Oakland Athletics Staring Into the Eyes Of Another Dying Season

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer IJuly 12, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07:  Pitching coach Curt Young speaks to Gio Gonzalez #47 of the Oakland Athletics in the fourth inning of their game against the New York Yankess at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on July 7, 2010 in Oakland, California. Gonzalez gave up five runs in the inning. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If you don't bear the cross of being an Oakland Athletic fan, you should thank your lucky stars.

Unless, of course, you're a Cleveland Cavaliers fan—Cav fans should be grateful as well, but I'm not going to make that particular request of them until they can pull the serrated knife from the city's collective back.

A sports fan otherwise situated should have nothing but sympathy for the Bay Area's redheaded stepchild of baseball.

Understand, I'm a San Francisco Giant die-hard who cut his teeth under the City's shadow while the Bash Brothers were still in chemically enhanced business. In other words, those sentiments don't come easily to me.

So you know the situation must be ugly.

It is.

I never pretend to know what happens behind closed doors, so I won't put the blame on owner Lew Wolff (check the last sentence of the first paragraph on his Wikipedia page; clearly Mr. Wolff isn't terribly popular in some circles). Perhaps his ownership group genuinely cannot afford to dump more money into the team.

However, consider the A's are spending only $51,654,900 on 2010 payroll. That's good for 28th in Major League Baseball , above only the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Elephants' average individual salary is $1,666,287—that's about half the Big League average of $3,328,894.

Clearly, Oakland's budget gives the squad a razor-thin margin of error with which to attack each season. The team across the Bay is only a down-year from a key player or an injury away from kissing the 162-game slate adieu.

Even if everything works out, the team is still up a creek if one of the American League West fat cats—the Los Angeles Angels or the Seattle Mariners—plays to form.

In other words, it's hard not to sympathize with the camp that rages at Wolff, et al., for their miserly ways. It must be frustrating to watch an unheralded crop of exciting young talent get burned up trying to catch lightning in a bottle.

Judging from the mock-cheer that went up following Erick Aybar's home run in the 10th inning on Friday night, it's even eating at the beat writers.

Better to end the agony as quickly as possible rather than drag it out for more extra frames.

Granted, whenever the Halos come to town, a sea of media-humanity comes with them in the form of a massive Japanese contingent following Hideki Matsui. So maybe the "hurrah" came from them.

Regardless, Aybar's big fly appropriately ended a game that featured one of those emerging youngsters.

Vin Mazzaro started the evening on the bump and threw a very nice seven innings. He surrendered three earned runs on four hits, three walks, and notched five strikeouts.  Beyond the two-run bomb launched by Bobby Abreu in the first, he threw a gem.

Unfortunately, the bullpen doused his effort in kerosene and then struck a match.

Still, the 23-year-old is 4-2 on the year with a 3.81 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP, 36 K, 24 BB, eight HR, a .268 BAA, and a .765 OPSA in 56 2/3 IP. Those numbers aren't astounding, but place them in the context of the right-hander's age and company in the rotation.

Suddenly, they look quite dandy.

The secret is out about All-Stars Andrew Bailey and Trevor Cahill.

The closer is making his second consecutive trip at only 26.

Meanwhile, the righty starter is even younger at 22 and his statistics will dazzle you—9-3, 2.94 ERA, 1.03 WHIP,  63 K, 28 BB, 10 HR, .206 BAA, and .598 OPSA in 95 IP after spending almost all of April on the disabled list.

Along with Mazzaro and Cahill to anchor the future of the rotation, you've got the erratic Gio Gonzalez (25), the injured Dallas Braden (26), and the injured Brett Anderson (22).

All three are southpaws and have shown bursts of brilliance.

Anderson, the youngest in the rotation by a month, had been the most dominant and consistent until elbow trouble shelved him. But Gonzalez has perhaps the nastiest stuff, as evidenced by his rotation leading 7.49 K/9 in 107 IP. Braden's perfect game is pretty much all you need to know about his bona fides.

Offensively, the Athletics can boast about the underrated Kurt Suzuki (26), Ryan Sweeney (25), and Daric Barton (24). All three are plus hitters and defenders, but none is at his full potential yet.

Even then, this club probably needs a certifiable star before it could withstand the Baseball Gods' harsh glare. Without such a centerpiece, the ensemble won't be able to survive the inevitable heap of bad luck that gets shoveled its way.

One has to wonder if Oakland is reaping the whirlwind from those aforementioned Bash Brothers (which would be an ominous development for my Giants).

The lads can't catch a break.

Last year, it was an anemic Matt Holliday and an Angel organization that hit the ground sprinting in April and never looked back. This time around, the A's have been gritting it out with admirable resolve, but injuries are derailing a once-rosy season.

As mentioned, Cahill started the year on the DL and the Anderson/Braden duo is there right now. Justin Duchscherer has been lost for the year while Coco Crisp, Mark Ellis, newbie Conor Jackson, Suzuki, and Michael Wuertz have all seen significant time on the shelf.

The result has been predictable.

Despite coasting into the break on a two-game winning streak, courtesy of the Angels, the A's are in third place in the AL West, which is the weakest of the three Junior Circuit subsets. They're three games under .500, seven and a half games back of the Texas Rangers (who just acquired arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Cliff Lee), and three behind the Angels.

In the Wild Card race, they're staring at a cloud of dust that once was the Tampa Bay Rays (54-34) and Boston Red Sox (51-37).

All of which means the Oakland Athletics will probably be sellers as the July 31st trade deadline approaches. Pieces like Crisp, Ellis, Kevin Kouzmanoff, and/or Ben Sheets will probably be moved for prospects as the second half becomes another run-in-place affair.

And ownership gets the bottle ready for next year's storm.

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