In a lot of ways, the Oakland Athletics have already had a very successful 2010.
The campaign isn't over by any means—with more than 50 games yet to be played, anything and everything can still happen.
However, the A's sit nine and a half games off the American League West pace set by the division-leading Texas Rangers. With the Texas in town for the weekend, they have a chance to shave some of that margin and they'd better.
Because they're even further behind in the AL Wild Card race.
Granted, with the juggernauts out in the AL East, the playoff side door was probably never a realistic option.
Nah--it's the pennant or bust.
Since the Rangers look to have a pretty firm grasp on the flag, Oakland's hopes for contention are dwindling with every nine innings.
Nevertheless, the Elephants have shown a lot of pluck and resiliency over the course of the season. They started behind the eight-ball due to a minuscule payroll and then had their plight compounded by Lady Luck, who gave them only two flavors—bad and rotten.
Even so, the Green and Gold are treading water and posted a respectable 14-10 record in July, which was fourth-best in the Junior Circuit.
More importantly, there are plenty of silver linings that should give the franchise and its fanbase hope for the immediate future.
I know, I know—Bob Geren is a moron, he can't coach his way out of a paper bag, and he eats puppies while their tails are still wagging.
The guy doesn't walk around with a vacant grin stapled to his face or a song in his heart so I can see why the average fan might look for reasons to assail him, but Geren is no dummy and he deserves his share of credit.
His club is over-achieving; there's simply no way to deny it.
Strategy is important, but so is extracting a sum that is greater than the parts and that's exactly what the Oakland skipper has done.
I'd like to see what Geren could do with just a few breaks.
Here's another member of the A's clubhouse that seems to get some unwarranted heat from the local torch-wielders.
Sure, Barton might be taking his sweet time realizing the justifiable hype that he generated coming out of high school (OK, there's no "might" about it), but the Vermont native will only be 25 when he celebrates his birthday in about ten days.
That's still pretty young for a Major Leaguer, especially when you consider that the first baseman is beginning to turn potential into productivity.
He's playing a slick first and the bat is coming around—he's working on his second consecutive year of hitting around .270 with an on-base-percentage about 100 points higher.
True, the power hasn't materialized, but it's not uncommon for thump to be last to the party.
Sweeney profiles very similarly to Barton; 25 years old, relatively high draft pick out of high school, good glove, and he's beginning to deliver on all that promise despite a no-show from the power he typically flashes in batting practice.
One notable difference, however, is that Ryan is part of Oakland's M*A*S*H unit whereas Daric has been one of the few A's to stay healthy in 2010.
The outfielder's done for the year thanks to surgery meant to solve the patella tendinitis in his right knee that plagued him until forcing a premature end to his 2010 season.
But that might be good news.
If Sweeney comes back fully healthy in 2011, don't be surprised if he adds more slug to a slash line that was already looking pretty nice—.294/.342/.383 in 331 trips to the dish.
Suzuki might just be the most underrated, under-appreciated player in all of baseball.
That's really odd considering any catcher who's not a total liability with the bat usually gets bathed in limelight.
Except for Kurt.
He doesn't turn 27 until October, he's got the Major League bona fides—his career 162-game average includes 31 2B, 15 HR, 80 RBI, and a slash line of .270/.327/.401—and he's got the pedigree.
While a Cal State Fullerton Titan, he won the Johnny Bench Award as the top collegiate catcher, was an All-American, and notched the title-winning hit at the 2004 College World Series in walk-off fashion (against Huston Street, no less).
Furthermore, he's continued his clutch ways while with Oakland and plays a fine backstop.
What more can he possibly do?
Bailey's only 26 and he's already been a two-time All Star after forcing his way onto the club to start 2009. You might also recall he yanked down American League Rookie of the Year honors following that inaugural season.
Yeah, two years in the 'bigs', two All-Star selections, and a RoY in the face of tepid expectations.
What's more, his underlying statistics hint the big fella isn't fading away any time soon.
Since breaking into the Majors, the closer extraordinaire has posted a 1.75 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and has limited the opposition to an abysmal slash line of .179/.238/.262.
His 87 percent save percentage might not blow your skirt up, but the dude's gotta have something upon which to improve.
Gonzalez might be the most inconsistent of the young Oakland pitching arsenal, but he also might have the filthiest ceiling of the group.
The southpaw is 24 until September and, despite the moisture behind his ears, he's been steadily improving since breaking into the Show in 2008. Check almost any metric you like—ERA, WHIP, BAA, OBPA, SLGA, H/9, HR/9, BB/9, K/BB, etc.—and you'll see a steady trend in a positive direction.
The youngster also has the temperament to be on the mound—no Athletic enjoys being the center of attention more than Gio nor handles it more naturally.
If the native Floridian continues the growth he's shown in the last couple of years, the Elephants might have a certifiable ace on their hands.
Anderson edges out his fellow southpaw Gio Gonzalez for the No. 3 spot because he has two advantages: age and control.
At only 22, nobody could blame the lefty if he were a mess on the bump from time to time. Instead, Anderson has been the picture of poise when he's been healthy—in 218 1/3 career innings, the big fella has a 3.87 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and has averaged just over two walks for every nine innings.
Consider that 175 1/3 of those frames came in 2009 when the kid was only 21.
I can't tell you what I was doing when I was 21 because I haven't ruled out a run at public office, but I can promise you it didn't reflect the maturity necessary to get the better of a Major League hitter.
Only the disabled list has proven to be a problem for Anderson at the professional level.
Cahill is the youngest player on a very young Oakland Athletics' roster—he was born exactly one month after Brett Anderson—which makes him the greenest (in years) of their vaunted kiddie-corps rotation.
While the lefties (Anderson and Gio Gonzalez) get most of the national lighting, it's actually the right-hander who's been the best of the bunch in 2010.
The native of Oceanside in suddenly frigid California is 11-4 with a 2.72 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and a MLB-leading 6.0 H/9. The last mark shows how effective he is in taking the sting out of opposing lumber. You might also bask in the glow of the anemic slash line he's surrendered to the enemy (.192/.265/.304) for further confirmation.
The real shocker, however, is how much of a horse the youngster's been.
He's got more career innings pitched than everyone in the current rotation except for the soon-to-be 27-year-old Dallas Braden. After chucking 178 2/3 frames last year, he's come back to toss another 125 2/3 and counting despite making his first start on April 30th.
If Cahill whiffed more batters, every fan in the country would know the 2010 All Star's name.
I'll keep this as short and bittersweet as possible:
Brett Anderson—76 games
Andrew Bailey—14 games
Dallas Braden—20 games
Trevor Cahill—14 games
Eric Chavez—66 games
Coco Crisp—70 games
Justin Duchscherer—85 games
Mark Ellis—28 games
Conor Jackson—29 games
Ben Sheets—15 games
Kurt Suzuki—19 games
Ryan Sweeney—19 games
That's a partial list of Oakland Athletics who've hit the disabled list in 2010 and the number of games they missed. That's damn near every regular for a total of 455 contest (and counting), including everyone in this slideshow save for Daric Barton and Gio Gonzalez.
In the face of such decimation, let's count Bob Geren, too.
So, the most compelling reason to keep the faith for 2011?
No way such a catastrophic rash of injuries infects the team in consecutive years. The Baseball Gods are definitely cruel.
But even they have their limits.