It's hard to still consider the Oakland A's contenders in 2011.
In the midst of a 1-9 road trip, and losers of 10 of the past 11 games, the A's certainly don't have the look of a team that knows how to win.
They have suffered injuries to four starting pitchers, their starting second baseman and they have outrighted their starting third baseman to triple-A. The team leads the American league in errors and the top strength, their starting pitching, has begun to crack under the pressure of having win one- to two-run ballgames.
The offense ranks at the bottom of the American League.
All of these things led to manager Bob Geren's firing.
And yet, that move has signaled that the Oakland front office does not believe the team is out of contention and neither do I.
The A's are just 1-2 under new manager Bob Melvin, but I like the moves I have seen. I like the fight I have seen in all three games under his reign.
Melvin has addressed the team's horrendous defensive play, instituting infield drills before each game.
He has addressed the lineup instability, naming Cliff Pennington the team's No. 2 hitter, Daric Barton will bat in the No. 6 slot.
Hideki Matsui will see regular playing time to get his bat going. So far, Hideki Matsui has rewarded his new manager for that faith.
Even the appearance that Conor Jackson and Daric Barton may spend time in a platoon at first base is an improvement.
Jemile Weeks promotion and Adam Rosales' presence with the team is another boost of energy that this team desperately needed.
These were all moves that A's fans have been SCREAMING for on a daily basis, but Bob Geren could not figure out.
Seeing some life the past three games from a team that looked absolutely lifeless during the first eight games of their nine-game losing streak is the first step in the right direction. It is evidence that the players are buying into the changes that Bob Melvin has made.
The pitching will rebound. Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross should return to the rotation around July. Rich Harden is perhaps the closest pitcher to returning. He will begin throwing to live batters some time in the next week and could progress to simulated games and a rehab assignment before July.
You may laugh at the notion that Rich Harden would upgrade the A's rotation, but when healthy (insert your laughs here), he is one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.
Brett Anderson, who will see Dr. James Andrews on Monday, has not yet been ruled out for the remainder of the season, and could return and provide the A's with some valuable starts the rest of the season as well.
The defense should improve with the new emphasis on infield drills. The A's were the best defensive team in the American League just last season, with largely the same core group returning.
The offense has looked better with Josh Willingham hitting more consistently. As long as his Achilles tendon injury is not serious, he should be a staple in the A's lineup aside from the occasional day off.
If Hideki Matsui can turn into the hitter they hoped they were signing, the A's will have a solid 3-4 punch in the middle of their lineup.
The pitching injuries may actually even work to the A's benefit. Now bear with me, because I am sure you are wondering how injuries could ever be a benefit.
When the A's get their injured starters back, the A's could look to move some of their excess pitching depth (and I stress just some, they will need to hold onto capable backups in the event they lose another starter later in the year).
The pitchers who have filled in for their injured counterparts, have been showcased nicely and built trade value during their stints with the A's so far.
If Oakland can fight their way back to .500 and within 4-5 games of the division lead before the trading deadline, an argument can certainly be made that they should buy at the deadline rather than choose to sell.
This group of Oakland A's may not be capable of the late season surges the A's teams of the early 2000's were capable of putting together every second half, but they don't need to be.
The AL West has not shown that there is a team capable of pulling away. The A's just need to get within striking distance, stay healthy and of course, add one more offensive weapon to the mix. It will take some luck, but the A's have already shown they have a new fire within to help them play a more competitive brand of baseball.
The next five weeks will determine the A's season and I, for one, am on board with this team and their new leader.
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