tunnel no worse for the wear.
It would be a surprise, however, if the MLB radar were to catch the Athletics' ironic season on one of its sweeps of the Show.
Even in their home market, the A's don't exactly cast an enormous media shadow.
The lads are streaking, they're facing a big money bully, it's Doggie Day at the Oakland Coliseum, the temperature is just right for baseball by the Bay, and—as if that weren't enough enticement—Bleacher Report's own Matt King sang the National Anthem (quite well, I might add).
Yet the paid attendance was only 15,105 and I'd say at least a third of those decided on rosier plans for the evening. Such as the Aerosmith concert playing next door at the Oracle Arena.
That's the local love.
So you know the national profile is substantially smaller.
Nope, ESPN ain't gonna come calling unless the Oakland Athletics manage to wrestle first place out of the Texas Rangers death-grip. With the acquisition of Cliff Lee and Oakland's disabled list only getting longer, those prospects are slim and none.
And slim's plane is taxiing for takeoff.
Which means it's very likely that the A's impressive show of resolve will continue to go unnoticed.
What a shame.