The Baseball Notebook

April 30, 2010 3:12 PM

Time To Bet A Longshot?

I work at a sports handicapping service, and we've got the Kentucky Derby on the brain today. It's a wide-open field since the withdrawal of frontrunner Eskendereya last week. With the possiblity of another longshot looming at Churchill Downs, I thought I'd keep with the theme and take a quick look at the two longshots who have jumped out of the gate fast in baseball--Oakland and San Diego.

With both teams the biggest problem area at the start of the season was offense. I don't mean to suggest either team's rotation was a collection of Cy Young winners. But Oakland did have a newly healthy Justin Duscherer, the feisty Dallas Braden and emerging Brett Anderson (though the latter just went on the DL). San Diego had added Jon Garland, who's had his share of problems since being so important to the White Sox' 2005 run to a World Series title, but still

gobbles up innings and would benefit from the dimensions of Petco Park. And those dimensions themselves would ensure Padre starters had respectable numbers. But would either team get enough offense to compete? Let's take an overview look at how their everyday lineups.

Oakland's offense still doesn't overwhelm you, although the biggest positive is that Kurt Suzuki seems to be blossoming into the nice hitter everyone thought he could be. A good defensive catcher becoming good with the bat and a whole career in front of him is exactly the kind of break a small market team needs. The A's are getting steady hitting from the middle infield, with Adam Rosales getting on base consistently and Cliff Pennington showing decent power to the alleys. The biggest problems come from the fact that Kevin Kouzmanoff has absolutely horrible numbers, and he's come to the plate more than anyone else on the team, and Rajai Davis has yet to hit to what he's capable. We

should also note that even though first baseman Daric Barton has done well in getting on base, his power is not up to snuff for what a team at this position. Unless of course, you're getting unexpected power surges elsewhere, which Oakland isn't.

San Diego gets its offense from the more traditional path of the corner infielder and has decidedly no concerns about first base. Adrian Gonzalez remains one the game's elite hitters and should be an MVP candidate even if his team does fall from grace eventually. Over at third Chase Headley has hit well in a supporting role. Beyond that, there isn't a lot. Will Venable hits for some power, but is almost never on base--the worst kind of offensive player, who dazzles enough to remember, but more often that not kills rallies. Catcher Nick Hundley has been good at getting on base, although is lacking in power. And the biggest concern is that there isn't a lot more than can be expected of players off to slow

starts. Maybe young left fielder Kyle Blanks will get it going, but that's about it.

Prognosis: I can't come out with any kind of bold pick here, and I'm going to stay with what is likely conventional wisdom with these two teams. Nice start, but it comes down to earth quickly. Oakland's coming down to .500 quicker (12-11 and tied for first with LAA as of this morning), although I think they have a better chance of staying respectable for the long haul due to a weaker division. San Diego will be quickly passed by the rest of the competitive NL West. They are still the Adrian Gonzalez show and it just so happens that's been enough to win for a month.

And the Derby? Take American Lion, winner of the Illinois Derby to win. Complete the exotic box with Paddy O'Prado, the pride of Ireland, Florida Derby champ Ice Box and Joe Torre's horse, Homeboykris.

See you Sunday to recap Week 4.

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