They say that pitching wins championships, and as the hometown Giants proved last year, that’s true more often that not. But the real truth is that pitching is a necessary, but not sufficient, key to bringing home a World Series title.
Everyone knows the A’s have a talented stable of young guns. That’s the reason some pundits had picked them to win the AL West this year. And while those same people freely admit that Oakland lacks a threatening offense, the A’s supporters point to the 2010 Giants as proof you don’t need a great offense to win it all. The Giants were definitely not known for being an offensive powerhouse, and they won the World Series, mostly on the strength of their arms.
Keep in mind, though, that the operative word here is mostly. The Giants, while not having a lot of great hitters, had enough of them that could hit for power. That’s the key difference between last year’s Giants team and this year’s A’s team.
The 2011 A’s have absolutely no intimidating hitters, ones that can change the game with a single swing of the bat. Which would be bad enough, but when you take into account that they have no regulars in their lineup hitting over .263, then it just becomes downright tortuous to watch. Not tortuous as how the Giants had defined it—meaning watching close game after close game—but tortuous in the sense that it's just ugly, boring baseball. There is no way to sugarcoat it: this team lacks talent, and if that weren't enough, they are also completely devoid of any identity or personality.
Perusing the A’s 2011 roster, it’s hard not to be dumbstruck by the lack of stars or personalities. It’s as nondescript a roster as you’ll ever see, a veritable who’s who of “Who?” Billy Beane has done a fabulous job of amassing a motley crew of castoffs, journeymen, and oft-injured pariahs that no other team really wanted a part of, which, if you’ve followed the A’s the past half-decade, is pretty much becoming his modus operandi.
At first, there was a quiet reverence for what Beane was doing, getting somewhat talented players on the cheap, using his guile and his statistician minions to gather a group of players who, while not Ruthian, were good enough to compete for an AL West title year after year.
The problem is, now, that frugality is starting to catch up with him and the Oakland A’s as a whole. Reality is starting to set in, and it’s becoming obvious why Beane is getting these players so cheaply. They’re really not that good. There is really no other way around it.
Josh Willingham, their “big bopper,” has 10 home runs, and he accounts for roughly a third of the team’s 33 total. Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays has 20 by himself. Cliff Pennington (who?) has the highest average on the team, batting .263. Watching this team day after day has become a very trying experience. I’ve been a lifelong fan, but it’s just getting harder and harder to watch this colorless, lifeless squad and to not pine for the halcyon days of Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco, who were on a fun, colorful and talented A’s team that you just had to watch.
Part of the problem is that Beane is letting his loyalty get in the way of any progress or success. Take Mark Ellis, for instance. Ellis is the longest-tenured Athletic, and there is no doubt that he is one of the best defensive second basemen in the league. I understand Beane’s loyalty to him, and the respect for his defense, but the truth is, I don’t care if you’re the lovechild of Brooks Robinson and Ozzie Smith, there is no excuse for a Major League baseball player to be batting .211. It is inexcusable, and at that point, you have to question if a player with that low of a batting average and no power is fit for the Major Leagues.
And speaking of loyalty, that brings us to, last (but not least)—actually scratch that, least—to Beane’s sycophant, er, disciple, the one and only Bob Geren.
Ever since Geren became manager of the A’s, there was something I did not like about him. Watching and listening to him in post-game interviews, he came across as cold and lifeless, devoid of personality, and somewhat steeped in denial about the talent level of his club. No matter what, Geren always found a way to sugarcoat the A’s problems, which came across as disingenuous and dishonest.
Now I can’t really comment on his managerial skills, but the recent argument with Brian Fuentes and the fiery words coming from Huston Street gives me reason to believe that there is a serious lack of trust between the A’s players and Geren. I know he is not the only problem, and the truth is Connie Mack wouldn’t be able to do much with this year’s squad. But it’s getting harder and harder to not notice that the A’s are taking on the personality of their leader, becoming lifeless, colorless and nondescript. And there’s no doubt that a new presence in the clubhouse, a fiery, intense new leader would inject some life into this moribund franchise.
I have always been a fan of this team, but unless some serious, tangible changes are made, it’s becoming a lot to ask to subject myself to this torture, day after day. And no, not the Giants brand of torture—that would be a welcome sight.